Jennings’ last chance: Clemson needs senior to convert five-stars into stardom
CLEMSON —Milton Jennings is down to his last chance.
High school: Pinewood Prep
Career highlights: Averaged career bests of 9.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season ... recorded single-game highs of 22 points and 14 rebounds against Furman last season.
The Clemson senior has one last collegiate season to fulfill the enormous expectations accompanying the five-star label attached to him as a prospect out of Pinewood Prep.
Jennings is down to his last opportunity to develop into the inside-outside offensive force he was advertised to be as a prep star, possessing the rare combination of a 6-9 frame and smooth shooting stroke.
The wiry senior with unfiltered emotions has one more opportunity to become the leader and cornerstone player Clemson so desperately needs as the Tigers begin their season Monday against Presbyterian. Clemson’s roster shows no juniors and just two seniors — Jennings and Devin Booker.
“Me and (Booker) are going to have to provide 70, 80 percent of the scoring,” Jennings said.
“And the good news is we are both capable of doing it.”
Jennings had resisted spending so much time in the post, which is where Clemson needed him. But he spent countless hours in the weight room this year and was knocked around with pads by assistant coaches in the paint near the basket in an effort to get stronger, to become tougher near the basket.
“The other day I just took off and dunked and I got fouled and it just felt a whole lot easier,” Jennings said.
“It feels easier to finish. And that’s strength and maturity and being here for three years. Players need easy chippies around the baskets, hook shots, to get you going inside and outside.”
Jennings was running out of chances last season.
During a game against Southern Illinois in Hawaii last December, Jennings was pulled from a game following several miscues on the court. He barked at coach Brad Brownell, subordination viewable to the entire team and television audience. Jennings was suspended for the next game. He was suspended again in January for academic reasons, putting his status in jeopardy with the team.
“I think the biggest thing is just having another year, just the maturity,” Jennings said. “I can already see similar situations where I would have reacted differently in the past — whether it be holding my tongue or just not make an excuse.”
He shot thousands of jump shots this summer looking to regain the trust and confidence he once had in his shot.
“Milt is a really talented guy who throughout his career has lacked confidence,” Brownell said. “His confidence has come and gone. You’ve seen flashes.
“Part of that confidence is not being comfortable. Early on in his career, I don’t think he was comfortable. I think some of the high expectations, being taken in and out not playing a lot as a freshman, it sapped some of his confidence.”
Jennings hit a low after being booed during a home game his freshman year against Maryland.
“Everybody puts their questions and remarks in (about my struggles), it’s ‘Why this, why that,’ ” Jennings said after that game. “I don’t listen to it. It’s simply because I questioned my own game that I struggled. It’s up to me to finally wake up and say, ‘OK, let’s go play basketball.’ ”
The confidence has slowly been repaired under Brownell.
Jennings’ points, rebounds and shooting percentages have increased each year. His average of 9.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game were both career highs last season, as were his field goal (.439) and 3-point (.333) percentages.
“He is an outstanding shooter,” Brownell said. “I think that’s coming.”