Kenny Anderson & Brandon Jennings: Point Game

From the time they’re talented enough to earn a mention on, a sliver of a second in a BallisLife mixtape or even a tiny feature in this mag, prospective NBA players are compared to those who came before them, those whose games and styles most resemble their own. It’s an overly simplistic way of categorizing up-and-comers, and more often than not, it’s incredibly stupid; so, so often, high schoolers evolve into something way bigger and better than those we liken them to, and other times, they fall so short that in hindsight, the assessment could not seem more ridiculous.

That said, if you watched Brandon Jennings during his formative years, your knowledge of hoops would be deemed nonexistent if you didn’t notice a similarity to New York City legend Kenny Anderson. Both Jennings and Anderson are/were lefty point guards, equipped with slick handles and fun-to-watch, up-tempo styles of play who could score, dish or embarrass their defender at a moment’s notice. Anderson was a star at Queens’ Archbishop Molloy in the late ’80s, then attended Georgia Tech before hitting the NBA, where he remained until 2005; Jennings was a sensation at basketball powerhouse Oak Hill in the mid-to-late ’00s, then spent a year in Italy before the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him in ’09. He now plays for the Pistons, and was perhaps headed to his first All-Star Game earlier this year before an Achilles injury ended his season.

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Inspired by the undeniable similarities between the two and the respect they have for one another—often proven on their social media accounts, where they perpetually shout one another out—we got the two of them on a conference call to talk about shared experiences and generational differences.

SLAM: Both of you were heavily hyped in high school. What was that pressure like?

KA: I just happened to have good mentors in my life, starting with my mentor Vincent Smith, and Jack Curran, my high school coach—they kept me levelheaded. Coming out of Queens, New York, LeFrak City, they kinda raised me, the projects. All the guys knew that I had some talent, that I could go places, so they kind of kept me alive. In high school, from ’85-89, before social media, I had a lot of magazines and different sports talk shows in the New York metropolitan area, and I was getting a lot of coverage. At the same time, it was like a blur. It came and went so fast.

BJ: For me, my high school was a little different. [I went to] Oak Hill, and with me being the No. 1 player in the state, it really helped me because I was away from everybody and I was just able to focus on school and basketball. I wasn’t around all the, as we call them, the “runners”—the guys who try to put you under their wing—so I was away from all that and all of the college recruiting and all that stuff, so mine was a little different because I went to boarding school away from everything. But once I got that Kenny Anderson tape in eighth grade, I knew who I was trying to prep my game after. 

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KA: It was interesting when Brandon came into the League—I watched him and was like, Wow, he reminds me of myself: left-handed, kind of the same build, though I think he’s probably more explosive than me. I couldn’t jump that high. I jumped high enough, but I wasn’t a big finisher with the dunk around the basket, I was more crafty with the left hand. I was a big fan, and then I met him and he was like, I saw your tape when I was in eighth grade. I was like, Wow.

SLAM: Could you guys both speak on being a point guard coming into the NBA those first few years, adapting to the game and finding your footing in the League?

BJ: Well, my first year, it was actually tough a little bit, but I adjusted, because I had [then-head coach] Scott Skiles my first couple years. He was also a point guard in the League. We spent a lot of time together, and I think the reason I had so much confidence my first year is because he gave me the opportunity. He just gave me the ball and told me, Go. And as a rookie, you really don’t get that type of freedom like that.

KA: Mine was the opposite. I always think about these point guards in the League now—it’s probably the toughest position. I think if you’re with a coach who’s gonna hand you the ball and throw you in the fire, and you can learn on the job, that’s probably the best scenario. Me, I was the No. 2 pick, and Bill Fitch coached me, and he wasn’t fond of me, so I really did not play. I kind of just shut up, waited my time, and worked hard in the offseason, because my high school coach and my mentor, they were just like, be quiet and work out, but when you get that opportunity, you’ve gotta ball out. When Chuck Daly came [in 1992], he gave me the ball and was like, Just do it, it’s your team now. That all began my second year, then my third year I made the All-Star team. I think coaches have a lot to do with it. I don’t care how talented you are, in the NBA, with general managers, coaches, there’s a lot of politics. It’s not so much about basketball, sometimes.

BJ: It’s something about just giving the ball to us lefty point guards and just letting us go.

KA: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s definitely it. I wanted to ask you, also, because I’ve been rooting for you, and you came to Detroit and then you turned the corner and started balling and playing well. How do you like the fit in Detroit?

BJ: At first it was hard. Being 5-23 [the team’s record early in the season—Ed.], nobody wants that. That was the most difficult time, because since I’ve been in the League, I’ve never had a losing record that bad, so I didn’t know how to handle it. With Stan and his system and the way he likes things, they were definitely different. I had just come from a coach with Mo Cheeks that just gave me the ball and told me to go. It was definitely different, but once we made the move with Josh [Smith], I put it on myself, because I felt like it was my time.

