Athens, Greece. An aged Krik?Krak! crumbling parquet floor, resembling both the old Boston Garden and an Edwidge Danticat novel, responds like an old bad back to every cut, pivot and stomp of the 10 pro players competing on top of it. Nearly 40,000 wildly enthusiastic fanatics crowd every inch of the 94 foot basketball court. Brandon Jennings demands the rock after a defensive rebound, weaves through traffic at hyper-BJ3 speed, loses two defenders, draws a third opponent away from a teammate and delivers a picture perfect mead meets sms text book pass to an awed teammate, who bobbles the ball out of bounds. “There were so many fans at the game. If felt more like a soccer match,” Jennings recalls, describing life on Italian hardwood. “The fans were crazy into the game. Smoke was everywhere. Like, they can smoke during the games. We lost by 32,” he continues. “Feels good to be on US soil.”
After briefly considering playing at the University of Arizona where Gilbert Arenas, Jason Terry, Mike Bibby, Damon Stoudamire and other elite NBA point guards studied while starring for famed college coach Lute Olson, Jennings elected to play professionally in Europe. No age requirement overseas, just a game requirement. Young homie had plenty of that. Jennings was described by NBA scout Hoops Hype as a “Flamboyant and exceptionally talented lefty point guard with a flair for the spectacular and the demeanor of a star”. That was stating it lightly. In truth, the entire nation knew that Jennings had next like Drake. The entertaining guard only needed a Lil backing and some Young Money to introduce his game to a larger audience. The world.
On July 16, 2008, Italian league team Lottomatica Virtus Roma signed Jennings to a deal worth $1.65 million, net income guaranteed. Shortly after, Jennings agreed to be the signature hoop star for Under Armour – the face of their new basketball division. A deal worth a reported $2 million. Jennings relocated to Italy along with his mother, Alice, and younger brother Terrence. The Brandon Jennings “When In Rome” Under Armour campaign has been a success in both Europe and the US. Jennings transition to living and working in Rome had its ups and downs, which is basically the defition of life. On the court, however, Jennings was right at home. “He’s one of the top talents that I’ve ever seen,” remarked Roma’s general manager Dejan Bodiroga, himself an Italian League legend.
During the exhibition season, the 6-2 jetsetter averaged 20 points, 7 assists and several jaw-dropping moves that had fans eagerly anticipating the start of the official season. An opportunity to see an NBA-caliber star in their own Roman gym. “Living in Rome and playing pro ball there was an amazing experience that could never be replaced,” Jennings says. “I mean, you’re an American living in one of the cultural capitals of the world. My mom and I. My brother. We got to travel all over Europe.” The only downside was that Jennings developed tastes for cuisine and women that is hard to find here in the states. “I’m still looking for Risotto. It’s a rice like dish they serve there in Italy. Man it’s delicious.” And the chicks? Come on B? “Man, the women in Barcelona are amazing. Smart and gorgeous. Safe to say I looooved Barcelona.”
Homie possesses what is referred to in NBA scouting lingo as “Game Changing Speed”. He is the fastest player in the 2009 NBA draft. That speed is not simply referring to movement, but also thought. No one makes moves as fast as Jennings. From processing the thought, creating the move, to blazing by opponents and weaving through traffic to actually pull it off, he does this with a random innateness unseen in the decades since speedy playmakers like Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, Iverson, Tony Parker, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash entered the league more than a decade ago. Sure, Chris Paul and Daron Williams are seen as powerful, quick, and clever creators. Jennings is more or less the Ferrari to their Porsche. Not so much staggering quickness as fast lane fury. “Yeah, I’m fast,” Jennings laughs, knowing that he is understating the obvious. “The goal for me is to get a stop and get out in the open court. Create scoring opportunities. Find my teammates,” he continues, adding. “That and leadership is what I bring to a team.” It didn't take long for Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles to convince the Bucks brass to take Jennings in the lottery, the #10 overall pick. Through the first few games, he is averaging 20 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and just over 2 steals per game.
Aside from hyper speed, a daring competitiveness is the other key ingredient to Jennings game. The kid is just plain fearless. “I grew up playing with my older cousins and their older friends. In Compton,” Jennings explains. “I was like five or six. Really the only way they would let me play everyday was if I didn’t cry. So I never did.”
The daring aspect may derive from something else. Jennings is a popular culture kid. A hooping trendsetter and tastemaker who likes to take what’s hot and put his own spin on it. Today he’s shopping for his draft day suit. “Right now I’m rocking the Mohawk you know. Just got chopped up.” Jennings is happy to be back in Cali, though his next few weeks are booked with NBA workouts, television and radio appearances, press pop-ins and of course the requisite girl chasing, shopping and chillin’ with friends. He is young, having fun, and has a tremendously bright future ahead. Who can blame the kid for kicking it? For soaking it all in, enjoying the moments.
“I’m feeling the Kanye West movement. That’s the movement right there. He’s setting trends and always trying to be different but win too,” Jennings elaborates, essentially drawing similarities between his approach to basketball and West’s approach to music and fashion. “Some people just lack creativity. I’m not one of those people.” A prime example of Jennings’ creativity is his signature Under Armour clothing line - “Young Money”, which launched late in the summer: Everything from active wear and leisure apparel to signature Brandon Jennings kicks. “I’m involved so of course it’s gonna be fresh,” Jennings laughs. “It’s gone be hot fasho.”
Brandon Jennings is the classiest young man I’ve ever met. He is gregarious, conversant, fun-loving. Qualities that will unquestionably compliment his on court ability, giving it the star quality the greatest athletes possess. Although Jennings grew up in Compton surrounded by gang activity, poverty, police corruption and under-funded public schools, he was raised by an immensely strong woman, his mother Alice. Jennings’ mother instilled honesty and truth, integrity, accountability and a love of self that strengthened the young man. He is well prepared for any challenge. Jennings was never distracted by Compton. Alice never allowed it. “Because of my mom, I have a different perspective of Compton. Good, strong people facing a lot of hard challenges. That’s Compton.” Jennings then expresses the importance of his mother; her fortitude – the young man she made showcasing the same intelligence, class and style he displays when competing.
“Everything happens for a reason. My father’s absence made my mother stronger,” Jennings begins, sharing deeply personal thoughts with a straight-faced ease and openness that is very uncommon for a 19-year-old. “She never allowed me to get involved in any of that kinda stuff. Gangs, running with the wrong crowd, doing bad in school. My mom didn’t play that,” he continues. “Plus, I’ve had a younger brother since I was in like first grade, so I was expected to be a role model for him. A leader because he looks up to me,” Jennings continues, concluding with a statement every young man can benefit from: “When you have a mother, especially a single mother who sacrificed everything to support you in your dreams. You can’t take her for granted. Gotta love moms.” I agree. And you gotta love a kid who knowingly accepts this as truth at such a young age. BJ3. Young Money. Whatever the moniker. Brandon Jennings is the truth. Now if I can only convince dude to show me around Barcelona.