Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 27, 2013

Jennings honored to be inducted into East Tennessee Hall

By CHRIS SHOEMAKER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD, Va. — One of Coach Keith Jennings’ goals in life was to prove you don’t have to be taller than six feet to be a great basketball player. That lesson and many other valuable principles are what he instills in the men’s basketball players at Bluefield College. It’s what makes him a “hall of fame” coach.

But, it’s what he did on the court as a player that has other folks calling him “hall of fame” as of late. During his high school days, the five-feet-seven-inch point guard left his mark on the Culpeper (Va.) High School program by setting the school’s all-time scoring record. After that he led East Tennessee State University to three straight NCAA tournament appearances, before spending four years in the National Basketball Association with the Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets.

All that prompted ETSU in May 2013 to induct the 44-year-old Bluefield College assistant men’s basketball coach into its Hall of Fame, along with five other former players, including Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who played football at ETSU from 1978 to 1981. The Hall of Fame distinction, Jennings said, is one of the greatest honors of his career.

“The greatest part of it for me was having fans come up after the ceremony and tell me those were some of the best years of their lives,” said Jennings, who started at point guard at East Tennessee State from 1987 to 1991, missing just one start because of injury. “In some ways, we were kind of like legends in that area. After losing in the semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament my first year there, we kind of got a better understanding of what it means to be a college athlete and what we had to do to be successful.”

Under Jennings’ leadership, the Buccaneers went on to win three straight Southern Conference titles. Jennings, better known as “Mister” to those who know him best, also earned a Naismith Award, given to the best player in the country under six-feet. In addition, he left East Tennessee as the all-time leader in assists (983) and steals (334). The former Southern Conference Player of the Year and SoCon Tournament Most Valuable Player is still fourth all-time in ETSU scoring with 1,988 career points, and his mark of 59 percent from three-point range led the country in 1991.

“A lot of guys don’t expect point guards to be good shooters, so they don’t bother with cutting down the spacing and playing the same defense they would against a shooter,” said Jennings, who also holds Culpeper High’s all-time scoring title with 1,740 points. “It really wasn’t all that important to me to score in college and beyond. Basketball is a team game, and I was focused on getting everyone involved.”

That lesson and many others are what Jennings teaches the players at BC. As the top assistant coach since 2009, he is a “tremendous asset” to the Rams, according to head coach Richard Morgan.

“He teaches our players not to let people tell them ‘it can’t be done,’” said Morgan, who also played professional basketball after a stellar college career at the University of Virginia. “He has seen his share of doubters and looked them in the eye and said if you have a strong will and self-discipline, you can prove them all wrong. Bluefield College is truly blessed to have him on campus.”

As a coach, Jennings says he tries to instill in his players the idea of being the best they can possibly be, both on and off the court. He encourages them to play with no excuses, to have no weaknesses, and to overcome adversities and limitations. While he gives so much to the players he instructs, he said he gets just as much in return.

“I really just enjoy watching good basketball,” Jennings said, “and having the best seat in the gym to do it.”

 — Original article by Ron Counts of the Culpeper Star Exponent.