Milton Jennings striving to finish his career as a role model

Brad Brownell: 'Our guys respect Milt's knowledge and respect when he tells them something. He has a very good feel for that'

Clemson forward Milton Jennings is blocked by Virginia forward Darion Atkins in the first half.

Photo by Nathan Gray

Clemson forward Milton Jennings is blocked by Virginia forward Darion Atkins in the first half.

Clemson's Milton Jennings has had to look himself in the mirror more than once during an underwhelming career, but he understands it's no longer just about what he sees in his own reflection that matters.

The senior forward hasn't always been the best role model since arriving on campus four years ago, and as a his senior season starts to head toward the homestretch, he's beginning to fully embrace a more mature stance.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward knows how much even the most simplistic of facial expressions over stretches of a game can influence one of the ACC's youngest lineups and he's finally been on his best behavior as well as showcasing the best of his talent.

Jennings came to Clemson as a McDonald's All-American and the program's most prized recruit in 15 years. He has yet to average double-figure scoring over a season and earlier this year sat out games against Purdue and South Carolina after an arrest for marijuana possession. It was his third suspension in 13 months.

Coach Brad Brownell stuck by his player and what was likely Jennings' final chance has turned favorable for both player and team. Now his coach counts on him as the epicenter of positivity for a youthful roster.

“He's an emotional guy and every once in a while that can work against him, but it can be a very big positive,” Brownell said. “Our guys respect Milt's knowledge and respect when he tells them something. He has a very good feel for that. It's hard when your seniors aren't vocal guys and to be honest that puts a lot more on me. After a while it's easy for players to tune a head coach out, especially if things aren't going well. That's just human nature. When things are player-directed, your team is always better.”

Jennings wasn't much of a factor offensively in Tuesday's blowout win over Wake Forest with sophomore K.J. McDaniels stealing the show, but the former Pinewood Prep (Summerville) star has vowed to lead the young guys to success.

“I'm going to yell when we hit a shot, cheer when we get a shot clock violation or cheer when we get a blocked shot,” Jennings said. “That's just going to transfer over to keeping everybody's motor going with such a young team. It's easy for (the young guys) to get down and that can be enough to bring the whole team down. If I'm able to show good expression during a game my teammates are going to look up to me and it's going to transfer to the court.

“That's just me. All my guys know if I get an ugly look on my face that two seconds later I'm going to be back to normal. I feel I have a bunch of energy and that's just how I communicate.”

The 22-year-old Jennings is one of only two seniors on the Tigers along with center Devin Booker (Union County), with the remainder of the roster comprised of six sophomores and five freshmen. After dropping its opening two ACC games to Florida State and Duke, Clemson (10-6) has won its last pair over Virginia and Wake Forest.

It was Saturday's victory over Virginia where Jennings finally asserted himself like he hadn't all season with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three assists with his 13 shot attempts one off his career high. A lack of selfishness led to Jennings trying to set up others (he ranks second in assists), but he's finally listening to everybody imploring him to become more offensive.

“Before the Virginia game I had everybody in my ear — family, friends, coaching staff, teammates — all the right people telling me what I had to do,” Jennings said. “I've been shooting pretty well, but the problem is I've been taking six to seven shots. I haven't been exerting myself and I wasn't on the boards and just really hadn't made the defense come guard me.”

Jennings ranks third on the Tigers with 10.2 points per game and second with both 5.7 rebounds per and 28 total assists.

In Brownell's defensive-minded scheme, Clemson has no qualms about turning contests into a snail's pace and that has sometimes led to Jennings having hesitation on the offensive end. He explained that he'd have an open look but notice 16 seconds left on the shot clock and figure there could be a better attempt to be had.

All of a sudden, one of his younger teammates might panic a bit early with 12 ticks to go and fly into a one-on-one mode, launching a well-defended shot.

“It's just all in my mind (passing on shots) and my coaches will say I've got to take those,” Jennings said. “I've got to take the shot and make people come guard me. If I can lift up the defender and drive I can get a pass inside to Book. Now I can shoot or drive and see the extra pass because I'm a senior and the game has slowed down for me. I've just got to start doing those things.”

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