THE 'MASH — YES, I’m writing in the third person — doesn’t watch much NBA, especially in November. But while chipping away at the keyboard I had the Warriors-Bucks game on the tube Saturday night.
My wife and 7-year-old in the other room thought I was having health issues because I kept groaning, "Oh my Mash!"
"Daddy, you OK?" my daughter asked.
"Mash?" hollered the wife (she calls me by the third person also).
"I’m OK, it’s just that. … You can’t believe. … He made another! … It’s this kid I covered in high school. … He just. … Wow! ... He did it again!. … They can’t stop him. … Oh no he didn’t!"
I was hyperventilating over Brandon Jennings, of course, and his third-quarter cremation of an entire NBA franchise.
He made 12 consecutive shots and scored 29 points from every spot on the court — driving right-hand spin shots (he’s left-handed), pull-up jumpers from the foul-line, an assortment of 3-point bombs — fadeaways, catch-and-shoots and pull-ups.
The 6-foot-1 rookie point guard for the Bucks did much of the same in the fourth quarter and, despite going scoreless in the first, finished with 55 points, three off the rookie record held by the most dominant player in league history, Wilt Chamberlain. Yes, that Wilt who once averaged 50.4 points per game.
Anyway, while my girls rolled their eyes and went to catch an episode of "iCarly," I just kept gushing and spitting superlatives to no one in particular.
While doing so, I retraced my life back to Milwaukee — not where the Bucks play — but where the 2008 McDonald’s All-American contest was held. I was fortunate enough to cover the game and three practices preceding.
Jennings, the MaxPreps Player of the Year that season, was one of five native Golden State guards in the game whom I featured, and West co-coach Tom Diener gushed over his heart, handles and hoop sense.
Diener didn’t need to know that Jennings shattered the single-season scoring mark by averaging 38.7 points per game his senior year at Oak Hill Academy, a place that helped produce NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Stephen Jackson, Jerry Stackhouse and Rod Strickland, to name a few. He didn’t need to see the Oak Hill alumni list, either, to make a comparison to a future NBA Hall of Famer.
"He’s Allen Iverson with a great attitude," he said that week.
I remember thinking at the time that Diener, who led Vincent High School to five Wisconsin state titles, was full of cheese. But watching Jennings slice through the Warriors like a slab of Swiss, I realized I didn’t know jack. Jennings showed the confidence, poise and savvy of an NBA veteran — just like Diener projected.
"No, really," he told me 18 months ago. "He’s probably the best guard I’ve seen at this level."
Diener had already seen future pros, leading a 2005 Nike Hoop Summit team that included Tyler Hansbrough and Monta Ellis. He left Vincent in 2008, took over a Hamilton (Milwaukee) team that had won 21 games the previous six seasons combined last year and proceeded to go 19-6.
Diener obviously knows his stuff. He told me that Jennings had a chance to be among the league’s elite, rating him above Ellis, an explosive 6-3 guard who, coincidently, was fabulous for the Warriors on Saturday night with 26 points and four assists.
"Monta was bigger and stronger, but as a polished product, Brandon is further along," Diener said that March. "The kid is incredibly quick and fast, but under control. He sees the court. He can shoot. He’s remarkably athletic. At this stage, that gives him the edge in my book."
On Saturday’s stage, as good as Ellis was, Jennings was 29 points better.
More McDonald's Class of 2008 recollection:
Jennings had a fair 2008 game with 12 points and nine assists for the West in a 107-102 East victory. Jennings told reporters afterward he wanted to set the assists record that night, then threw many of his teammates under the bus for not making more shots. … The MVP of the game was Tyreke Evans (21 points), who looks like the early challenger with Jennings for the NBA Rookie of the Year. Through Monday’s games, Jennings was averaging 25.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the floor. Sacramento’s Evans is at 16.8 points, 4.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game and shooting 40 percent. Both players are leading surprise teams, with the Bucks at 5-3 and the Kings at 5-4. … Others from that class in the NBA already are Jrue Holiday (76ers), DeMar DeRozan (Raptors) and B.J. Mullens (Thunder). … . DeRozan has started all 10 games for Toronto but is averaging just 5.0 points per game; Holiday has played in six of 10 games and averages 2.5 points, while Mullens has yet to play in 10 games.