Saturday, November 29, 2008

Leading by playing with heart

Interesting piece in ESPN The Magazine about PG Brandon Jennings, who went from Oak Hill Academy to playing professionally in Italy.

Jennings' coach in Italy, Jasmin Repesa, who coached the Croatian National Team at this summer's Olympics in Beijing, tossed Jennings from the team's practice for lack of hustle.

According to the ESPN article, the event "proved to be a blessing for Jennings."

Not only did it get his attention, his reaction won him respect in the locker room. Repesa forced him to apologize to the entire team the next morning. By the time the club returned to Rome to prep for preseason games, Jennings was diving for loose balls, pestering his man on D, fighting through screens and moving without the ball. He started pushing the rock upcourt with passes instead of fancy dribbling, nixing the urge to add to his highlight collection.

His foreign teammates started to see a player they liked on the court and enjoyed being around off of it. One day in the weight room, Jennings, not exactly a strongman on the iron, donned a wifebeater and went to work on the bench press. After completing a tough four-set session with 110 pounds, the slight 180-pounder stood tall in the middle of the room, banged his fist to his chest repeatedly and let out a primal scream: "With the heart! With the heart!"

Glancing at one another, his teammates smiled knowingly. "That meant a lot to us," said Rodrigo De La Fuente, Jennings' roommate in Folgaria. "Because he's the point guard, if he leads us by playing with heart, guys will follow that."

As is common in Europe, Coach Repesa "doesn't believe in a set starting five. He'll switch starters by the game; he'll go 10 deep, playing almost everyone at least 15 minutes and hardly anyone over 25."

Says Jennings, who is showing clear signs of maturing:

"Once I saw how Coach did things, I decided to concentrate on running the team. I'm playing defense, learning as much as I can and just trying to win. In the end, this is going to make me better."