Marcus Williams of the Golden State Warriors said Brandon Jennings is frustrated in Italy, and what Marcus Williams says about Brandon Jennings matters. The two are close friends, ever since meeting in Southern California on the traveling-team circuit, to where they talk or text several times a week and Williams considers Jennings his little brother. It also matters to NBA teams who will be picking in the lottery and have a need at point guard, if you know of any.
Jennings is the trailblazer who signed a letter of intent with Arizona, got into a back-and-forth over the legitimacy of his SAT scores, took the test a second and a third time, and then skipped the whole thing. A few years too late to jump directly to the NBA, he made the unprecedented move in July of turning pro by signing with a team in Italy, Lottomatica Virtus Roma, in what most everyone in the United States figured was a one-season loaner to Europe before Jennings enters the draft as one of the top prospects at his position, if not overall.
He sidestepped the NCAA, got to play against good competition as a proving ground for the NBA, and got paid for it. Just sticking it to the NCAA would have been worth it for most guys.
The reviews on his early play have been good. Not great, but good, and that's encouraging for someone who would have been a college freshman and is playing competition to most conferences here. His minutes have been sketchy, 17.9 in the first 10 games through Jan. 15, and it's tough to know whether that's because his play has also been inconsistent or because he is learning firsthand how many overseas clubs still operate under a class system that gives preference to veterans even if they are being outplayed by the newcomer.
The Williams perspective:
"It's been back and forth with him," the Warriors reserve point guard said. "He said he's been doing good, then he said the coach hasn't been playing him, he's been getting frustrated. Then he'll turn around and say he played a good game. He's doing fine. But he said the league is just a lot different. It's real physical, sort of slower than what he's accustomed to. To me, that (a physical style), is not his real strength, so I think he's really working on his game being over there, and I think he can only get better."
Question: What does he say about living there?
Answer: He says it's real different. The food is different. He just talks about the normal lifestyle. He's there with his little brother and his mom, so he feels somewhat at home, but it's still different.
Q: Do you think he regrets going over there?
A: I don't think so. He told me he looks at it like a great experience and a great opportunity for him to do something that no one else has done. With his personality, he's like a different guy anyway.
Q: How do you mean?
A: He's very different from everyone. He wants to be a standout. He wants to be the guy standing by himself while everyone else follows someone else. He could have easily gone to college. He could have easily taken the test like he was supposed to, passed the test and went to Arizona. But he saw the opportunity and took another direction. He just looks at it as a different opportunity, a different path, a different road than everyone else took. I think he's just enjoying it.
Q: I'm not sure how much you or other people tell him, but does he have a sense that a lot of people in the United States are watching to see how he does, like he's the big experiment for the high school player going over there instead of going to college?
A: Brandon's not dumb. He's not dumb. I think he knew what he did before he did and he knows guys are going to look at him and try to put him in a situation where, "Hey, if Brandon did it, I can do it." So now if he doesn't work out, if the situation does go south, high school guys from the United States may look like, "Oh, wait, well it didn't really work out with Brandon. I'm going to just go to college like everyone else does." But if it does work, then you may see more guys skipping the first year of college to go overseas to play basketball for a year, get paid for that year, and then leave. He's kind of like a pioneer in that sense if it works.
Q: Do you think he likes that role? Does he like being the guy who will determine what happens with other players and other teams in Europe, on whether they want to bring more (high school players) over?
A: I think so. Like I said, he's a standout guy. He wants people to follow him and he wants people to admire him like - I wouldn't say a god. But look at him like he's that guy. He likes the attention. I don't know if you ever saw him in high school, but he had the flat top. Everything's just different about him. I wouldn't call him crazy, because he's not crazy. But he just lives on the edge. But not in a bad way. He tries new things. He tries different things.
Q: Is there any way in the world he's back in Italy next season as opposed to being in the NBA?
A: Like I said, the game over there is pretty different. I think even if he doesn't do well over there this season, once he comes and shows his talent in NBA workouts, teams will be amazed at his athleticism, his quickness, the way he can shoot the ball. I think the only knock on him now is probably his size. He's about 6-1, 6-2, weighs about 160, 170 pounds.
Q: In other words, he has no intention of playing two seasons over there, right? The plan is to come to the NBA next season?
A: I haven't really talked to him about that. Me being so close to him before all the basketball credibility came, we don't really talk about basketball. It's more he asks me how I'm doing in basketball, I ask him how he's doing in basketball, and then we'll talk about the most random things, from what shoes are out over here or what kind of food he's been eating to what kind of cars he's seen. So it's not really like we talk about basketball a lot.
Q: You mentioned that there is a certain amount of frustration. Would you be surprised, then, if he did want to go back for another season of dealing with that?
A: I think it may just be him being a first-year player, a young player. The coaching style over there may be, "He can learn a little bit behind our veteran players and then I'll throw him in the fire every now and then." Or maybe the coach doesn't like him. Who knows what it is. But if that's the case, I think the minutes that he does play, he's being productive. If teams over here and GMs over here see that, they may take that into account.
Q: What's the biggest frustration that he has? Is it the lack of playing time?
A: Yeah. He could be at the North Pole right now and if he was playing, he'd be playing. But I'm sure even if he was in the NBA on the same team as Chris Paul and Deron Williams, he'd be mad that he's not getting in the game. That's just him. He feels like he can help a team and he feels that he's better than a lot of guys, and I don't think that that's a bad attitude to have. But it has its cons to it, too. He tends to get out of his realm a little bit, but I think he gets grounded real well. He humbles himself.