The Starting Five Brandon Jennings Interview: Between the Alpha and the Omega, Therein Lies The Difference
Near triple double in his first and leading his team into the playoffs in what will be the last game this season Wednesday, in Boston, Brandon Jennings brings change to the NBA’s flow. He’s sui generis and has matured beyond his years since I initially saw him play in the Elite 24 at famed Rucker Park in Harlem NY. He’s the evolution of Allen Iverson. If Iverson is The Answer, Jennings is The Difference. In 2009, Milwaukee won 34 games and while Jennings isn’t the sole reason for the Bucks success in 2010, the franchise has been energized since he stepped from behind the curtain on draft day. It was a memorable moment in what should be…barring injury of course…a memorable career. Here is a kid who wants it and really doesn’t care who is in his way. His goals seemed to be deliberately outlined in his mind and if he continues to grow as a man and as a player, his name will stand beside those who’ve transcended the sport for years to come.
He’s rather unique…
Before the interview with Brandon, I wanted to begin with a couple of words from Brandon’s coach Scott Skiles on his play as well as the overall play of the Bucks. Before he did his pre-game presser, he walked by and had this scowl only Dave Stewart or John Chaney’s Momma could love. Skiles is assuredly articulate but remains as matter of fact as his mannerisms suggests. The ten year coach is 360-335 with a bright future going forward.
Michael Tillery: You’ve become a fine coach in this league. What has this year done for you? You weren’t expected to do much. You’re hovering around that fifth spot. Remarkable.
Scott Skiles: Yeah…first of all I don’t put a lot of stock into what is said preseason because no one knows preseason number one and the people making those judgments I don’t necessarily think know a whole lot. It’s very difficult to predict in September how a team is gonna come together. Even if you have your entire team. Obviously we had no Redd (Michael)…9 new faces…Redd coming back from injury. We had a lot of stuff going on and unfortunately he was injured again. Same time as all that was going on, Brandon has done a great job as a rookie, Bogut was having a career year, we got Illyasova (Ersan) back from Europe…he’s played really well. Kurt Thomas is here. We have a lot of guys here from trade besides Stackhouse…we traded for Salmons (John) so there have been a lot of things that have gone into it as the season has gone on. So far it’s been a good year. We’re in the playoffs. We have a chance to play postseason basketball…which is great. We’ll just try to finish strong and see where we’re at.
MT: What was the difficulty…or not of bringing in Brandon Jennings with his attitude and skill set…your attitude and skill set?
SS: He’s been easy to coach. He’s had some games he didn’t play like a rookie and also where he’s played like a rookie…which is understandable. He got off to such a great start. Everyone took notice of him. He’s played in every game. He’s played a lot of minutes. He’s played in a lot of big moments. He’s made big plays for us. His defense has gotten better as the year has gone on. He’s had a very very good rookie year. Like all rookie players he’s got things he’s gotta work on but you have to be excited about his progress.
MT: Obviously…as you alluded to…there are other players on the team (who have played well). Do you think he’s (Brandon) the NBA Rookie of the Year? Should he be Rookie of the Year being you are pushing for the playoffs?
SS: Depends on the criteria that they use when they are voting. I try not to get into that.
I will say from my seat he is.
I understand the people who have a vote have whatever criteria there is. You have to look at all of that to make an informed decision.
Then it comes down to where do you put playing every game and helping a team (reach) the playoffs in the hierarchy of whatever criteria you are choosing. To us, that’s real important. Some people might just look statistically and try to pick somebody else. For us, he’s been a huge part in a successful playoff run and who knows what we’ll be in the playoffs. He’s played a big big role in our world.
Brandon Jennings is The Difference…
MT: Brandon what’s good with ya young fella? How’s the season?
Brandon Jennings: Feeling great. We’re making a push for the playoffs. We got in. We’ve reached our goal. We want to change the organization around to make it a winning franchise. That was our number one goal. Now we have to head into the playoffs and put it down.
