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9/04/2006 02:37:00 AM
Doing The 'Dooby-Doo' At Rucker
Brandon Jennings, 2008's top point guard prospect, has already generated plenty of buzz.
Michael J. LeBrecht/SI
HARLEM, N.Y. -- It's Friday night at Rucker Park, and a slim, lefty point guard -- one of the youngest players in the game -- is effortlessly navigating the open asphalt. Lobbing alleys. Dropping dimes. Coasting for layups. And the emcee, Bobbito Garcia -- perhaps you know him as the voice of the NBA Street 2 & 3 video game -- is letting everyone know about it.
"This kid is problems," Garcia exclaims into the mic, "and he ain't even started drinking milkshakes yet!"
Translation: The kid is an assist-machine despite being 16 years old, 6-foot tall and rail-thin. He later sends a blind, backwards bounce pass through his legs on the break that results in a dunk, and will finish this game -- not a pickup affair, but the Elite 24 Hoops Classic, a national prep all-star showcase -- with 12 points and 15 assists while pros Jason Kidd and Steve Nash are watching. Garcia has given the kid the nickname "Dooby-doo" and proclaimed, "You're my favorite out here! Any chance you can move to New York next year?"
Dooby-doo, who is also the favorite point guard of more than a few college recruiters, is known on the dotted line as Brandon Jennings. The No. 1-ranked point guard in the Class of 2008 by scout.com, he is headed to Mouth of Wilson, Va. -- not NYC -- this season as the latest five-star floor general to guide powerhouse Oak Hill Academy.
Previously this decade, Oak Hill has been led by Marcus Williams (UConn) and Rajon Rondo (Kentucky), both first-round NBA Draft picks in June, and Tywon Lawson, who will be running the show at North Carolina as a freshman this winter. There is no drop-off expected with Jennings, who hails from Los Angeles and has made his name playing with the loaded Southern California All-Stars on the summer AAU circuit.
I talked with Jennings in the VIP area (translation: a tent over a handball court behind Rucker) after his team lost 141-139 in a defense-less contest. With a gray hoodie nearly enveloping his whole body on a cold night, Jennings -- who said his four front-runners are UConn, USC, Texas and Arizona -- gave an inkling of just how heated the battle for his recruitment may be. When asked why he was leaving Compton's Dominguez High for Oak Hill for his final two seasons, his primary reason was not the quality of hoops. "It's away from everything," he said of Oak Hill's remote campus. "There, I won't have any distractions. There are a lot of coaches calling me and texting me, and people trying to get in my ear, telling me I should do this and do that. I have to get away from that and just focus on school and basketball."
The hype surrounding Jennings is understandable. He flourishes in the fast-breaking style of ball that's prevalent in All-Star games and summer tournaments. But, at 16, The kid they called "Young Money," before Garcia audibled to Dooby-doo, still needs to hone his halfcourt skills and bulk up his frame.
Fellow five-star recruit Kyle Singler -- who, along with Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Jerryd Bayless, were the Elite 24's Class of 2007 headliners -- said that Jennings simply "loves to create shooting opportunities" for other players. "He's flashy," Singler said of Jennings, "but he keeps control of the ball and doesn't really make mistakes with it."
Hometown USC is making a serious run at Jennings. His S.C. All-Stars teammate Daniel Hackett (pending eligibility issues) could be the Trojans' starting point guard this season, and top Class of '07 prospect O.J. Mayo is likely on the way. "Mayo is only probably going to be there for seven months; if he builds the program up and then leaves, I could come in and do my thing," Jennings said.
I would, however, think UConn has a sizable edge. Jennings' favorite point guard is Kenny Anderson, but his mentor is a much younger lefty: fellow L.A. product Marcus Williams, who piloted the Huskies for the past two seasons. The two met when Jennings was 10 or 11, and, he said, "We talk almost every day."
Jennings came to the NYC area earlier this summer to hang out with Williams, accompany him to the NBA's rookie photo shoot, and work out at the Nets' practice facility. He says that Williams, who was drafted at No. 22 by New Jersey after taking UConn to the Elite Eight, doesn't push him hard toward Storrs. He merely tells Jennings "to make the right decision, and tells me which schools are good and which schools aren't." I'd assume the school that controversially forgave Williams for his laptop-theft incident, gave him a second chance, and got him to the NBA rates well in those discussions.
Jennings said he and Williams have never played together, only against each other in pickup games. "I'd get mad, because [Williams] always used to beat me," said Jennings. "But you know, now, I think I can probably take him."
Strong words for a high school junior. On the last play of the game at Rucker, however, with the loss an inevitability, an unguarded Jennings drove to the rim, leapt and ripped off a picture-perfect windmill jam before the buzzer sounded. Jennings' mentor, now a pro, was never capable of throwing down a parting shot like that.