Basketball player Brandon Jennings, returning from Italy, bucked the trend

Jun 28 2009 - 8:57pm
McClatchy Newspapers

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Other than Tyler Hansbrough's chiding from fans, the most interesting development during Thursday's NBA draft was the Brandon Jennings episode.

The New York crowd mocked Hansbrough's achievements at North Carolina and the Indiana Pacers' decision to select him with the 13th overall pick. "Over-Rated! Over-Rated!" the fans chanted. How inventive can you get, huh?

But Jennings, the No. 10 pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, may have been the target of some admonishment by the league itself.

Unlike Hansbrough and more than a dozen other college and international draft prospects, Jennings wasn't invited to the green room waiting area -- the explanation being that there was no assurance he would be among the top 14 players selected.

Oooo-K.

Maybe it was just a coincidence that Jennings, in the 2008-09 season, became the first U.S. high school star to skip the obligatory year of college play by opting for a season of professional ball in Europe.

Instead of making good on his commitment to play for Arizona, the 6-foot point guard from Compton, Calif., signed for $1.2 million to play for Lottomatica Virtus Roma in Italy.

The money was good but playing time slim for Jennings. In 43 games, he averaged about six points and three assists per game and rarely was on the court for more than half a game.

Although some NBA coaches -- one being Mike D'Antoni of the New York Knicks -- think Jennings made a wise choice, it's obvious David Stern and the NBA front office honchos disagree.

By going overseas for the cash, Jennings robbed the NBA of the one year of American exposure the league virtually dictates with its new draft-age eligibility rule.

The league says otherwise, but it adores the attention top-line college players get each year in February and March. The NBA would go broke if it had to pay for the name recognition that future pros get from CBS, ESPN and the print media during the NCAA Tournament. Plus, it provides NBA scouts with an extra year to review prospects at a level well above high school competition.

Jennings snubbed the charade and didn't get invited to the draft party. It's difficult to believe the two situations aren't linked, although Jennings again beat the system by showing up in the building dressed to the nines and virtually elbowing his way onto Stern's stage for a handshake and photo poses. The bewildered, frustrated expression on the commissioner's face said it all.

The next shoe could fall in 2009-10 if Jennings pans out to have a big rookie season for the Bucks. That's very possible, too. Quick guards regularly adjust more smoothly than big men to the NBA.

The last thing the NBA wants is a procession of high school stars following Jennings' path. That would eventually force Stern and the league to go back to drafting high school players.

The good news for the NBA is European teams don't much like the Jennings scenario, either. Its coaches and team owners have no desire to serve as NBA babysitters. That's particularly true for players without international market appeal.

Had it been LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or even Amare Stoudemire, a European team would have made a nice one-year profit on the venture, but signing Jennings didn't sell tickets or win games.

The responses to Hansbrough and Jennings equate to an ironic symmetry. One played four seasons of college ball and became the consummate amateur competitor. The other chose the opposite route, but both got a cold shoulder at the front door.

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