Jennings goes pro, signs with Pallacanestro Virtus Roma
Former Arizona recruit Brandon Jennings on Wednesday signed with an Italian professional league team, completing his plan to pass up college and play professionally in Europe to prepare himself for the 2009 NBA draft.
Jennings signed with Pallacanestro Virtus Roma of the Italian pro league.
"I'm so excited,'' Jennings said by phone from Las Vegas, where he had been training the past week. "I can't believe that it happened so fast. I remember Sonny [Vaccaro, the former grassroots basketball camp director] talking about it and then I called him and it happened so fast already.''
Jennings said he will head to Rome next Wednesday for a news conference. He said he and his mother, Alice Knox, and a few other family members would spend some time in the city, return home and then come back in late August to get ready for the season.
"I just can't wait,'' Jennings said.
Jennings said he was told the contract would be in the two- to three-year range. He wasn't aware of the financial terms. Jennings' family attorney, Los Angeles-based Jeff Valle, said in a statement Wednesday that the multiyear contract would have NBA release provisions that would be fair to both parties.
"Let's just see how the first year goes,'' Jennings said as to whether or not he would stay more than one season.
Jennings was ranked as the top point guard in the class of 2008 by ESPN.com and played at Oak Hill Academy (Va.) the past two seasons. He had yet to qualify academically to play at Arizona when he made the decision to play in Europe earlier this month.
Jennings had been awaiting the score of a standardized test, but said he still doesn't know whether or not he received a qualifying score that would allow him to play at Arizona, since he hasn't been home to open his mail.
Jennings has to sit out one year and be at least 19 years old -- his birthday is Sept. 23 -- to be eligible for the 2009 draft. According to the NBA, as soon as he signs with a European professional team he can be drafted in 2009.
Virtus Roma is considered a midlevel Italian team and is not regarded among the elite clubs favored to reach the Euro Final Four. But the competition at that level is still high. Last season's roster included former American college players Allan Ray (Villanova), David Hawkins (Temple), Christian Drejer (Florida), Erazem Lorbek (Michigan State) and Ibrahim Jaaber (Penn). The point guard spot could be open for Jennings if Roko Ukic signs with the Toronto Raptors, which is a possibility. The only other point guard listed on last season's roster is Italian Jacopo Giachetti.
An NBA executive told ESPN.com that Virtus Roma is considered a "good team, with an old-school coach," but the executive said he thought that "Rome would be an adventure for [Jennings]."
Jennings said he asked Virtus Roma general manager Dejan Bodiroga whether or not the team needed a point guard when he worked out for Bodiroga last week in Las Vegas."He said they need one,'' Jennings said. "I guess they want to make me the icon there. They're real excited about me coming to work for them. They know the deal. They know what they're getting in and feel comfortable about the whole situation.''
In a statement, Bodiroga said: "I am really happy for his arrival in Rome. Brandon is one of the greatest American talents and he is considered as one of the top players for the next NBA draft. It's a big deal for us to have a player with such qualities.''
The statement said the club would provide training, education, tutoring and media training for Jennings in Rome. The statement also said Jennings would retain a Rome-based attorney, Giovanni Imbergamo, as legal counsel with his Italian contract.
Claudio Toti, president of Virtus Roma, said in the same statement released by Valle: "We are really happy to have reached an important agreement never done before, with a player of great qualities as Brandon is, despite his young age. Enthusiasm and talent: That is what we expect Brandon will bring to Rome.''
Jennings said he and his mother planned to drive back to their Orange County, Calif., home and discuss whether or not she and his sixth-grade brother Terrence Phillips would join him in Rome next season. The statement from Valle, the family's lawyer, said the Rome club had secured a junior club team spot for Phillips, but Jennings said a decision on whether his brother would accompany him to Europe has yet to be made."He likes his team here [in the U.S.] so we'll have to talk about it,'' Jennings said. Jennings said if his mother and brother don't join him for the season that someone else from his extended family would come live with him for the season.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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