They are the perfect odd couple.
The brash young point guard with big-time talent, a big-time ego, and a penchant for running his gums. The strict, totalitarian coach who preaches selflessness, personal accountability, and an almost hive-mind community.
No, there are hardly two more contrasting NBA ideals than the marriage of Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings with Bucks head coach Scott Skiles.
On one hand, you have the gaudy Jennings, filled to the brim with self-confidence and personality. On the other, you have the fascist Skiles, the sole dictator of whichever team he’s commanding.
How can the two possibly coexist?
In many respects, the situation mirrors the experience when Larry Brown coached the Philadelphia 76ers and Allen Iverson.
Brown has made a career coaching rugged, defensive-minded teams, centered around disciplined defenses, balanced offenses, self-sacrificing, hard work, and impeccable decision-making.
Those ideals came into stark contrast with the mercurial Iverson, whose talent was off the charts, but tended to (and still does) gamble recklessly on defense, monopolize the ball on offense, self-promote his value, ignore practice and pregame responsibilities meant to strengthen both his team and himself, and make questionable decisions both on and off the court.
The common ground Brown and Iverson found was in Iverson’s unquestionable fight and toughness on the court. Plus, Iverson’s brilliant talents could sometimes override Brown’s request to conform.
But the two were tangled in a permanent love-hate relationship, where Iverson’s drive to be an individual star, and Brown’s consistent nagging for perfection were constantly at odds.
While the duo did achieve some measure of success together—a Finals appearance in 2001, and a run of four out of five years advancing to the second round of the postseason—the tandem only won 50 games once, and aside from the 2000-2001 season, failed to make the Conference Finals in a dismal Eastern Conference.
Fast-forward to Brandon Jennings and Scott Skiles.
Skiles has predicated his coaching career on players working hard defensively, and unselfishly on offense. If a player doesn’t make proper basketball decisions or play with maximum effort, he gets locked away in Skiles’ dungeon. Once inside, that player hardly ever returns, at least not with Skiles.
Prima donnas are banished, excuses are not tolerated, and all decisions made are final.
In Jennings’ short basketball career, he’s slighted every point guard in his high school senior class, Chris Duhon, Luke Ridnour, Ricky Rubio, and the New York Knicks.
He reneged on a commitment to USC in college in order to go to the University of Arizona—something he couldn’t do because of low test scores. Instead of working on those test scores, he jumped ship to Europe.
At the draft, he arrived late because he wanted to save himself the embarrassment of not being picked in the lottery. Only after he was drafted with the tenth overall pick did he show up at Madison Square Garden.
While Jennings is brash, those incidents suggest that he’s as concerned with saving face as he is with accepting responsibility and working hard.
The majority of Jennings’ comments can be overlooked because of his youth, and while playing in Europe he didn’t receive any criticisms for being a slacker. Perhaps he’s just a kid with an ego, something that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Arrogance means confidence, and confidence means a competitive edge.
If Jennings is prepared to work, learn, and accept responsibility, he should use his athletic gifts to become a star point guard. If not, he’d better hope his self-confidence is justified.
Allen Iverson can get away with off-court short cuts because of his electrifying talent. Jennings doesn’t have the same natural gifts to fall back on.