Who needs college?
Brandon Jennings certainly doesn’t.
When the NBA announced players would no longer be allowed to declare for the draft straight out of high school, most top prospects decided to “go to college” for a year. They practiced basketball, played some video games, went to just enough class to get by and then became superstars in the NBA. If you need some examples, think about O.J. Mayo and Tyreke Evans.
Brandon Jennings didn’t want to go to school. He didn’t want to pick up any more books, or waste a year playing Xbox and have the girls on campus throw themselves at him. So instead, he decided to play basketball in Europe.
He didn’t get to play much ball, but he learned life lessons that college classrooms don’t teach. Jennings found himself sitting behind less talented but older members of his Lottomatica Roma club in Italy. He found out that European basketball is somewhat like a frat, with the old hazing the young until they gain acceptance. Except minus the kegstands, because they drink wine in Italy, and a caskstand just doesn’t have the same ring. His teammates and opponents alike treated him with suspicion and antagonism, and probably called him dirty Italian names like “Mozzarella-head.”
Jennings struggled to adjust to his new surroundings (must have been something in the pasta) and was unable to make the most of his mere 17 minutes per game. He scored only 5.5 points per game during his season in Italy, despite his remarkable talent.
He may have struggled in Italy, but the lessons Jennings learned in Europe about humility and what it means to be part of a team were clearly not lost on the youngster.
Jennings joined the NBA with what would appear to be a renewed determination to prove that he was the explosive scorer of his high school days, not the bum he had shown himself to be over the past year.
The Milwaukee Bucks took a huge gamble on this unknown commodity, but it has paid off unbelievably. On Nov. 14, Jennings went off for 55 points, becoming the youngest player in history to score 50 points in one game, at 20 years and just under two months. It was the most points scored by a rookie since 1968, when a guy named Wilt Chamberlain put up 58. Yeah, Jennings is in some good company. For misusing this extreme talent, the coach of Lottamatica Roma must be saying “Mamma Mia!”
So why has Jennings become such a phenom so quickly? Why does he have the Rookie of the Year award wrapped up as the season is just beginning? Does it have something to do with his time in Europe, or is this Oak Hill Academy product simply the best teenage basketball player we’ve possibly seen in history?
Jennings clearly took the easy way out, avoiding the academic rigors of a minimum class schedule at a basketball powerhouse in favor of life as a millionaire in Rome. But Jennings’ struggles and experiences probably prepared him for life in the NBA and for the ups and downs he will be forced to endure over the course of his career better than time being coddled by NCAA-sanctioned tutors and coaches. Jennings really learned from the school of the hard knocks, or the scuola dei colpi duri, and this new individual is on display night in and night out in Milwaukee.
It might be just a coincidence that the best game by a rookie (from a scoring standpoint) in 41 years came from one of the only players to spend his post-American high school year in Europe. But it might not.
Maybe brash high school stars need the same education Brandon Jennings received to develop quickly and become productive NBA superstars right away.
Collin Gutman is a senior in Pierson College.