Tigers' triple threat
Where was Milton Jennings?
That's what Rufus McDonald wondered while watching the Clemson junior earlier this season. McDonald, who coached Jennings in AAU basketball, wondered what happened to the 6-9 lanky athlete with a silky smooth jump shot who seemed to have unlimited potential at Pinewood Prep. The Milton Jennings who earned All-America status in high school was a different player in college. His confidence lacking, Jennings regularly passed up open shots and hesitated on offense.
When McDonald traveled to watch Clemson play at North Carolina on Saturday, he noticed a change. McDonald saw glimpses of the player he had coached years earlier. In pregame warm-ups Jennings knocked down 3-pointer after 3-pointer, as he often does in practice. But Jennings also confidently shot in rhythm in game conditions, connecting on a 3 in the hostile arena.
What McDonald witnessed also has shown up in recent box scores. Jennings has begun to better translate accurate shooting in practice to games, hitting six of his last 12 3-point attempts. He's shooting 42.2 percent from 3-point range in ACC play. He's improved his 3-point percentage each year at Clemson. Not all players develop at the same rate, not all players travel the same career arc. Jennings, who is unavailable to the media for the rest of the season due to his suspension for a violation of team academic policy, still has time as Clemson travels to Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. today.
"He's been stroking the ball better," McDonald said. "It looked like he threw caution to the wind (at North Carolina). He caught the ball and shot it.
"He can still do better."
Brad Brownell has seen improvement, too. The Clemson coach said it's not about mechanics. It's about confidence.
"He's the kind of guy that can go right out there (in practice) and make eight (3s) in a row more often than you think," Brownell said. "He's a pretty good shooter. I think confidence and comfort have kept him from being as consistent as we would like him to be."
Jennings has appeared to eliminate hesitation recently, perhaps leading to the improved shooting percentages.
"When he has an open 3-point shot and it's in rhythm he needs to shoot it every time," Brownell said. "He did that in high school and that's probably why everyone had him rated so highly. Here's a 6-9 guy making 3s. There aren't a lot of those guys around."
Jennings' smooth shooting stroke, his size and mobility earned him five-star labels. Those physical attributes are still present.
"He's a stretch four," said Brownell, meaning Jennings is a power forward who can extend defenses with his perimeter shooting. "He has the versatility offensively to move in and out. We value his agility and mobility…He creates space for himself to play out of.
"You would hope the longer he's here, the more he plays, the more consistent he becomes as a player and a shooter. It's something he needs to be able to do well, especially next year."