My path to the pros

Bucks PG Brandon Jennings recalls the days before he got paid to play

Updated: July 10, 2013, 5:09 PM ET
By Sam Alipour | ESPN The Magazine

Wade/JenningsGary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images"I think I first realized I might have college potential in ninth grade," says Jennings.

The beginning

My main sport was always basketball. I mean, I started playing in the Compton/Gardena area in California when I was 3. Yeah, I tried baseball too for a year, but I wasn't that good at it. I played in fifth grade--because all my friends were playing--but I gave it up after only a year. I'd fallen in love with basketball. It was that easy. That simple. Baseball was just for the moment. Basketball took over.

The middle school days

I remember getting started with a local coach in the fifth or sixth grade. We'd do drills and stuff, and he'd give me pointers. But I really didn't know how to train until eighth grade, right before high school. That's when I trained with Joedy Gardner. You've heard of the famous SoCal All-Stars, right? With me and Kevin Love? Joedy was my coach and trainer throughout my AAU career. I grew up with those guys, with Love and DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee. I would play against those guys every weekend. I loved those times. Just to get to know everybody and build friendships like that. You get to know the Kevin Loves, the O.J. Mayos, the Mike Conleys, guys like that. Those were the best times of my career.

The high school years

I think I first realized I might have college potential in ninth grade, playing on the varsity team at Dominguez High. But I transferred to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia my junior year, and that's where I knew I might be good enough to go pro. Now, at Oak Hill, you've got to know somebody. You can't just call up and say, "My son wants want to go to Oak Hill." Transferring there was a major turning point for me. Check their background. Check my background. I'm probably one of the best players to come out of there. When you get to Oak Hill, you feel pressure. Oak Hill is known for basketball, for national championships, for having the best players come through there. They don't play for a state title. They play for national championships. You lose one game and that's probably the end of your season. Those stakes became clear to me when we lost on ESPN to Derrick Rose's team. We were 22-0 or something, the No. 1 team in the country, and we went to Chicago and lost. We only ended up winning the championship because another team lost. But when we lost that game, you could just feel the pressure. From there on out, we had to win every game just to stay close.

More rising stars retrace their paths to the pros:

Maya Gabeira | Paul Goldschmidt | Brandon Jennings | Cam Newton | Jozy Altidore | Ashton Eaton | Maya Moore | Michael Crabtree | Ian Kinsler | C.J. Wilson | Nnamdi Asomugha | Bernard Pollard | Richard Seymour | Michelle Wie | Brittany Lincicome | Gordon Hayward | DeMarcus Cousins | Matt Flynn | Jairus Byrd | Rey Maualuga | Domata Peko | Le'Ron McClain | Glen Perkins | Jeff Halpern | Jay Feely

Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.

Sam Alipour is a Senior Writer at ESPN Magazine and contributor to ESPN and ESPN.com. Contact him at sam.alipour@gmail.com and on Twitter.