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August 22, 2019

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Back on U.S. soil, Jennings anxious to prove himself in NBA

Brandon Jennings-NBA Summer League

Justin M. Bowen

A look at Brandon Jennings’ debut Friday at the 2009 NBA Summer League in the COX Pavilion.

Brandon Jennings-NBA Summer League

A look at Brandon Jennings' debut Friday at the 2009 NBA Summer League in the COX Pavilion.

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Brandon Jennings shot his Under Armour ad campaign inside the Colosseum, and he got to see Greece and Spain during the season he spent in Rome.

He salivates just thinking about the butter, garlic and cheese risotto they usually served before Lottomatica Virtus Roma home games.

Jennings, his younger brother and his mother did not have a dryer where they lived. So, when in Rome ... they had to hang-dry their clothes for a couple of days after washing them, just like the locals.

That was challenging, Jennings said late Saturday night inside the Cox Pavilion at the NBA Summer League.

Actually, scratch that. The toughest part of his season in Italy was the basketball.

“I’m a pretty strong person, mentally,” Jennings said. “Over there, it was tough not playing. I’d play 15 minutes this game and 3 minutes another game. I think I showed a lot of people how mature I am.”

His exodus to Italy was triggered by the NBA rule requiring draftees to be 19 or have played a year of college ball.

Jennings failed to academically qualify at Arizona, and Lottomatica dangled a $1.65 million contract. Then Under Armour signed him to a $2 million deal.

Arrivederci, America.

Now part of the Milwaukee Bucks, courtesy of the 10th pick in last month’s draft, catching his breath was a chore for Jennings in the first half against Dallas on Saturday night.

The hot, dry desert air might have had something to do with his lungs burning. Then again, those lungs haven’t pumped like that in 14 months.

That’s the last time Jennings played so much in a competitive game before a crowd on American soil, when he participated in the Jordan All-Star Game.

“He was anxious to play, anxious to please,” said Bucks assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, who’s coaching Milwaukee’s summer league entry. “Anytime you’re a No. 10 pick, there’s a natural tendency to prove you’re worthy.”

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound lefty had a shaky start Saturday. A lazy pass to his left got picked off, with ease, by a Dallas swingman. A casual scoop shot from the right side didn’t hit the rim.

Aaron Miles went in and quickly blew by Jennings to the basket, where one of Jennings’s teammates swatted the ball.

He’d overplay, then try to poke the ball from the opponent’s hands from behind.

He missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Then another. Jennings missed his first seven shots from the field.

“It was ugly for me,” Jennings said. “But we won the game. That’s the most important thing right now. Our goal is to win five in a row. However we can get it done, we’ll get it done.”

Undefeated in the Summer League? Since when has that been the goal of a professional? Jennings had been thirsting for Saturday for a long time.

Sampson, on one knee, counseled the wispy 19-year-old a few times on the bench.

“The big things with him are time, score and slowing down,” Sampson said. “When you’re as gifted as he is, there’s a tendency to do a little too much at times and get out of control.

“One thing we have to remember is, he’s 19 years old. Aaron did a great job pressuring him. You have to credit Aaron Miles for that.”

Jennings brought it in the second half, when his 3-pointer from the right side were his first points as an NBA player. They gave the Bucks a 39-36 lead.

A bit later, he darted down the court, stopped at about the free-throw line to catch Miles on his left shoulder and then drilled a pull-up jumper to make it 44-36.

He finished with 9 points when his two free throws gave Milwaukee a 63-55 edge with 30 seconds left in their victory.

Jennings was vocal, as Sampson has instructed him. He showed some savvy moves and he didn’t back down from the physical Miles.

Ramon Sessions and Luke Ridnour figure into Milwaukee’s plans as the point, so Jennings won’t have to be hustled into the role as the Bucks’ main floor general so soon after his Italian adventure.

It might have been a casual summer setting Friday night, but it was anything but business as usual to Brandon Jennings. There was a game to play on American soil, and he wasn’t about to let it slip away.

“There’s a responsibility in that, if he gets a little rattled we’re going to look rattled,” Sampson said. “When he’s under control, we’re under control. He has to keep his emotions and his game under control.

“That’s why this summer league experience will be as good for him as it will for anybody.”

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