Bucks’ Rookie Star Brandon Jennings Set to Face Celtics

Bucks' Rookie Star Brandon Jennings Set to Face Celtics How many players from the past two decades can say they've come in and immediately brought about large-scale change in the landscape of the Eastern Conference?

Suffice it to say, it's a short list.

Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, LeBron James. Maybe Jason Kidd, Patrick Ewing or briefly Shaquille O'Neal. That's about it.

And yet here we are, wondering whether it's too early to add Brandon Jennings to that elite group of sport-altering superstars.

No one expected to see Jennings get this good this fast. A year ago, he was just a 19-year-old kid enjoying a postgraduate year abroad. After graduating from high school in 2008, Jennings spurned the Arizona Wildcats by skipping the country, in the process loudly voicing his opposition to the NBA's rule barring kids from going directly from high school to the professional ranks. Jennings wanted to be a pro right away, so he took off for Italy and caught on with the club Lottomatica Roma.

It boggles the mind, though, that Jennings returned to the States a year later to find himself picked No. 10 in the NBA draft this summer.

Jennings was no ordinary high school kid — he was a prized leader of a national powerhouse. He graduated from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, a basketball machine that's churned out dozens of NBA players before Jennings. He was a superstar there — he averaged 32.7 points and 7.4 assists in his senior year, quickly becoming known as the best prospect in the country.

Jennings won the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award as America's best high schooler — past winners include LeBron, Howard, Kidd and Kobe Bryant. Everyone expected Jennings to be a star, but they somehow forgot him in a year's time. He came back to the States this fall determined to prove everyone wrong.

In 19 games so far this season, Jennings is averaging 21.3 points, 5.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. He's emerged as one of the most promising young guards in the NBA.

On Tuesday night, he'll find himself matched up with another. Jennings versus Rajon Rondo, Bucks versus Celtics, rising Eastern Conference power versus established Goliath of the NBA. It's an intriguing matchup.

We've seen Brandon Jennings accomplish a lot this season. We've seen him torch the Warriors for 55 points. We've seen him put up 29 and 26 on back-to-back nights, first single-handedly beating the Bobcats at home and then fueling another win at Memphis. We've seen him hit double figures 15 games in a row — and counting.

But we haven't yet seen Jennings prove that he and the Bucks are playoff material by beating a fellow Eastern Conference contender. The pressure will be on the Bucks' 20-year-old star on Tuesday night — he's come a long way, but he still has a lot to prove.

The Celtics will have a tough matchup with Jennings. He's young, fast and explosive. The C's and their aging nucleus will have a tough time sticking with him. Most of that burden will inevitably fall to Rondo.

The Bucks will give Boston all it can handle. And if they can emerge with a victory, it will be a statement win for a Milwaukee franchise that could really use one.

In a larger sense, this is a pivotal game for the conference. The East's old guard is meeting the new — and only one side can win. Smart money might be on the Celtics, but Brandon Jennings has made a career out of proving the doubters wrong. He has no reason to stop now.

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