With Brandon Jennings ripping things up with the Milwaukee Bucks early in the NBA season, the interweb is alive with proclamations on the relative success of his “European experiment,” i.e. his much ballyhooed year spent playing with Lottomatica Roma in lieu of a year with an NCAA program.
John McMullen, NBA specialist over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website, notes that he’s been converted to the Jennings church, noting that at first he didn’t have much faith in the player after an “unimpressive” year with Roma:
“…During 27 games in the overly-structured, fundamentally obsessed Italian Lega A, Jennings averaged just 5.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.5 steals in 17.0 minutes per game. He shot a miserable 35.1 percent from the field and a dismal 20.7 percent from three-point range in Lega A play.
“In 16 Euroleague games, Jennings improved to 7.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.2 steals in 19.6 minutes per game, while shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 26.8 percent from three – still not impressive…”
Dan Shanoff, guesting over at ESPN’s True Hoop, compares Jennings’ feat with the current “history-making” bid of Latavious Williams, the first-ever high schooler to jump straight to the NBA D-League.
Sam Smith of the Towson University newspaper is ready to state that Jennings’ play through five games “is validating the European basketball leagues as a place where the high school elite can go to build experience before they are eligible to be drafted in the NBA.”
And Geoffrey C. Arnold of The Oregonian praises Jennings, stating that “perseverance” is what got Jennings into the NBA via Serie A: “Many basketball folks figured the then-19-year-old wouldn’t last in the rough-and-tumble world of European basketball. They figured Jennings couldn’t handle playing against men, dealing with an unfamiliar culture and thousands of miles from home…”
Meanwhile, while so many are ready to proclaim a new Gold Rush for American high schoolers who can’t make the grade, there is of course an outstanding diametric opposite to Jennings’ success story readily available: namely, Jeremy Tyler.
Late last week, an Associated Press story expounded upon the litany of frustration the former San Diego high school baller is going through as he tries to make it with Maccabi Haifa. Despite the fact that he “now acknowledges a difficult adjustment,” and that he is “No longer the big man on campus, he is just another player on a professional roster, living on his own in a foreign land,” Tyler is attempting to stick with it like Jennings, stating that “You got to be a man about the situation, you know. You made a decision, stick with it.”
But such positivity was mostly lacking from a New York Times piece printed Sunday on Tyler’s first 100 days as a professional. Tyler, writes Pete Thamel, “appears to be worlds away from a draft-night handshake with [David] Stern, the NBA commissioner.” More specifically:
“His coach calls him lazy and out of shape. The team captain says he is soft. His teammates say he needs to learn to shut up and show up on time. He has no friends on the team. In extensive interviews with Tyler, his teammates, coaches, his father and advisers, the consensus is that he is so naïve and immature that he has no idea how naïve and immature he is…”
Maccabi Haifa coach Avi Ashkenazi remarks in the story of his astonishment at “a player with such great potential [who] could arrive without basic skills like boxing out and rotating on defense.”
So what to make of the question, “To Europe or Not to Europe?” (Aside from declaring 18-year-olds a bust and anointing the next NBA Rookie of the Year after a handful of games is too soon, that is…) Perhaps the most succinct take on the Jennings hype/Tyler flap belongs to McMullen, who writes that the “Problem is European teams don’t really want to become one-and-done stopovers like college, so only ultra-talented players like Jennings will get a nibble.”
A nice summation, even if the first half remains a bit open for debate – surely, there’s no question a free-spending Euroleague-level team with guaranteed roster sports for foreigners open will spend for one year’s worth of American talent. While commissioner Stern was criticized in some quarters (like the player’s union) for setting a minimum age for would-be draft choices, he also realized how rampant speculation on untested 18-year-olds had diluted the NBA talent pool. For every Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett, there were ten Kwame Browns and Dajuan Wagners taking up cap space and bench space by the early 2000s on rosters throughout the league.
A few of those washouts might have done well with a year or two in Europe – or even the Latavious way in D-League – but the truth is, talent is still talent and no miracles are necessarily forthcoming with a season in Europe.
It also takes perseverance.
Here’s to thinking that Brandon Jennings types may become more common in the near future, but that the European jump is hardly a burgeoning fad. Only the truly devoted need apply.