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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Jennings' move paying off


Brandon Jennings, the high school phenom who recently put an interesting twist on the preps-to-pros paradigm, has signed a four-year, $2 million deal with the burgeoning apparel company Under Armour.

The former Oak Hill Academy point guard, who was regarded by many as the top player in the class of 2008, stunned the basketball world in July by announcing he would play professionally in Europe instead of following the common path to the NCAA.

The decision has proven to be a lucrative one for Jennings, who turned 19 years old Tuesday. After signing a three-year, $1.65 million deal with Euroleague team Pallacanestro Virtus Roma of Italy (Jennings can opt out after each season to enter the NBA draft), he signed on to become the face of Under Armour in basketball.

Under Armour, a well-established brand in football and cross training, is hoping the electrifying Jennings will give it the push it needs to puncture the basketball market.

"I've always prided myself on being one step ahead of the pack and true to my beliefs -- like my journey to play professionally in Europe,'' Jennings said. "I look forward to my role as a global ambassador for Under Armour."

The 6-foot-2 Jennings, a native of Compton, Calif., is currently in Rome, preparing for his Italian League debut in early October. He, along with his mother, Alice Knox, and younger brother, Terrence Phillips, will live in Rome for the entire season.

If Jennings becomes a lottery pick in the 2009 NBA draft, many believe he'll set a trend that other top high school players will follow: forgoing an unpaid year in college to play for pay overseas. Some think it could eventually force the NBA to eliminate its rule that players must be one year removed from their high school graduation before entering the draft.

"By choosing to play in Europe as a high school player, Brandon is doing what no other basketball player has ever done,'' said Sonny Vaccaro, the longtime sneaker mogul who advised Jennings on his move to Europe. "This will go down in history as a landmark decision: from Compton to Rome -- Brandon Jennings did it first.''

Jennings had signed a national letter of intent to attend Arizona. But in his first crack at the SAT, he failed to score high enough to qualify. He took the test two more times, but each time it was red-flagged by The College Board.

That's not completely unusual for players who score low on their first test, and many believe Jennings would have eventually been allowed to play at Arizona in the fall. However, he tired of waiting for a resolution and decided to go overseas.

Known for wearing throwback, '80s-style haircuts such as the high-top fade and the Gumby, Jennings is one of the most charismatic players around. A flashy passer with plenty of no-looks in his arsenal, he set a school record at powerhouse Oak Hill, alma mater of Carmelo Anthony, Jerry Stackhouse and Rod Strickland, by averaging 35.5 points last season.

He also scored a school-record 63 points in one game and averaged 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals in earning the 2008 Naismith High School Player of the Year Award, the 2008 Parade Magazine Player of the Year Award and the 2008 EA Sports Player of the Year Award.