An experienced veteran at age 28, Brandon Jennings has already played for five NBA teams and in three different countries as a pro. After his last stint in China, where he averaged 27.8 points per game, the playmaker is back in the United States. Feeling confident in his abilities again after his gruesome Achilles injury, Jennings is working to claim back a spot in the NBA.
What have you been doing since returning from China a few weeks ago?
Brandon Jennings: Right now, I’m just working out in Los Angeles every day, at UCLA. Just working out and staying in shape, and spending some time with my kids right now while I’m back from China. So it’s just been really life low-key, just being with the kids and just working out.
Do you think you’re ready for an NBA opportunity if it comes?
BJ: Yes, for sure. I’ve been watching the NBA, a lot of NBA games since I’ve been in China, so I definitely see what the game is turning into now. You gotta be able to shoot the three. So I’ve been really working on my three-point shot lately, just staying ready.
How was your three-point shooting in China? Were you satisfied with your numbers?
BJ: I’ve averaged like 30 (points per game) in China or something like that. I definitely got to shoot the ball with a whole lot more confidence in China, of course. I felt like I had my shot back. I’m feeling real confident in my scoring ability.
Most people think there’s no defense in the Chinese league, they see former NBA players scoring 30, 40 points per game. Do you agree with that?
BJ: I think they play defense. It’s definitely a physical league. Of course, as NBA players our skill level is better. But overall, they play hard every night. Just because you average 30 or something it doesn’t mean that your team is gonna win over there. It’s definitely a tough league to try to win. You definitely got to know the rules and things like that. For me, in my team we didn’t win at all. We didn’t make the playoffs. Scoring 30 isn’t enough over there. They want guys to score and also to win basketball games.
If some team offers you a non-guaranteed deal, a 10-day contract, will you consider it?
BJ: Oh yeah, for sure. That’s something I will probably have to take anyways with the circumstances that I’m in. That definitely would be something that I would be down for, of course. I’m 28, I want to play until I’m 35. I’m fully healthy from my Achilles injury and things like that. So I just want the opportunity.
Do you feel at the same level as before the injury?
BJ: Yeah. I still think that I’m back to the person that I was before I got hurt, the person that I was in Detroit. Honestly, after the injury I was bouncing around the league from different teams. Having a new role which was coming off the bench after I got hurt, that was definitely one of the toughest assessments for me at that time. But honestly, when I was in China I came off the bench the whole year anyways because of how the rules are. You can’t start two imports at a time so I was coming off the bench, which was actually funny to me.
There’s a lot of young point guards in the league, even starting for teams. What do you think about the new crop of point guards who are taking the league by storm?
BJ: Yeah, the guards are doing all the scoring. I think right now if you ask me who is the best point guard in the league right now, I would have to say someone like Kyrie Irving just because the way that Boston team is rolling. Of course, Brad Stevens, his coaching ability is crazy, but I think with Kyrie making that move in, being bold enough to make his own decisions, going to Boston and actually taking off the way they have… I think Kyrie is one of my favorite point guards to watch right now.
You have some young point guards like that kid De’Aaron Fox from Sacramento Kings. I like Dennis Smith Jr. from Dallas, he’s nice too. There’s a lot of great young point guards that are definitely coming up. The league will always starve for guards. I think what teams are looking for are backup point guards right now, guys that can help, come off the bench and keep the scoring the team rolling.
Considering your experience in the NBA and despite being only 28-years-old, would you be happy being a mentor for a young point guard?
BJ: Absolutely, for sure I would. Because I feel that’s where I am right now in my career at 28. I have to transition into being a vet. I still have to compete and play at a high level, of course. But I’m also here to teach and tell young guys the mistakes they are making and how to be a professional.
Was there any player that was a really good mentor to you?
BJ: When I came to the NBA back in 2010, Kurt Thomas was still in the league so he was one of my favorite vets. Jerry Stackhouse, guys like Marquis Daniels, Stephen Jackson. Also Quentin Richardson. We didn’t play together but he was still a good vet. We used to talk too. Also Rasheed Wallace. So I got really good old-school vets. It’s cool.
You didn’t take the NCAA route, moving instead to Italy to start your professional career. Did that help you in your career?
BJ: I think it was the best decision for me and for my career. Being 18, trying something different that nobody had ever done before. I feel it was very unique and different. I was 18 and I was able to provide for my family so I think it was definitely the right decision for me and my family.
How do you compare the experiences in Italy when you were 18 and now in China 10 years later?
BJ: The experience in Italy was crazy. I was 18 and living in Rome, who could have ever thought? I was able to shoot my first commercial, I had the best Italian food in the world every day, traveling to seven different countries in one year… That experience right there at 18, it definitely can’t get better than that.
At 28, being in China, it was different because I was by myself. So it was definitely different living on my own. But it also helped me grow up and mature and realize what was important in life for me.
There’s a lot of former NBA players in China. Do you talk to each other, give and offer advice about playing there?
BJ: I think I asked Dorell Wright how was it in China. But other than that I didn’t need any advice at all, I just went. I just packed my bags and I was gone.
If you like Chinese food I imagine it was pretty good.
BJ: Yeah, actually Chinese food is my favorite food, and then Italian food is my second. So I was definitely in heaven. The experience was great.
You’re back in Los Angeles where you’re from. Would you be especially interested in playing for a local team? You haven’t played for an L.A. team since high school.
BJ: Yeah, of course. Being 28 at my career and with my kids, of course I would love to always play home. But actually in my career, I’ve never played on a West Coast team. It is crazy because on the West Coast the offense always goes up and down. I’ve never played there ever.
There’s a lot of bad injuries in the league. We recently lost DeMarcus Cousins with the same Achilles injuries you had. Why do you think that’s happening?
BJ: I don’t know, man. It’s unfortunate. It’s definitely been weird now that you bring up the injuries. It just been freak accidents, injuries. Gordon Hayward got hurt in the first game of the season, nobody was expecting that. It’s been tough this season with all those injuries.