Clemson and Milton Jennings seemed like a perfect match three years ago when the Summerville, S.C. product chose to stay in-state and play basketball for the Tigers. But Monday for the second time this season Jennings has been suspended, this time for academic reasons.
Jennings, a junior, was suspended earlier this season for the final game of Hawaiis Diamond Head Classic after an on-court confrontation with Brad Brownell late in a game the day before. Jennings later said he learned from the incident and was a better man for it.
Its an unfortunate development for an athlete-program relationship that began with so much promise.
Jennings was the first McDonalds All-American to sign with Clemson since Sharone Wright in 1991 and he was the Palmetto States first burger boy since Raymond Felton in 2002. Jennings was a hot commodity, offered by Connecticut, UCLA and Georgetown among others, but he saw Clemsons run of NCAA Tournaments and that it was close to home made it attending school there an easy choice.
Jennings signed with former Clemson coach Oliver Purnell, but he seemed like a perfect fit in new coach Brad Brownells motion offense a year ago because Jennings has many skills for someone 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds. But it hasnt worked out.
Brownell is a no-nonsense coach, who grew up in Indiana and has long admired legendary coach Bobby Knight. His suspension of Jennings could prove to be a fork in the road. Jennings underachieving aside, Brownell may soon have to decide whether the program needs to move on without the talented forward, or to continue working with him hoping the young man will finally get it together.
Jennings isnt incapable of doing the workload, hes probably just not focused and is confused, and his greatest detriment since arriving at Clemson has been focus and confidence. Brownell said last October that Jennings is often his own worst enemy, that he allows a bad play to fester and affect the next few moments of basketball.
Milts biggest problem is hes a little bit of an emotional roller-coaster, and thats just him, Brownell said on ACC media day. You can sit him down and talk to him about it, but hes wire tighter than most kids. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. When something bad happens, its really hard for him to brush it off and move on.
When he plays well, I like the fact that he doesnt do a lot of things like, Look at me. He just goes and plays, but it does pump him up. When hes playing well, hes confident and things dont bother him as much.
But Jennings hasnt played well that often this season. Jennings was expected to perform at a much higher level after the Tigers lost some key players last spring. Clemson (11-10 overall, 3-4 ACC) needed him to produce more.
But Jennings is averaging just 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, numbers barely up from 8.3 and 5.2 a year ago despite playing five more minutes a contest and the teams emphasis on making him a primary option.
Brownell is reaching a point where he may be forced to make a decision regarding Jennings future with the program. The former UNC-Wilmington and Wright State coach runs a fairly complicated system that requires all five players be on the same page on both ends of the court. Sulkers simply wont excel in his hoops universe.
The coachs better teams at UNCW and Wright State were mentally strong and had excellent chemistry. Unfortunately, Jennings and team chemistry havent been constants for the Tigers, especially this year when he had an opportunity to flex those burger-boy talents and become one of the ACCs more potent players. Normal progression alone should have led to increased production, so obviously something isnt right.
Unfortunately for Brownell, he either has to make a tough decision or continue working hard to get Jennings on the same page. Neither task will be easy.