MT: Your first NBA (our first interview) game was here in Philly. You have a crazy game to debut…near triple double…how does this year compare to last year over in Europe?
BJ: Last year was a pre-draft year for me. The year was tough but I got through it. I think it showed how tough I was mentally…to make that move over there. It was tough. Now I’m here playing in the NBA and I’m just letting it all go.
MT: What was the challenge? You said early on you wanted to be the guy to take and help this team go to the playoffs. There wasn’t a consistent winning attitude in Milwaukee. Speak on going through the season and how the attitude is slowly but surely changing where having consistent success is attainable.
BJ: Like you said, since day one I’ve been talking change and the playoffs. This is what we get paid to do. We get paid to win. We don’t get paid to put up numbers. When you are traded or drafted to a team you are brought in to either help stay on a winning track or change where they are at. That’s how I approach it because this is what I’m paid to do. I need to get it done and show them I’m capable of helping the team get to the playoffs.
MT: Obviously there’s the first and the 55 point game, but what are some of the other games you look back on and say” Wow! I’m here. I’m doing this. I’m in the NBA…”
BJ: Yeah, a lot of games. When we played Denver earlier in the season, my first game and going to Sacramento where I had a big game, the big game in Golden State. I had a lot of big games this year. The 55 in Golden State was like OK, I’m in the NBA now.
MT: Let’s talk about that game. Did you ever think about having such a game once in the league? Was that your dream game?
BJ: It was my wildest dream. I never thought I’d score more than 30 points because I knew how hard it was. To do 55 in three quarters? That was pretty amazing. Not a lot of people can say they did that.
MT: I’m sure you have more important goals in mind, but I just wanted to document that game. You were scoreless in the first quarter. Do you remember how you went about stating your name on the game after the scoreless quarter? What was the inspiration behind the 3 quarter explosion?
BJ: I knew I had to be more aggressive. Golden State is not an easy team to play because they play so wild. People think because they get up and down that it’s easy to blow them out but that’s to their advantage. They can beat you with quick shots and get you out of your rhythm. It was still a close game. I just felt I had to take some shots…hit some big shots for the team.
MT: How did you bring the vibrant personality of Brandon Jennings into this game, this team, this system?
BJ: I don’t know. I’m just different. I’m like in my own little world. It’s always fly. I do basically what I wanna do. Just like going overseas…I did what I wanted to do. No one is gonna tell me I can’t do this or I can’t do that. If I want to do it, I’m going to prove you wrong.
MT: As you know, the name of my piece after my first game was I Saw a Rookie of the Year Last Night. How do you feel about somewhat dropping off the Rookie of the Year map after being that dude early on? It seems like other players (Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry) have pushed you into the background.
I think because your team is in the playoffs that you are the ROY.
BJ: Now I’m playing for something. Every game means something. I have to play through my team and I give them the utmost respect. Even though I was putting up big numbers we weren’t being successful as a team. I feel like I have a great big man in Andrew Bogut. He’s had a helluva year despite his injury. He’s stepping up his game. I feel we feed off him. Then when John Salmons came over he was another big part of the team. I’m not putting up the big numbers anymore but if I’m not mistaken…if you get drafted to a team, your job is to help change the franchise by winning games.
Winning is everything to me.
MT: Heading into the last week of the regular season, I’m sure you are excited to be able to get into the playoffs and really do your thing. You had your rookie regular season. Now you are a rookie going into the playoffs. Speak on it.
BJ: Yes. I’m really excited. Not a lot of guys can say they made the playoffs their rookie season and make an immediate impact on the court. Most guys never been or most guys it takes 3 or 4 years but my first year I’m going. I’m really excited. I can’t change anything.
I plan on going back into my killer mode…
…like I was at the beginning of the season. Now that Bogut is out when the playoffs start (out for the playoffs period).
MT: What are you learning from this guy right here (Charlie Bell)? I know he’s been helping you out especially with his defensive skill set.
