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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA can’t afford to lose Jennings but he can afford to skip Europe

    All Madden

    There was a lull on a December day between the Arizona men’s basketball team’s win over San Diego State and the start of the GOAZCATS.com Showdown – a mini tournament specifically designed for incoming freshman Brandon Jennings.

    As the Wildcats showered, changed and trickled out of the locker room in McKale Center, Jennings – ESPN.com’s No. 1 ranked player in his class – and UA’s then-freshman star Jerryd Bayless hung out in front of Bayless’ locker and discussed whatever it is young, gifted, future NBA players talk about.

    Maybe they were talking about the multi-colored shoes that screamed from Jennings’ feet. Maybe they were talking about Bayless’ last name tattooed across his back and how “”Young Money”” would soon take up real estate on Jennings’ back. Maybe they were talking about the first thing they’d buy after they cashed their first pro paychecks. For Jennings, it’ll be a big house for his mother, Alice Knox.

    And maybe, just maybe, they were discussing what it would be like to play together during the 2008-09 season: two McDonald’s All-Americans playing side by side in the backcourt for head coach Lute Olson in his much-anticipated return from a season-long leave of absence.

    It seemed like something that could really happen. If Bayless returned and forward Chase Budinger could be convinced of doing the same – which he was – Arizona would start three McDonald’s All-Americans. Jennings told ESPN in late March that Bayless had told him he’d return to Arizona so the two could play together.

    Cue in Dumb and Dumber’s Lloyd Christmas: “”So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance. Yeah!””

    But after averaging 19.7 points and 4.03 assists per game in his freshman season, Bayless decided to head to the NBA. It was the smartest move he could make. He’s projected to be picked anywhere from No. 4-7 in Thursday’s NBA draft.

    Which means that Jennings will run the point for the Wildcats in the fall.

    Or will he?

    Adding to the drama-laden year that the team – hell, the whole city of Tucson for that matter – has gone through, what once seemed like an extremely potent roster could turn into much less. On top of it being Draft Day, Thursday also marks the day Jennings will receive the results from his third SAT exam. He took the first one and didn’t do so hot because, “”I didn’t try,”” he told ESPN.com. So he took a second one and did remarkably better, causing the NCAA to raise a red flag.

    It puts the young star in a curious predicament, considering that Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., prides itself on academics. The fact that it has one of the top boys basketball schools in the nation is just a plus.

    If Jennings doesn’t meet NCAA requirements, the Wildcats may have a few options, said UA associate head coach Mike Dunlap.

    “”He can take a course or two this summer to see if his GPA is in line with his SAT score,”” Dunlap said. “”When we find out that score, then we’ll find out the targets for those classes.””

    Dunlap credited himself for helping convince Wise and Budinger to return. Maybe he’s got some tricks up his sleeve to make sure Jennings doesn’t go anywhere, either.

    Another option is for Jennings to bypass college basketball altogether and play professionally in Europe for a year until he becomes eligible for the 2009 NBA draft – players must be 19 and a year removed from high school. It would give him a chance to play on a different kind of pro level, get paid and stay active.

    But Europe may be appealing even if Jennings does meet the NCAA’s criteria, according to Jennings’ academic advisor, Kelly Williams.

    “”In all honesty, I think Brandon wants options,”” Williams told Garry Parrish of CBSSports.com. “”If he has the opportunity right now to make $800,000 from a team (in Europe) and get a shoe contract and make more than $1 million before he even goes into the draft, then why wouldn’t he do that?””

    But that’s not what Jennings said.

    “”I just think I would develop more if I went overseas and I would have played pro ball for a year,”” Jennings told ESPN.com. “”But if I went to Arizona we would have a good team because Chase is coming back.””

    Decisions. Decisions.

    An early shoe contract would make Jennings’ feet scream at the top of their lungs – more than they did when he was talking to Bayless in the locker room. But not having either Bayless or Jennings in the fall will put Arizona in a heap of trouble. The return of Wise, who was contemplating a transfer, and Budinger, who tested the draft waters, could be the ebb and flow of Arizona basketball.

    With Jennings, Budinger, Wise and forward Jordan Hill, Arizona is a preseason top-25 team, according to ESPN.com’s Andy Katz. Without Jennings, the car is rolling on three wheels. Arizona needs Jennings like fish need water.

    Knox has faith in the C.A.T.S academic program for UA student-athletes, just so long as Jennings meets the NCAA requirements.

    “”When we came here (to the UA), we met with academic people,”” Knox told the Wildcat. “”The thing I like about that, (an academic advisor) ran across what (Jennings) had to do. Got a little more comfortable having him come here and go to school. He’s going to have that help.””

    If Jennings is cleared to be a Wildcat on Thursday, he should make Tucson his home for the next year. The money he’d earn from Europe shouldn’t be so important to Knox and Jennings. They know that after a year at Point Guard U, he’ll be a much better player and will be rolling in the dough with an NBA contract.

    Knox can wait for that big house.

    – Lance Madden is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu. Bryan Roy contributed reporting.

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