Reinvigorated Jennings Loving Life With Knicks

Brandon Jennings has played in almost 500 NBA games, scored almost 7,500 points, dished out almost 3,000 assists, made almost 650 steals and played for four teams.

There isn’t much he hasn’t experienced.

Unless you consider his experience this season.

“I just feel like it’s my whole rookie year all over again,’’ Jennings told MSGNetworks.com. “I’m like a young kid in a candy store.’’

That candy store is known as Madison Square Garden where Jennings is playing his first season as a Knick.

He has emerged as an electrifying backup to the explosive Derrick Rose. Coach Jeff Hornacek has used Jennings and Rose together, forming a jackrabbit quick backcourt.

Jennings has quickly become a fan favorite, a role he wasn’t afforded early in his career. Jennings was the first player to go from playing high school ball, to playing professionally in Europe, to being an NBA player.

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He opted to take that unchartered route after the collective bargaining agreement mandated a player can’t be drafted until he is 19 or older and one year removed from prep ball.

Jennings wanted to help his family financially as soon as possible. There was money to be made in Europe but it came at a cost to the public’s perception of Jennings.

“I think just the negative [reaction] of it, ‘How dare this kid think he doesn’t need to go to college? He wants to go overseas.’’’ Jennings said. “People just looking at me in a different way because of a decision I made that I thought was best for me and my family.

“Europe helped me grow up a lot, honestly. I was 18, fresh out of high school and I was playing on a professional level, traveling the world, seeing different things in life.

“The experience I got in life was totally different from what a kid would get in college as far as just living, living wise – [experiencing] different languages and being out of my comfort zone.’’

Jennings is quick to say he’d encourage any high school player to go to college. And he also said he’d respect any young man that makes a decision to play professionally based on his financial circumstances.

Regardless of what the critics said, Jennings wasted little time proving his mercurial talent. He became the youngest player in NBA history to score 55 points in a game when he did so in his rookie season of 2009-10 with the Milwaukee Bucks, who made Jennings the No. 10 pick in the draft.

Jennings stands just 6-1 and weighs 170 pounds, so he doesn’t possess the physical stature or strength of a James Harden or a DeMar DeRozan. But he is Allen Iverson quick, the kind of electric athleticism that leaves the crowd exhaling a collective, ‘Wow!’

But on January 24, 2015, the crowd went silent.

Jennings ruptured his left Achilles tendon.

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“I thought I was done,’’ Jennings said. “I thought my career was over. It was the worst pain and then I couldn’t even put my foot down. I put on a lot of weight.

“I definitely became bitter. I went through a little bit of a depression because I was playing the best basketball of my career and I get hurt and guys are getting $70-80 million and it probably could have been me if I didn’t get hurt. So I definitely wanted to get back.’’

Jennings is back, but he doesn’t have the same mindset as the 55-point scorer. He has embraced the role of point guard over combo guard.

He’s had four double-digit assist games and leads the Knicks with 5.3 assists per game. The Knicks (16-15) have back-to-back road games beginning tonight in New Orleans against the Pelicans (8 p.m.; MSG Network) and Saturday night against the Houston Rockets (8 p.m.; MSG Network).

Hornacek said there are no secrets when it comes to Jennings’ game. When asked if Jennings has incorporated any ‘Eurostyle’ to his game, the Knicks coach cracked a smile.

“I think he just went there and he played,’’ Hornacek said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s in Europe, in the city playing a game, in the suburbs, if he’s on Mars, Brandon’s going to play the same way.”

“He’s going to go up and down the court and do some stuff that you see on the playgrounds. He’s just having fun.’’

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Hornacek couldn’t be more correct. Jennings is completely healthy and happy to be in New York. He’s wowed The Garden crowd on several occasions this season.

“It’s been awesome,’’ Jennings said. “It’s like me being a rookie again. The excitement of playing in front of 20,000 every night.”

“I think when I was hurt, my love for the game grew 10 times. I knew then, I said, ‘I will never take this game for granted again.’ I’m loving this experience.’’

NOTES:

Jennings has a unique most vivid memory of playing in Europe.

“I was in Serbia and we had to get escorted in with machine guns and everything and police. It was crazy out there. But it was one of the best experiences of my life. They were beating us by 30 and the fans were still cheering and dancing. They had flares and fireworks going on in the stands. It was crazy.”

Brandon Jennings reflects on year he spent overseas playing in Europe before coming to the NBA.