BJ: That’s the defender right there. That’s the defender. You learn a lot from veterans. You learn about getting your rest and taking care of your body, managing your money, all types of things. He’s a big guy on defense. He likes to get up in guys faces…and tells me what to do on the defensive end. I appreciate that.
MT: Your head coach was a straight bulldog. I don’t know if you’ve seen the around the back pass he threw at Michigan State that was a pretty highlight:
It was one of those plays and fortunately it led me to follow his pro career. He still has the NBA record for assists with 30 if I’m not mistaken…
BJ: Yep, 30.
MT: How has the point guard in his coaching mind translated to you the up and coming star?
BJ: It was a challenging year. He’s a great point guard that expects a lot out of you. We have a lot of each other in us…the cockiness and playing with a chip on our shoulders. That worked out a lot for both of us. He’s a great teacher.
Without him, none of this would have been possible this year.
MT: I was watching Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot and was so impressed with the fun you were having. I covered the Elite 24 but can’t remember if I spoke to you. I’m sure I did. That game…so many of you are either top collegiate players or in the L. What was that experience? You went off.
BJ: That was a helluva experience. If I’m not mistaken, half of those guys are in the NBA or about to get drafted.
MT: You all were young.
BJ: Yeah, I was going into my 11th grade year. Out there with Mike Beasley…Nolan Smith. He’s going into the draft this year. Congratulations to him for that and winning the NCAA Final. Jerryd Bayless and all the other guys.
That right there…that was one of the best things they ever did was making the Elite 24.
It got all of us together. It was nothing negative or anything like that. We were able to make friends and also be able to go at other guys.
MT: Do you ever think what you could have done at Arizona or at another school…or did anything differently?
BJ: I feel like if I would have went to Arizona we would have been a Final Four team with Chase Budinger…Jordan Hill…we would have at least gone to the Sweet Sixteen easily. We would have made a great push.
I always think about it sometimes of course…how good the team would have been.
MT: What did you think about the tournament this year? Did you implement the Brandon Jennings avatar into any of the games?
BJ: Oh of course. As far as the teams, I was pulling for West Virginia. I had West Virginia taking it all. The National Final was one of the best championships I’ve seen in a long time. Butler…of course everyone was pulling for Butler…and Duke was able to hold them off.
I was definitely pulling for my man Nolan Smith. We go way back to Oak Hill.
MT: Let’s take it back to Oak Hill. One of my boys, Justin Walsh hipped me to your game against Duncanville, TX. He talked about how you were called for carrying the ball throughout the game and when you stopped their home court winning streak, you yelled out “52 is over!” That swag. That Brandon Jennings. The one misconstrued as being mad cocky and arrogant.
BJ: Well it depends on who is talking first you know?
If you talk to me, I step up my game even more and prove you wrong.
That Duncanville game was crazy though. Actually it was a sold out game. There were between 3 and 5 thousand people there. Like you said, they were calling carries and everything because I guess they weren’t used to seeing all that…you know…type of ball handling in Texas. We came out with the win and of course I had to let them know “52 is over”. We came to your house and beat ya’ll. Not too many people come to Oak Hill but we’ll come to wherever ya’ll at.
MT: That high school player. Who was that dude?
BJ: That was the young AI. That was the young Allen Iverson. I averaged 32, 7 and 8 a game who played with a bunch of fire every night.
MT: Do you remember the first time you picked up a basketball?
BJ: 3 years old.
MT: First recollections playing in a league.
BJ: Preschool in Compton. A teacher brought me my first basketball court. Ever since then I never laid the ball down.
MT: Did you rock the Gumby back then?
BJ: (we laugh) Nah.
MT: When did you start rockin’ that?
BJ: Man I didn’t start rockin’ the Gumby…I had a S-curl. I had a fade with a curl.
MT: Fade with a curl. Did you have lines cut into it too?
BJ: Oh yeah. Lines in the side…all that.
