By: Jonathan Givony - President
Besides the prospects at Joventut, which I wrote about extensively already, I also got to take in a couple more draft-eligible players in the Barcelona area—the most notable of which was Rome’s Brandon Jennings .
Things have been anything but boring in Brandon Jennings ’ world since the last update we provided a month ago.
First came a DNP-CD, according to some Italian sources because of something Jennings wrote in his excellent blog that may have been perceived as criticizing his coach’s practice regimen:
“Tuesday-Friday it was straight running, we felt like we were trying out for the Olympic Cross Country Team or something. I think the coach was upset about our loss last week, because he made us run on the football field (soccer field) for a good 45mins. Then the next day we ran 80 sprints in practice for an hour and a half…which was rough. It felt like we were back in pre-season training camp.
Then the next day we worked on defense the entire practice. This was all leading up to our game on Sunday…”
After his team dropped their fifth straight Italian league game in a row (pretty shocking for a team like Rome), this time to tiny Carife Ferrara, Rome’s Croatian head coach Jasmin Repesa decided to “resign” –reportedly after heavy pressure from ownership and the team’s general manager, legendary Serbian basketball player Dejan Bodiroga.
It was said that Repesa had lost the confidence of his players in the locker room, and that Jennings’ lack of playing time may not have sat too well with the people upstairs, considering the huge investment they made in him. In a subsequent move, the team also parted ways with former Celtic guard Allen Ray, who, despite shooting a very poor percentage from the outside, had been Rome’s most productive perimeter scoring threat to that point.
With a new interim head coach in place, Nando Gentile, Jennings was inserted back into the starting lineup for the game against Ricky Rubio and DKV Joventut. He did not disappoint in the least bit, saving arguably his best game of the season thus far for the watchful eyes of a number of general managers and at least 30 NBA representatives.
Jennings spent most of the game alongside Ibrahim Jaaber , playing both on and off the ball in Rome’s fairly disoriented offense. He looked very aggressive attacking his matchup, displaying his world-class speed in the open floor, and moving the ball nicely around the court finding open shooters.
On two separate occasions he punished Joventut’s full-court press on an in-bounds pass by faking a move towards the ball, only to take off in a full-sprint in the opposite direction, receiving a lob-pass over the top of the defense and going in for an easy score.
Jennings’ perimeter shot again wasn’t falling in this game, something that has increasingly become an issue for him in both the Italian league and Euroleague. He’s hit just 9/47 attempts from beyond the arc this season, or 19%, while converting on only 46% of his two pointers.
Decision-making continues to be an issue for the young point guard, both in the form of careless turnovers and poor shot-selection. He pulled up wildly off the dribble from well beyond the 3-point line on one occasion before anyone else had touched the ball, and attempted a very off-balance floater from the free throw line shortly after.
Defensively, Jennings struggled. Ricky Rubio blew by him on a couple of occasions even though everyone in the building knew he could only drive left, and he even fell down on one possession trying to stay in front of his man. The pick and roll gave him all sorts of trouble, and he again made very little effort to try and crash the glass or get his team extra possessions.
All in all, Jennings wasn’t at his best, but still emerged as one of the best players on the floor at times, which is an impressive feat considering his age, lack of experience and the level of competition he’s currently playing at.
After the game we spoke with him in the locker room about a number of issues. Here are some key quotes:
*About playing against Ricky Rubio:
“It was cool. He was only playing with one hand. He’s pretty good. Not bad.”
*On what Europe has helped him improve on:
“Maturity. I’m more mature. I’ve handled it well so far. I’m learning something now. I’m around older guys that have been here before—Ibi [ Ibrahim Jaaber ], Sani [ Sani Becirovic ], Hutson [ Andre Hutson ]. It’s a learning experience. “
*On being benched abruptly early in the 3rd quarter:
“I made a couple of fouls. It was my mistake. We were trying to make a run. I can’t complain. If we’re here winning, I can’t complain. I’m sure I’ll play more now.”
*On being on a short leash:
“I make mistakes and they take me out. It is what it is. I’m gonna make mistakes…It’s a little bit frustrating not to play.”
*On whether this is how he envisioned Europe:
“I knew coming in that there will be ups and downs. This has made me stronger. I’m seeing what it’s like to not be playing. Who knows, in the League I might not be playing at first. Mentally this is something good to go through.”
*On whether he was sad to see Coach Repesa step down:
-“I never gave it no thought.”
*Thoughts on the media criticism from outlets in US about his lack of stats in Italy:
“I never read it. I don’t read it. It’s a long season, and it’s still early. I can’t get caught up in that stuff. I’m sure it was negative. People don’t understand what it’s like here in Europe.”
*On working on his defense:
-“I’m getting smarter and stronger. That’s something that will come along.”
*Question from Spanish media outlet on why he came to Europe:
“To learn the pro game for a year or so. The goal is to learn. Hopefully on June 26th I’ll be shaking David Stern’s hand.”
*On what he needs to improve on:
-“My strength and my defense.”
*On whether there is pressure on him:
“Coach says to play with confidence. There is no pressure at all.”
*On what he would tell a high school player currently considering playing in Europe:
“First thing, if you’re not mentally tough, you have no chance. Their passion here is unbelievable. If you get on a good team, you won’t be scoring 35 points. There will be ups and downs. If you’re mentally tough, you will succeed. I knew that with this team we had a chance of winning the Euroleague and Italy.”