After a brief return to the U.S. last season that saw him come back to the team that drafted him and with whom he first broke onto the NBA scene, Brandon Jennings is heading back overseas.
On Monday morning, Serbian player agent Misko Raznatovic took to Twitter with a no-name note:
2008 Rome, Italy…..2018 Europe again! Welcome to Russia! #BeoBasket
— Misko4Raznatovic (@MiskoRaznatovic) August 20, 2018
Jennings, you might recall, blazed a new trail a decade ago when he decided to skip past the NCAA ranks by going from prep to pro in Rome, signing a deal straight out of high school to play for Italian club Virtus Roma. After spending a season abroad, and thus getting himself on the right side of the NBA’s draft rules by being one year removed from high school and at least 19 years old to be eligible for selection, he came back, entered the draft, and went 10th overall to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2009.
Shortly after Raznatovic’s tweet, Niko Varlas of Eurohoops.net filled in the blanks, reporting that the 28-year-old point guard “is expected to return to Europe and play in Russia for Zenit St Petersburg.” The club later confirmed the signing, saying that Jennings and team management share “a common vision for the future.”
Брендон Дженнингс продолжит карьеру в «Зените»
Сине-бело-голубые подписали контракт с американским разыгрывающим.
— БК «Зенит» (@zenitbasket) August 20, 2018
Zenit competes both in Russia’s top domestic league and in the second tier of European hoops — the Eurocup, a level below the EuroLeague, like how the Europa League operates below the Champions League in European soccer — and has in recent seasons employed several other former NBA players, like ex-Cavs and Nets guard Sergey Karasev, former Spur Nicolas Laprovittola, ex-Pacers big man Shayne Whittington and former Mavericks forward Jarrod Uthoff.
Jennings, of course, will head to Russia in hopes that he’s not yet a “former NBA player.” After finding a cool market for his services last summer following stints with the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards, Jennings spent part of last year in China, but then came back to the U.S. after the Shanxi Brave Dragons’ season ended to sign a 10-day deal with the Bucks. The former All-Rookie First Teamer, who first opened the eyes of the hoops world in 2009 by hanging 55 points on the Golden State Warriors in just his seventh NBA game — returned in style, flirting with a triple-double in his first game back in his old stomping grounds and looking poised to offer a boost to a Bucks team searching for a spark as it made a late-season playoff push.
While the Bucks would go on to sign Jennings for the rest of the season, the honeymoon was short-lived. Jennings averaged 4.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 13.9 minutes per game over his final 13 regular-season appearances for the Bucks, shooting just 34.9 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from 3-point range. The combination of inefficient offensive play and defensive shortcomings made Jennings an unaffordable liability come the postseason; he’d see only five garbage-time minutes in Milwaukee’s seven-game defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics. The Bucks waived him on Aug. 1, preferring to enter camp with several other options — veteran Matthew Dellavedova, first-round draft pick Donte DiVincenzo and undrafted two-way-contract signee Trevon Duval — in the mix to split backup point guard duties behind Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon.
For Jennings, the hope is that another year removed from the 2015 Achilles tear that submarined his career, and the opportunity to showcase his wares against a lower tier of international competition, will help him further rehabilitate both his game and his image to the point where another NBA club in search of a quality pick-and-roll ball-handler with a knack for breaking down a defense will give him a look. Given the league-wide depth at point guard and the fact that Jennings’ warts are well known among NBA teams at this point, the odds of him landing a steady long-term gig might not seem all that high. Then again, he’s already succeeded in going from overseas to the NBA twice before. Maybe we shouldn’t bet against him finding his way back a third time.
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