THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Jennings owes a bow to Garnett

File/Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Just seven games into his NBA career, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings scored 55 points against the Warriors.
File/Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Just seven games into his NBA career, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings scored 55 points against the Warriors. (File/Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / December 8, 2009

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All players must be at least 19 years of age during the calendar year of the draft, and a player who completed his basketball eligibility at an American high school must also be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class.

Main Article: Eligibility for the NBA Draft.

Since 2006, the above has meant that a top-flight basketball prospect coming out of high school has gone to college for one year, creating a category of player we like to call the One-And-Dones. But tonight we will be looking at a young man who chose a very bold alternative path to the NBA.

His name is Brandon Jennings, and he is the starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks. He came out of celebrated Oak Hill Academy in Wilson Va., two years ago ranked by most talent authorities as the best point guard prospect in the land. He failed repeated attempts at an entrance exam at Arizona, and, rather than submit himself to The System by playing at a lesser level of American college basketball (e.g. junior college, NAIA, etc.) he instead went to Italy, where he earned a reported $1.65 million from Lottomatica Virtus Roma, plus an additional $2 million for endorsing Under Armour.

Take that, David Stern!

Seven games into his NBA career, he dropped 55 points on the Warriors in an amazing performance that began with a scoreless first quarter and concluded with a 29-point fourth quarter.

Lately, some sort of reality has been setting in. Jennings went through a recent seven-game stretch in which he shot a dismal .304 from the floor (38 for 125). Somewhere in the middle lies a very impressive prospect, a southpaw guard with an Archibaldian shiftiness, coupled with an Iversonian fearlessness. Clearly, Arizona was after the right guy.

Young Mr. Jennings should make sure he extends a pregame fist to a certain No. 5 of the Celtics, because thanks to the Garnett Effect, he was able to pocket $3.65 million before reaching his 20th birthday.

Kevin Garnett was the human toothpaste who oozed out of the tube back in 1995, demanding the NBA take him directly from Chicago’s Farragut Academy rather than from an institution of higher learning.

No player had tried to come to the NBA directly from high school since Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins, and Bill Willoughby had done it in 1974 and 1975. Their mixed success (Malone was an all-time great, Dawkins, a.k.a. “Chocolate Thunder’’ was a gigantic tease, and Willoughby was a talented, misused failure) somehow doomed the experiment, and the NBA floated along serenely doing its business with a mixed bag of collegians until Garnett changed everything by submitting his name to the draft.

It wasn’t that he wanted to be a pioneer, he says. It was a necessity.

“I was out of options,’’ he explains. “Things weren’t right economically for me and my sister, and I wasn’t qualifying for college.’’

But he never doubted his readiness. “I have seen a lot in my 19 years,’’ he said at the time. “I don’t think I am the average 19-year-old. If given the chance, I am going to prove to all of you that I am man enough to take what is given and mature enough to give it out.’’

Speaking now from the perspective of a 14-year career that has him ticketed for the Hall of Fame, he explains himself once again.

“What you must understand is that I am a worker,’’ he says. “I knew I would be willing to do whatever it took.’’

He assumes the same about Jennings.

“To do what he did he must be a worker, and he has to be passionate about the game,’’ Garnett declares. “That’s what it takes.’’

Garnett’s impact was profound. There are 27 other current NBA players who were able to skip college and go directly to the NBA thanks to the example set by Garnett. Among them are Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady, Amar’e Stoudemire, Rashard Lewis, Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington, Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Martell Webster, Andrew Bynum, Louis Williams, and, of course, Boston’s back-to-back picks of Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson. But had Garnett not been instantly successful, would any of this have happened? Not likely.

Garnett, Bryant, and James have all been MVPs. Garnett, Bryant, James, McGrady, Stoudemire, and Howard have all been on All-NBA first teams, and O’Neal has been a second-teamer.

Now the truth is that many people were uncomfortable with the phenomenon. Not all the high schoolers drafted had even one-10th the maturity of a Kevin Garnett. There are sad, forgotten names such as Korleone Young (Detroit, ’98), Leon Smith (San Antonio, ’99, then immediately traded to Dallas), Darius Miles (Los Angeles Clippers, ’00) and DeSagana Diop (Cleveland, ’01). Kwame Brown was a noted flop as the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft. Gerald Green (Boston ’05), with so much talent and so little sense, has already washed out of the league. Anyone seen Ousmane Cisse (Denver ’01) lately?

Many of the kids drafted needed glorified babysitters to get them through the 82-game season. Colleges, the NBA’s de facto farm system, bemoaned the talent drain (we’ll table the debate about how many of our big-time college athletes belong in college to begin with).

But the high schoolers affected the league in a dramatic way. The year Garnett was drafted, seven of the 10 members of the NBA’s first- and second-team all-league players had completed four years of college. By 2008, the first-team All-NBA squad had attended a combined two years of college, both belonging to Chris Paul. This was the Garnett Effect to the extreme.

David Stern was never happy with all this. He just wasn’t. Somehow or other, he was offended, and he may have been sent over the edge in 2004, when Howard was selected No. 1 overall and eight high schoolers in all were drafted, and in 2005, when nine high schoolers were selected.

In 2006 he got his way, altering the draft to prevent someone from going directly from high school to the NBA. The residual effect has been the proliferation of One-and-Dones, which has made a semi-mockery of college ball, since most of these kids stop going to class (if they ever have in the first place) the day after the season ends.

Garnett downplays his historic importance, citing pioneers such as Spencer Haywood, the Malone-Dawkins-Willoughby triumvirate (he’s clearly done his homework) and even Shawn Kemp, who came to the NBA in 1989 after being thrown out of Kentucky before playing a game and then enrolling at Trinity Valley CC (Texas), again without ever playing a game.

But Kevin Garnett is the one who changed the rules, and the Bryants, Jameses, and Howards are all his pups.

Jennings is only the latest, albeit with a continental twist.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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