Old Bucs still make their points

Joe Avento • Apr 28, 2014 at 6:29 AM

Mister Jennings got together with a few of his former teammates and fans for a night of reminiscing Saturday, and the former East Tennessee State point guard’s competitive nature was a major topic of conversation.

Former ETSU teammates Greg Dennis, Chad Keller, Calvin Talford and Trazel Silvers met with a small group of fans during an event at Carver Rec Center.

“Everybody knows about how competitive Mister was on the court, but in everyday life, he was just as competitive,” said Dennis, ETSU’s second-leading career scorer with 2,204 points. “They battled on Playstations back then and he had to win. Little things, too. First in line at the cafeteria, just crazy things, trivial things. We picked at each other all the time.

“We pushed each other all the time and we challenged each other all the time.”

Jennings wasn’t the only player on the team with a competitive nature, and the way he figures, that was one of the reasons for their success. The Bucs won four consecutive Southern Conference championships in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and Jennings ran the show for three of them.

“I think that’s one of the things that really helped us,” he said. “I did have a competitive edge in everything we did. I got that from home. From the time we were brought up, being able to have bragging rights was always important to me.

“I think all of us took it seriously, especially when we played a little pickup basketball. I can remember walking off the court sometimes because I didn’t think they were playing hard enough. Or I’d win my four games and then leave. They’d be mad.”

Dennis remembers exactly how mad.

“When we played pickup games in the summers and offseason, you had to beat him because he would win. And to aggravate us, he wouldn’t play any more so we couldn’t get back at him. We wanted to get even, but when he’d win, he’d go out on top. That used to drive us crazy.”

Those pickup games were legendary as six players from the 1987-91 recruiting classes went on to break the 1,000-point mark in career scoring.

“He’d run the show just like he did when he was playing for real, distributing the ball, controlling the game,” Dennis said.

Jennings’ competitiveness showed up in practice as well.

“He always said he’s gonna get the ball from me when they throw it in the post,” said Keller. “I always took pride in nobody being able to take the ball from me. I swear I don’t think he ever got it. He says he did, but I don’t remember it.”

The former Bucs seemed to still genuinely enjoy each other’s company after all these years.

“We’ve done this so many times just amongst each other, just to share it with the fans was something I was looking forward to,” Jennings said.

Keller was the muscle on a team that played with a lot of finesse.

“Mister and I used to always run the give-and-go,” Keller said. “He’d pass the ball to me at the elbow and he’d cut back door. Every time he would do that, he’s running into the paint against the big guys. And it drove coach (Les) Robinson crazy. After about eight times, coach Robinson called timeout and said, ‘Don’t you throw him another pass in there. You’re throwing him into trouble. You’re putting him into a bad position.’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.’

“As we walked back on the floor, Mister said, ‘If you stop throwing me that ball, you’ll never get it again.’”

Keller reports that he continued to make the pass. “And he scored on it just about every time, too,” Keller said.

The best compliment ever paid to Jennings always seemed to be the truest. He was routinely called the kind of point guard who made everybody else on his team a better player.

“When he had the ball in his hands, you knew good things would happen,” Dennis said.

Keller took it even a step farther.

“I averaged about 10 points a game,” he said. “And without Mister, I think it would have been around four.”

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