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News » BUCKS Getting ready for the big test Jennings takes a crash course 2009-09-21

BUCKS Getting ready for the big test Jennings takes a crash course 2009-09-21

BUCKS  Getting ready for the big test  Jennings takes a crash course  2009-09-21By CHARLES F. GARDNER

Summer school is almost over for point guard Brandon Jennings and it will be on to fall classes when training camp opens on Sept. 29.

The education of the 6-foot-1 Jennings, whom the Milwaukee Bucks chose with the 10th overall pick in the June draft, will continue throughout his rookie year in the National Basketball Association.

Bucks assistant coach Kelvin Sampson has served as a tutor in these early stages of Jennings' development. And the former Oklahoma University and Indiana University coach believes Jennings, who will turn 20 on Wednesday, can handle the leap from playing a minor role on an Italian pro team to getting major minutes with the Bucks .

"I think he's going to come in and impact us," Sampson said. "Our point guard position right now is significantly better than it was at this time a year ago, and that's a fact."

Entering training camp last season, the Bucks had Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions as the primary point guards, with veteran Tyronn Lue in reserve.

This season, Sessions has departed for the Minnesota Timberwolves after recently signing a four-year, $16.4 million offer sheet that the Bucks declined to match. The 28-year-old Ridnour is back, with one year remaining on his contract, and the Bucks also have 6-5 Roko Ukic as part of the point guard rotation after acquiring the Croatian player in a trade with Toronto last month.

Clearly, the Bucks are counting heavily on Jennings.

"The thing I like about this kid, his upside is scary," Sampson said. "Our fans are going to get to where they can't wait to see the ball in his hands on the break. He's a master passer.

"Some guys may score the ball better; some guys may shoot it better. But in terms of making Hakim (Warrick) a better player, or Joe (Alexander) a better player, (Luc) Mbah a Moute, (Andrew) Bogut . . . he makes us more exciting baseline to baseline."

Jennings has been a regular in the informal workouts held by Bucks players this month at the Cousins Center training facility. But he also has been returning at night to work with Sampson, sometimes putting up 1,500 shots during a session.

"We've got all the time in the world, so why not?" Jennings said.

Sampson said the evening workouts have a purpose.

"Hardly a night goes by he doesn't call me or text me and say, 'Coach, can you meet me at the gym?' " Sampson related. "We come up here at 9 (p.m.) and work for an hour and a half. We do competitive drills and intensity drills; we're just not catching and shooting.

"We're working off the move, one-dribble pull-up, two-dribble pull-up, working on floaters, getting the ball up the floor quicker, shooting threes.

"Every time he gets a little fatigued, we get him on the free throw line and he has to make 10 in a row. Then we're right back at it. When you combine layup drills, floaters, free throws, full-court stuff, it's a workout."

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said during the network's draft coverage that Jennings' left-handed shot was "broken" and could be a liability. But Jennings is likely to present a much greater three-point threat than Sessions, who was just 6 for 34 (17.6%) beyond the arc last season.

"He's a better shooter than I thought," Sampson said of Jennings. "I can see where Jay (Bilas) would say that, because he's got a lot of moving parts in there. But he's a kid. If you say one thing to Brandon, he really listens to you, follows instructions well, and he'll fix it.

"And the one thing that overcomes 'broke' is repetition. It's not like his shot is broken. I would say it needs work."

Bucks coach Scott Skiles was delighted with Jennings' pass-first mentality during the Las Vegas summer league in July, when Jennings averaged 8.2 assists to tie for league honors, while also scoring 14.6 points per game.

"Our best passer last year arguably was Bogut," Sampson said. "You get Andrew on the floor with Brandon, and all of a sudden the ball starts moving, which leads to easy baskets."

In late July, Jennings signed his first NBA contract, which will pay him $2.2 million during his rookie season and $2.3 million in 2010-'11. The Bucks also have options for the third and fourth years of the rookie-scale deal.

He wants to show the Bucks chose wisely in grabbing him as the fourth point guard taken in the draft, behind Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Stephen Curry, who went fifth through seventh, respectively.

With Rubio staying in Spain, the focus this season will fall on the other three and how much they can help their teams (Flynn in Minnesota and Curry with Golden State).

The early signs on Jennings are encouraging for Bucks officials.

"Some guys like to play, and there are some guys that like to work at their games, and there's a big difference," Sampson said. "Brandon likes to work."

Copyright 2009, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.)

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Added: September 21, 2009


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