The biggest amateur player in America, 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley, made his collegiate debut Wednesday night at the Marriott Center. And he did nothing to squash the idea that he will be a dominating force in college basketball before too long.
Bradley finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocked shots and a ton of intimidation in a three-point NIT loss to East Tennessee State.On this night, however, the biggest player in terms of importance wasn't the tallest. Rather it was smallest, Keith "Mister" Jennings, who stands nearly two feet shorter than Bradley.
The 5-foot-7 Jennings scored 26 points, including 4 of 4 from 3-point range, made 5 steals, handed out 7 assists and gave a preview of what might be the Cougars' biggest problem this year - dealing with super-quick guards.
Jennings controlled much of the game, particularly during the final five minutes. His two foul shots put the Buccaneers up 74-71 with just under five minutes left and with the shot clock running down, he buried a 3-pointer to make it a 77-71 lead. Then twice in the final minute he coolly sank a pair of free throws with 15,000 fans screaming at him.
"I felt the difference in the ball game was that our point guard played as well as you can play. He took over the ballgame," said ETSU Coach Alan LeForce, who was making his collegiate debut.
BYU's Roger Reid observed, "Their quickness really hurt us." He also said early turnovers by his club, which were caused by ETSU's quick guards were deadly.
In the opening minute of the game, Jennings twice stripped Nathan Call of the ball and turned them into baskets at the other end.
"I felt kind of slow, but maybe that was because the other guy was so much quicker than I was," said Call, who had six turnovers, all in the first half.
About the only negative thing Jennings did Wednesday was miss an easy layup after he penetrated past BYU's tall timber. But he gave the credit to Bradley on that one. "I felt him behind me and that altered my layup."
As for Bradley, he gave himself a decent review of his opening-night performance. "I thought I played fairly well. Each time I go out I try to do what it takes to help the team win, but unfortunately we didn't win tonight. I know I still have a lot to work on."
Getting back to Jennings, exactly why does he go by "Mister," certainly one of the strangest nicknames around these days?
He says he got the nickname when he was 6 years old. As Jennings tells it, he was out playing football one day with some friends when his father came to get him. He kept calling his name without any luck. Finally he said, "Mister Jennings."
"That got my attention and all my friends said, `Did he call you Mister?' It stuck from then on."
Before the game, Reid had jokingly said of Jennings, "I hope he's calling us `sir' by the end of the night."
But on this night it was Mister Jennings who deserved all the respect.