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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Jennings thrives in McKale cameo

    Playing in his first official game in McKale Center and wearing an “”Arizona Basketball”” T-shirt under his jersey, Brandon Jennings certainly felt right at home Saturday evening.

    In a game designed for the UA faithful to get a taste of what Jennings is all about, the future Wildcat more than delivered with a dominant 49-point performance in which he showed off his entire offensive arsenal.

    “”I told them I was going to put on a show, and that’s what I did,”” said Jennings, who has signed a letter of intent to play for the Wildcats next season.

    “”It’s a shooter’s gym and my shot was falling, and thank God it was falling,”” he added.

    Jennings exhibited an impressive offensive array of 3-point shots, mid-range jumpers and an ability to get to the rim in his 15-for-26 shooting performance that included hitting four 3-pointers and 15 of 17 from the foul line on his way to earning the game’s MVP trophy.

    Jennings also dished out four assists, but ESPN.com’s No. 1 player in the class of 2008 is expected to be a scorer on a young Oak Hill Academy (Va.) team that starts a pair of juniors and sophomores next to Jennings.

    “”He’s got to score for our team to be good,”” said Steve Smith, the head coach of an Oak Hill squad that dropped from No. 1 to No. 17 in USA Today‘s national rankings following a pair of losses last week before beating No. 2 Duncanville (Texas) on Wednesday. “”He’s accepted his role.

    “”Last year he was 15 points and 11 assists a game and his team was 40-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country. I told him he had to score more. I didn’t know he had to score this much.””

    Jennings has already scored 46 twice, 43 twice and 42, entering Saturday’s contest averaging about 37, but never in his two-year career at Oak Hill has he scored more than the 49 he put up in McKale in leading his team to a 102-91 victory over James B. Dudley (N.C) in the in the GOAZCATS.com Showdown.

    At Arizona he expects to take on a different role, as a pass-first point guard running with a collection of athletes who can score. He has played on that type of team before, teaming up with UA forward Chase Budinger, UCLA center Kevin Love and Duke forward Taylor King on the SoCal All-Stars AAU team.

    “”He’s excited and feels like he’s a missing piece that they need,”” Smith said. “”I think he fits in. There’s a place for that guy to play whether he plays at the one or two or whatever. If you want him to score like we do this year he plays two, if you want him to play the one he’s a true point guard.””

    If UA guard Jerryd Bayless returns for his sophomore season, he would form a potent combination in the backcourt with Jennings, with both players having the ability to play both guard spots.

    “”He’s going to be a great point guard here,”” said UA guard Jawann McClellan, who watched the game from the first row. “”He knows he has to score a lot, obviously, but he’s a pass-first point guard. I think he’ll fit in good. If Jerryd decides to come back I think they’ll have a great backcourt.””

    Jennings committed to Arizona on May 22 after originally committing to and then de-comitting from USC. Although originally from the Southern California area, he called his commitment to the Trojans “”too early of a decision,”” eventually deciding it was not the right place for him.

    Instead he chose Point Guard U, a place Jennings is well aware is the alma mater of NBA point guards Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and Gilbert Arenas.

    “”I want to be the next big one,”” Jennings said from the Arizona football team’s locker room.

    Jennings knows what it’s like to play for a program with tradition. Even before Smith had heard of him, Jennings always wanted to play for prestigious Oak Hill, a school that boasts names such as Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Josh Smith, Jerry Stackhouse and Ty Lawson amongst its alumni along with a host of other professional players.

    Coach Smith said Jennings belongs on the list of the top 10 players the program has produced, something that looked true while Jennings enjoyed the third-best scoring game in Oak Hill history Saturday.

    “”You can say his name with everybody else,”” Smith said. “”He’s carrying our team and doing things for us that some of those other guys never did.””

    For that the senior said many people have compared him to Kenny Anderson, a fellow lefty point guard, and Allen Iverson, a player with a similar build and game to Jennings. Smith agreed with the comparison to Iverson, who happens to be Jennings’ favorite sports figure.

    Weighing in at 160 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame, Jennings and Smith agreed the guard needs to get stronger before he arrives on campus.

    “”Other than that he’s a very good defender, he’s quick,”” Smith said of an attribute that helped Jennings record five steals Saturday. “”Offensively he doesn’t have a lot of limitations, obviously. He sees the floor, he understands the game. He can shoot it, he can pass it.

    “”It’s a matter of getting stronger and getting his body the way it needs to be where he can handle the college season and the pro season when he gets to that level.””

    UA assistant coach Josh Pastner, who watched the game courtside, said it was exciting for Arizona fans to see Jennings in person, adding that he’s as good of a person as he is a player.

    He must be a pretty good person then because Dave Telep, Scout.com’s national recruiting director, called him a high-octane, high-power player who’s the best point guard in his class.

    “”There are no teams in America who wouldn’t want to have that guy a part of their program,”” he said.

    Marcus Heath, a James B. Dudley guard who spent much of Saturday trying to stay with Jennings, called him the quickest guard he’s ever played against, the type of player who will fly right by the defender.

    Heath saw firsthand what Jennings called his best performance of the season because of the pressure to play well for fans.

    Jennings did not play like he had pressure on him much of the game, hitting 12 of his first 15 shots, but after reaching 48 points he missed one of two free throws, a pair of layups and a jumper while trying hard to reach the 50-point barrier.

    Smith chalked that up to fatigue, while Jennings said it meant he would just have to wait for his first 50-point game in McKale.

    However, Jennings would rather be dishing the rock off to Budinger and Bayless on a loaded team than having to be a main scorer again next year.

    “”Hopefully Chase stays and Jerryd Bayless stays,”” Jennings said. “”We’ll be looking for a Final Four.

    “”It’ll be crazy next year. It’ll be crazy. And then if Chase stays, it’ll be really crazy.””

    Lance Madden contributed to this report

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