Jennings puts new path to NBA on full display
INDIANAPOLIS -- Brandon Jennings is under the microscope -- and not just by scouts looking for flaws in his game.
If the point guard isn't taken among the top 15 picks in next week's NBA draft, the critics who questioned his decision to skip college and play professionally in Europe will be validated.
If he is a lottery pick next Thursday, well, Europe could become the new stage for America's young talent.
"If I go in the top five, I think you'll see more kids go to Europe," Jennings said Thursday after working out in Indianapolis.
Clearly, Jennings believes he's good enough to warrant a top 10 selection. He has worked out for six teams, five of whom select fourth through eighth. The Pacers pick No. 13 and Jennings has one more scheduled stop on this national tour.
There are indications a new trend is taking root among America's top prep basketball stars.
Jennings initially signed with Arizona before heading to Europe and now highly touted Jeremy Tyler plans to skip his final high school season in San Diego to play in Europe, too.
Why? Before 2006, the NBA could draft players straight out of high school. Now American-born players must wait until they are 19 and a year out of high school.
NBA officials have increasingly looked overseas for players, too.
So if Jennings is a top 10 pick, European money could quickly become a viable option for American players, though most still choose to attend college. The NCAA isn't overly concerned.
"We are talking about a very, very small group of people (skipping college) right now," spokesman Erik Christianson said. "Young people have choices today and those choices may include a nontraditional path. They have to make that decision individually."
But, as Jennings and others are proving, the choices are expanding.
Bryce Harper, a 16-year-old baseball player from Nevada, intends to forgo his final two years of high school and has enrolled in a community college so he can become eligible for the Major League draft early. Maurice Clarett, the former Ohio State football player, won, then lost his court challenge against the NFL's draft age requirement.
Now there's Jennings, whose NBA future is no sure thing.
Since returning home for pre-draft workouts, the 6-foot-2 guard who grew up in California has heard plenty of questions about why his scoring plummeted last season.
As a senior at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, Jennings averaged nearly 33 points. In Europe, he averaged just 7.6 points in 16 Euroleague games and 5.5 points in 27 Italian league games, raising questions about his shooting skills.
While scouts want to know which Jennings they'll be getting, he contends he learned more in Europe than he would have on campus.
"The difference is I was playing against men," he said. "I think I'm more prepared and ready than I was last year. I'm more mature and now I don't just run around all the time like I used to.
Unlike the high school entrants of previous years, Jennings may also be better prepared to make the jump.
He has already endured the rigorous road trips, the hectic schedule and learned the responsibilities that come with a big contract. He's competed against veterans and adapted to the mental challenges of playing below his own expectations. He even took time Thursday to back away from calling fellow European veteran Ricky Rubio, considered the top point guard in the draft, overrated. Jennings said he got carried away.
All of it, Jennings believes, gives him an advantage.
"A lot of the things I learned came off the court," he said. "You really don't know how good you have it till you step outside your boundaries. I've seen the pro game for a year, so I know what coaches and GMs are looking for, and I think I could step in and run a team."
If scouts agree, Jennings is likely to hear his name called early Wednesday night. And then the 170-pound guard with the tattooed arms could emerge as a heavyweight example of where the next generation of NBA players will train.
"If they hadn't put that (age requirement) in, I probably would have come out last year," Jennings said. "So I found another way. But I've been a lot of different places and seen a lot of different players. The Euroleague really is a good league."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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