Curious, but easily justifiable. That’s how I’d classify Team USA not inviting Brandon Jennings to stop by Vegas in mid-July for a tryout. His struggles shooting the ball for the majority of last season and a point guard position packed with players larger, better at finishing and more athletic left few people batting their eyes when fellow rookies Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry were asked while he sat at home waiting for a call that would never come.
In late August however, Jennings began to contend that there may have been ulterior motives at work. In a back and forth on Twitter with ESPN’s Mark Jones, Jennings hinted that his sponsorship with Under Armour was the real reasoning behind his snub. Now, Jennings has done away with any hinting or mystery and come right out and told Yahoo!‘s Marc Spears that Nike kept him away.
Nike is kind of running a lot of things right now. To have a guy like myself on the USA team that’s flashy and really outgoing, you don’t want Under Armour to get all that [publicity].
And while this seemed like it could just be Jennings looking to motivate himself by adding some dip to that large chip on his shoulder, there’s some reason to at least consider his theory. Or did we forget that Luke Ridnour (from Oregon, which doesn’t employee Phil Knight as its athletic director, but may as well) had a shocking three-year run on the USA Select team from 2006-08. Don’t forget Adrian Wojnarowski’s tale of Nike having to deliver the message regarding professionalism to Lebron James in 2007 either. The basketball shoe giant has both paws in the honey pot that is USA Basketball and has had them in there for some time.
In fact take a look at the 2010-2012 Men’s National Team roster. Of the 35 players listed, only six (Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, Eric Gordon, Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez and Kendrick Perkins) players on the list aren’t sporting Nike’s on NBA courts. And with the dearth of talented big men in the league, Team USA can’t exactly afford to be as picky with the bigs as they can at the guard spot.
A recurring theme in the early stages of scrimmaging and through group play was Team USA’s lack of international experience. Many blamed that unfamiliarity with the game for the close call against Brazil. Jennings may had his share of troubles in his one-year stint overseas, but he would have had as good a feel for the international game right out of the gates as anyone on Team USA. Even if he was only around for the tryouts, is it completely unfeasible that he could have discussed the physical nature of the European game with his teammates. Plus, as a 20-year-old rising star in the league, he would have fit well on a younger roster looking to prep players for roles beyond the 2012 Olympics.
Obviously basketball acumen played a significant role in decision making and a sub-40 shooting percentage goes a long way towards explaining this all away with ease. Jennings often struggled with his shot, even if he was pretty good from long distance, an area where Team USA struggled mightily. While I am not going to advocate for Jennings to have been on a final roster that went and got the job done, it certainly could be questioned why he wasn’t invited at all.
I don’t think we’ll see a Gilbert Arenas style revenge tour from Jennings this season, but the various extra motivations he’d frequently reference last year genuinely seemed to mean something to him. He seems to enjoy taking on the role of underdog and pitting himself against long odds, even if they aren’t that long. It’s a mental trick and can help give him the edge heading into games. Whether this is a ploy of that nature or something worth further visiting will sort itself out in time.
Just keep this all in the back of your mind when Jennings is going up against point guards from Team USA next season. It should be fun to watch.
Bucksketball.com is a Milwaukee Bucks blog written by Jeremy Schmidt