KA: Let me ask you something about that. Sometimes, playing with certain players, it affects your game. I didn’t like playing with certain players. Being a point guard, sometimes [a teammate] can hinder your game. And I thought Josh Smith affected your game. What do you think?

BJ: Well the thing about it was every time I would come off the pick-and-roll, the team would trap me, because the scouting report was to get the ball out of my hands. It was tough at times because I need the ball to make plays and things like that. It was just at a time when our record was bad, so everybody was feeling down. Everybody was like, This is not gonna work, we need to do something else. It was everybody. We were all just like, Yo, something’s gotta change, because it’s either me or it’s Coach or it’s—everybody was pointing a finger instead of trying to come together. I feel like once we made that move, I felt like it was in me to just go now. Just go. I feel like once the Josh Smith situation happened [the team waived him in December—Ed.], it gave everybody else another opportunity. We were able to really do what we wanted to do. Yo, I have a question: Who was the best player you played against?

KA: I gotta go with Michael Jordan. But for the generation now, it was Allen Iverson. Iverson was a tough guard, because he put pressure on you. I had to guard him. Michael was a 2-guard, and I guarded John Paxton, Ron Harper, BJ Armstrong. But Allen Iverson I had to guard. Every play, he’s looking to shoot, to score. But I feel Jordan is the best ever. I think you go with Kobe, right?

BJ: Yeah, but I mean, it’s hard. Mike retired for two years, came back and won three more—that’s tough. Ain’t nobody doing that. That’s tough. Never went to a Game 7 in the Finals—that’s tough. You can’t argue that.

KA: You can’t! And us old guys always get a kick out of going back and forth with your era. I just think the era was a little tougher. You played for Scott Skiles—me and him used to battle. This guy was so competitive, it was incredible. The East, when I played, was the toughest conference.

SLAM: Both of you are pretty prolific on social media. From Kenny’s perspective, I wondered what it’d be like if there was social media during his era, and from Brandon’s, could you imagine if none of that existed today?

KA: I’m glad there wasn’t any. I probably would’ve gotten in trouble. Personally, I’d be in trouble. With work, I’d be in trouble. A lot of people would’ve been in trouble. With these kids and their cameras, your privacy is taken away. Social media’s been great, and it’s great for promotion and putting yourself out there, but I take my hat off to Brandon and all these athletes. It’s been pretty good for the NBA, and guys have been handling themselves pretty well. But they’ve gotta be careful. The privacy is taken away—we had a lot more privacy. Doing different things, nobody knew, nobody saw. That was a plus.

BJ: Yeah, social media is tough. Our privacy is definitely taken away. We can barely walk down the street without somebody telling everybody where you’re at. You could be out with your kids, and somebody’s snapping a picture, trying to sneak. It’s like, Yo, all you gotta do is ask. You don’t have to sneak it. So it’s definitely tough. Everybody wants to be famous, and social media’s helping people be famous for no reason. 

SLAM: Kenny, if you could talk to yourself as a young NBA player—and I think it’s safe to say Brandon is as close to that as it comes—what would you say?

KA: You can never take back what you did or how you carried yourself, but I would say, You’ve got the talent. Your body is your temple, so take care of yourself, and don’t let the lights of the NBA grab a hold of you. Work out, and don’t take your potential for granted. Work every summer, every day, and don’t let the lifestyle take over you. That means partying, drinking, thinking you’re young and can get back up and do the same thing—it’s gonna catch up to you. It seems like Brandon has everything together, so all I would say is don’t let the lifestyle get you. In the summers, there’s a time to go on vacations, be with your family and enjoy yourself, but other than that, work, have a trainer, concentrate on your body, because there are younger players coming, and you have to keep up. Alcohol, drugs, not getting enough rest, and I’ll go even further: women. The distractions. The less distractions, the better. Keep everything simple. I know it’s hard, but the less distractions, the more effective you can be. Simple is better. You can complicate that with partying, women, everything–it’s gonna take away from your basketball.

SLAM: Any other questions?

BJ: Yeah, I’ve got one. Can Kenny Anderson beat me one-on-one if we were both in high school? 

KA: [Laughs] Man, I don’t know. I have to say yes. I know you’re gonna say no, ’cause we’re competitive. You’re gonna say yes, you can beat me, I’m gonna say yes, I can beat you. I’d definitely wanna play HORSE with you one day. I want to see those trick shots. I might beat you. 

BJ:  OK, we gotta set that up.

KA:  My man. Brandon, good luck. I’m gonna be watching you, man. Stay focused.

Adam Figman is the Editor-in-Chief at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @afigman.