Brandon Jennings' young basketball career took another strange turn this week when the head coach of his Italian team, Lottomatica Virtus Roma, resigned on Tuesday.
Jasmin Repesa, long regarded as one of the top coaches in Europe, stepped down after three seasons with Virtus Roma. Sources say Repesa was distraught after his team, which was expected to compete for the Italian Championship, lost five straight league games.
There had been rumblings for more than a week that Repesa's relationship with his players, specifically those from America, had soured. Repesa and former Boston Celtics guard Allan Ray had a particularly tense relationship, and now neither is with the club. Ray, a former All-America guard at Villanova, has accepted a buyout with the team and will soon begin looking for another team, according to his agent Bill Duffy.
The 19-year-old Jennings, one of the top high school players in the class of 2008, is the first American star to jump directly to a professional league in Europe. Initially, NBA scouts saw Repesa's brusque, no-nonsense approach as a positive for Jennings, who is projected as a lottery pick in the 2009 Draft. But Repesa's odd lineups, rotations and substitution patterns eventually began to be viewed as a hindrance, not only to Jennings but to the entire squad.
Repesa, who is from Croatia, started a different lineup each game, and sometimes each half. In one game last week, he didn't play Jennings at all.
In nine Italian League games, Jennings is averaging 5.8 points and 2.8 assists in 17 minutes a game. In seven games in the Euroleague, the toughest league outside of the NBA, Jennings is averaging 8.4 points and 1.3 assists in 18 minutes. According to NBA scouts, three assists in Europe are the equivalent of roughly 5.5 in the NBA because a European assist requires no dribbling by the scorer, whereas NBA players are allowed as many as two dribbles.
Nando Gentile, a former assistant under Repesa, has taken over as Virtus Roma's head coach. Gentile, one of Italy's all-time great point guards, worked one-on-one with Jennings every day.
Gentile's first game as head coach came Thursday night in a Euroleague contest against DKV Joventut, which features Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio. Jennings started at point guard, but Rubio, who is just returning from a broken right wrist, came off the bench.
Joventut won 97-93. Jennings had one of his most solid performances of the season, scoring 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting in 23 minutes. He also had 2 assists and no turnovers. Rubio played only 8 minutes, going scoreless and handing out 3 assists.
Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.