JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (May 1, 2008) - When Keith "Mister" Jennings ended his collegiate basketball career and left East Tennessee State University in the spring of 1991, he finished with an extensive basketball resume. However, there was still work left to be done.
Jennings, an All-American point guard who went on to enjoy a long professional basketball career that included four seasons in the NBA, had unfortunately ended his time in Johnson City without having earned his degree. Then, as his time as a professional player ended and he began to look at possible careers for the remainder of his working life, Jennings made the commitment to come back and complete his coursework. This weekend, he will walk the stage and receive his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from ETSU President Dr. Paul E. Stanton, Jr.
"I always looked at playing in the NBA as a dream of mine, but I have realized how important your academic work and education is as well. They are at the top of the list," said Jennings, who is still ETSU's all-time leader in assists (983) and the program's No. 3 all-time scorer (1,988 points). "This was a step I knew I had to take to get to where I wanted to go in my life. This was just another stage for me."
With the help of men's basketball coach Murry Bartow and the ETSU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, Jennings returned to Johnson City last fall to begin attending class again at the age of 39 and to act as a volunteer coach for the men's basketball program. Having led the Bucs to 89 wins and three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament during his career, his knowledge proved invaluable to the team. However, the experience of helping the coaching staff and continuing his education were of equal worth to Jennings.
"I've been able to continue learning," Jennings said. "I would put my knowledge of the game up against anyone, but being able to see first hand what the assistants on this staff do every day has really helped me understand coaching even more. This staff does an outstanding job and I know I will continue to call Coach Bartow in the future for advice and to learn even more."
As for the future, Jennings has already accepted the head coaching job at Tennyson High School in Haywood, Calif. When he was playing for the NBA's Golden State Warriors in the mid-90s, Jennings became friends with Tennyson's Vice Principal Cleveland McKinney, and that relationship led to the job offer. Jennings said being close to Oakland - Haywood is a suburb of the city - is also exciting because he looks forward to reuniting with his former NBA team.
"I feel like I'm one of the best shooters in the world and I think I have a lot to share in that area to players at any level," Jennings said. "I would love to start working some with Golden State again while I'm coaching at Haywood."
And what of a return to ETSU in the future?
"I'm ETSU through and through," Jennings said. "Ultimatley, sure I would love to return to ETSU and coach here. I guess it's only a matter of time. But I really think Coach Bartow and his staff have done a great job and are taking this program back to the level we had it."