CLEMSON — What if Milton Jennings had been a four-star prospect out of Pinewood Prep instead of a five-star, can’t-miss player? What if Devin Booker’s surname was Smith?
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said under different circumstances, his two seniors would enter their final home game today (vs. Boston College, 7 p.m.) viewed much differently.
Jennings and Booker followed typical college career tracks — struggling to earn playing time early in their careers and playing their best basketball as seniors. But because of Jennings’ recruiting service grades and Booker’s older brother Trevor, one of the best players in Clemson history, expectations were anything but normal for two players who have combined for 2,033 points and 1,304 rebounds.
“Milton is compared to whatever you think a five-star guy is supposed to be. (Booker) is compared to his brother all the time,” Brownell said. “They have both had to deal with some things they never really asked for but have happened. They have had to deal with some difficult expectations.”
Clemson fans expected an immediate impact from Jennings.
As a freshman, Jennings was booed in Littlejohn Coliseum during a poor performance against Maryland. Then Clemson coach Oliver Purnell admonished the booing, but the criticism continued throughout Jennings’ career.
Jennings, who has wrestled with waning levels of confidence during his career, says he harbors no resentment.
“That’s what a fan is,” said Jennings, who is averaging 10.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. “I complain when my teams lose. When the Spurs lose, I say ‘What is coach doing? What is Tim (Duncan) doing?’
“The average fan doesn’t see the other stats. They don’t see that I had three or four steals or that I came across the lane and walled up and stopped six or eight points. They don’t see the hustle plays.”
Jennings’ passion is one reason Brownell elected to keep him on the team after Jennings was arrested for smoking marijuana. Jennings was suspended by Brownell and has missed a total of five games during career because of suspensions.
“It’s something that will haunt me forever,” Jennings said. “I could have joined Devin as a thousand-point scorer.”
Booker is one of three dozen players to score at least 1,000 points at Clemson, but even he is considered to be somewhat of a disappointment because of his older brother. Trevor Booker, a first-round pick in the NBA draft, helped Clemson secure NCAA tournament bids three times.
Booker said he never considered what his brother’s legacy might mean for him at Clemson.
“I didn’t figure that out until I got here,” Booker said. “When I first got here, that’s when I got all the questions about my older brother.”
For the last four years, the questions and expectations rarely subsided. Perhaps next year, when Clemson is without its two starting forwards and their combined 23 points and 14 rebounds per game, fans will realize how valuable Jennings and Booker were to the Tigers.