MT: The end of July, 2008. Olympic exhibition vs. Canada in Vegas. I practically bumped into you heading into the game. My immediate thoughts were of you one day leading our nation in the Olympics. What do you envision for yourself regarding USA Basketball?
BJ: It depends. If the opportunity is there I might accept. I’m used to the style of play. I definitely wouldn’t mind taking on that challenge. Representing our country of course would be real big. Spain is good. They always are gonna be good. Hopefully I see myself going against Ricky Rubio in the gold medal game.
MT: There are so many comparisons between you and Ricky Rubio. Seems as if the two of you are joined at the hip ala Magic and Bird despite his NBA absence. Do you want him in this league this very second?
BJ: Of course. Of course. He was projected as one of the best point guards in the draft coming out. To be the best, you have to go against the best. They say he’s the best so of course I’m gonna want to go against the guy.
I can’t wait until he comes back.
MT: Allen Iverson. That was your guy. The comparisons. Playing here in your first game and his first game was against Milwaukee. He’s no longer in the league but gave the Sixers locker room something now lost. What affect has he had on you as a player?
BJ: I feel a guy like that…6 foot…watching a guy like that gave me a lot of confidence. It made me believe that if he could do it, I could do it. Watching that guy in 2001 against the Lakers…
…in the Finals. That first game was crazy. 48 points in LA. Just that year. He was MVP.
MT: Let’s talk about the perception of Brandon Jennings. To some you come off as cocky and arrogant…others confident and animated. Is it important of you to endear yourself to the fans, the NBA, the media? What goes through your head when people view you in ways indifferent to to reality?
BJ: I can’t help what people say or think.
I’m a little different.
I don’t think people have really seen a person like me in a while in this league. I change my hairstyles all the time. I walk with a lot of swagger. My game is different…more flashy. I’m just different. Twitter...you read my Twitter. I’m one with my fans. I stay connected. I’m just a more outgoing person. I’m different in my own little way. I’m in my own little world.
MT: What is the NBA mean personally? The fans see millionaires who play a game…and that’s not to simplify their love…what does the NBA mean to you now that your are in the league. Is it like the various leagues you might have played in growing up in terms of the players you go up against? Describe playing in the NBA for the fans.
BJ: To me, it’s just going up against the best. The best players in the world every year battling for one thing and one thing only…that ring.
The NBA has its ups and downs…its good and bad times…but this is the NBA. It’s a long season…it’s a grind.
MT: What do you want to be in this league? Who are you right now and what do you want to be both individually and as a teammate?
BJ: I want to be a champion.
I want to have a couple rings. If you watched the Magic and Bird story on HBO..I recorded it…I think Magic and Bird changed the league. They were just winners.
That’s how I want to be. I wanna be a winner.
At the end of the day, I want to have a couple of rings and a couple of MVP awards.
MT: Do you compare yourself to the greats of the game or the current stars right here, right now?
BJ: If I were to compare myself to anyone it would be Kenny Anderson…the lefty from New York…
…he’s a guy that could get up and down the floor…pass. He had that swagger.
MT: Speaking of…your game is New York. Have people told you that over the years?
BJ: Exactly, that’s why the comparisons are there.
MT: Is that a remnant of you following the league and watching certain players or is that just a game that was gifted to you out West?
BJ: You know what did it? It was And1 mix-tapes. Everyone wanted to be like their stars. Everyone wanted to be like Hot Sauce or AO. Skip to My Lou…all them. Seeing those guys do all that, you try to add it to your own game. It changed the whole definition of the game.
MT: Do you want to be the Rookie of the Year?
BJ: If it happens, it happens. If not, I won’t be mad because I’ve proven everybody wrong anyway. They said I wouldn’t be here. They said I wouldn’t start. They said I couldn’t lead a team as a rookie point guard to the playoffs.
They had us finishing last, so I know I’ve proven everybody wrong to what they said I couldn’t do this year.