Jurica Golemac is a role player. Roberto Gabini was a leader in pectore, nearly a non-player captain. Are they worth much more than Brandon Jennings? From the viewpoint of the end of the season, the end of the story, it seems to be. To judge the Jennings experiment, we have to start at the beginning, but the statement is well marked in our heads: B.J.’s Italian journey can’t be considered a success.
Part One: Summer 2008. Jennings hasn’t the numbers – Not the numbers to stay on floor (his last high school year at “that” Oak Hill Academy had him scoring 35.5 points per game), mind you, but the numbers on his SAT exam, key to accepting the starting spot at Arizona promised by Lute Olson. Once, twice, three times he failed the exam: Mom and Sonny Vaccaro explained it as a conspiracy (!), so … wait for us, Europe.
Part Two: Roma’s burning when Brandon lands at Fiumicino; President Toti is happy to exhort the crowd into believing in a championship, thanks to his “Young Money” Kenny Anderson lookalike coming from US as the first high schooler to prefer a ticket to Europe over a famous NCAA program. Um, maybe Mr. Toti has forgotten about those SAT results. BJ and his first impressions: “I’ve heard both Euroleague and Serie A are hard leagues, and I want to face them early. I’m ready.” “They play physically, but if I’m able to use my speed, things will go all right.” “Fifteen points, 4-5 steals and 5-6 assists per game: that’s my target. Most importantly, I want to win.” Jennings is clever for not mentioning the NBA. Meanwhile, in Rome, someone has just begun to grumble about his $400,000-plus contract.
Part Three: “Jasmin Repesa makes us run for hours. It’s like being in the Army.” Bad words, B.J., especially if they are written on your blog. The results are OK, however, with Lottomatica winning its first four games, Jennings averaging only 15 minutes per game but also contributing a strong performance (11 points in 19 minutes) against Peppe Poeta and Teramo. Contrary to all expectation, the blowout doesn’t come: Roma loses the next five games (also at Udine and Ferrara), Jennings never overtakes 21 minutes on court, and his gone-south relationship with Repesa is one of the causes for the Croatian coach’s dismissal.
Part Four: Former assistant coach Nando Gentile takes over the bench. One of the most skilled European playmakers of last 20 years teaching a prohibitive future NBA All-Star point guard? Brandon should be satisfied. But Gentile rediscovers the Italian core of Giachetti-Datome-Gigli, and even if Young Money sees 20 minutes of action in the a game, the team isn’t in his hands, because Roma is now property of: A) Ibrahim Jaaber; B) Becirovic when he’s healthy; and C) a refreshed Giachetti. General manager Dejan Bodiroga celebrates nine wins in a row and entrance into the Euroleague Top 16 is had: What a moment! B.J. scores 14 points in 27 minutes against Fortitudo Bologna and gets a SLAM cover along with Ricky Rubio the day they meet in Badalona. Nevertheless, the sensation suggests he is the least important part of Roma’s guard rotation.
Part Five: Due to imperfect physical condition and the suddenly inconsistent play by Lottomatica, who go 2-5 after the nine-game streak, Gentile sets Jennings aside for the final part of the regular season: Having to finish in second place behind Siena, Gentile logically trusts Becirovic much more than B.J., who was responsible for a dramatic home loss against Ferrara, when Jennings was pickpocketed by Andre Collins on a crucial last-minute play. Excepting an irrelevant final regular-season game against Cantù, when Jennings plays 27 minutes and dishes out seven assists (both season-highs), B.J. averaged 1.6 points, 6.2 minutes and 2.0 ranking average between the 25th and 29th games. The Jennings situation worsens with Gabini’s season-ending injury. Gentile asks management to give him a man he can use as Gabini’s substitute, and Bodiroga responds to the coach by bringing Slovenian forward Jurica Golemac to Il Capitale. The coup de grace, the end of the story: Call it what you will, Jennings, thanks to the Italian league rules regarding foreign players, will not play in the post-season. Lottomatica is humiliated by 7th ranked Biella, and Golemac isn’t a factor at all.
“I’m counting the days until my homecoming,” said Jennings in May of this year. “If I could go back to last summer, I should have gone somewhere else, where I’d have played.” Closing a season that has certainly given him a good dose of experience in training and playing against tough and made players, but with whom he didn’t find the space and responsibility he had expected, the Compton Original makes his way for the NBA: “I feel ready for NBA. That’s my style of play: the freedom to create, more one-on-one rather than slow possessions against zone defenses. If I join a speed-loving squad, the sky is my limit.”
Scouts aren’t so interested in Jennings’ stats (5.5 points in 17 minutes per game, 20 percent shooting on 3-point FGs, 2.3 assists, 1.5 turnovers and 2.1 steals per game), but are analyzing his 2008/09 season in other ways; meanwhile, forecasts with Jennings as a high lottery pick increase daily. Why? Jennings still uses one and only one speed (the maximum, naturally); he’s not good enough at reading teammates’ moves; he too often goes for the spectacular steal instead of defending man and ball; and he hasn’t improved as a shooter. On the other hand, Jennings gets credit for his unstoppable first step to the basket; his open-court transition play on fast breaks, at which he has few rivals; and a positively developing passing instinct.
With Rubio directed to Memphis at 2nd or Sacramento at 4th overall, several NBA GMs and draft-centric websites put him in Golden State as 7th overall pick or to New Jersey at 11. B.J. is still considered the second-best point guard in the draft, not so far from a Spaniard who has an ULEB Cup title and an Olympic Final (in front of Kidd, Paul and Deron Williams…) to his credit, and better than, for example, Ty Lawson with three years and a NCAA title as leader of North Carolina (not to say anything of Cal State-Fullerton).
So congratulations, Sonny Vaccaro! You’ve worked well for your client’s reputation and current account (keep in mind that B.J. became Under Armour’s frontman), but in the end, the entire balance of Jennings’ season was in the extreme negative.
As for Brandon, take it as part of your growth. After a fall, there’s always a redemption – it’s up to you.
PS: Please don’t send this article to Jeremy Tyler.
written by Francesco Cappelletti