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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Hoops signee Jennings named Naismith National Player of the Year

    Brandon Jennings runs down the floor in McKale Center as a senior at Oak Hill Academy. The former Arizona signee was picked 10th overall in the NBA Draft Thursday night.
    Brandon Jennings runs down the floor in McKale Center as a senior at Oak Hill Academy. The former Arizona signee was picked 10th overall in the NBA Draft Thursday night.

    It’s good to be part of the Arizona men’s basketball program knowing that ESPN.com’s No. 1 high school player will be a Wildcat next season. It’s even better to know that the player, Brandon Jennings, is legitimately the best high school player in the nation.

    Jennings, a 6-foot, 170-pound guard from Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., has been named the 2008 Naismith National High School Player of the Year. He is the first future Wildcat to be given the award and follows in the footsteps of Kevin Love (2007), Greg Oden (2006), LeBron James (2003), Kobe Bryant (1996) and Alonzo Mourning (1988), just to name a few.

    Jennings led his the Warriors to a 34-4 record and a No. 4 ranking by ESPN.com. He finished his senior season averaging 35.5 points, 6.4 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 steals per game.

    En route to his stat-heavy season, Jennings broke several Oak Hill records, becoming the single-season scoring leader with 1,312 points on the year and the single-season scoring average record holder. He also scored 49 points in McKale Center at the GOAZCATS.com Showdown on Dec. 22 and set an Oak Hill single-game record when he dropped 63 on Bonner Academy on Feb. 19.

    “”Those records are going to stand for a while,”” said Oak Hill’s head coach of 23 years, Steve Smith, in a phone interview Thursday. “”I knew he had the talent and the ability to possibly be the player of the year.””

    Smith said he expects Jennings to be awarded several other player of the year accolades, including the Gatorade Player of the Year Award, which will be announced on March 17.

    Attempts to reach Jennings were unsuccessful.

    Oak Hill is the alma mater of current NBA players Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Jerry Stackhouse. But Ron Mercer (1995) is the only other Oak Hill player to win the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award.

    “”I was very excited that Brandon won because I had Carmelo and all those guys and they didn’t get those awards,”” Smith said. “”Carmelo was supposed to win it – they called me the night before and told me. But lo and behold Raymond Felton got it (in 2002).””

    Smith said that Jennings, who will play in the McDonald’s All-American Game on March 26 in Milwaukee, shined so brightly this year in part because of the young Warrior squad that started two sophomores and two juniors with Jennings.

    Last season he averaged 15 points and 11 assists and had many games when he’d take just three or four shots, Smith said. This year, there were many games in which he took over 30 shots.

    “”I like the fact that he’s a scoring point guard,”” Smith said. “”Twenty years ago you would want your point guard to just find his men and set up the offense. That’s all changed.””

    And still, Smith said Jennings is a pass-first point guard who has developed skills that will transition well into the college game.

    “”If he went straight to the (NBA), he would experience a learning curve where he’d have to wait and play behind people,”” Smith said. “”It’s hard for guards to go to the league without some college preparation if you’re his size. There’s so many 7-footers you have to deal with.

    “”But in college he’ll go into Arizona and shine while developing his skills,”” Smith added. “”And then three or four years down the road, he may be ready for the NBA.””

    Smith said that Jennings understands that basketball is a business and added that he could see the guard staying at Arizona for more than a year if he felt he had to fine-tune his skills. He added that Jennings is a good friend of New Jersey Nets guard Marcus Williams, who also attended Oak Hill, and will get advice from him when the time comes to make the jump to the NBA.

    But for now, Smith said Jennings will live in the moment and enjoy being the best high school player in America.

    “”I didn’t see how anyone could get the award besides Brandon,”” Smith said. “”He earned it on the court.””

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