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Prep star commits to Italian team

Times Staff Writer

Brandon Jennings has become the first American star to circumvent the NBA’s one-year-out-of-high-school rule and jump directly to professional basketball in Europe.

Jennings, 18, has committed to play for Rome-based Pallacanestro Virtus Roma in the Italian league, his attorney and advisor announced Wednesday.

Jennings, who played for Compton Dominguez and Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, last week bypassed the opportunity to be a so-called “one-and-done” player after committing to Arizona, opting to receive immediate payment for his services in Europe rather than attend a year of college before moving on to the NBA. He is expected to attend an introductory news conference in Rome on July 23.

His advisor, former shoe company representative Sonny Vaccaro, negotiated in Las Vegas during the weekend with Virtus Roma General Manager Dejan Bodiroga. Jennings has also retained an Italian attorney, Giovanni Imbergamo, to work with the team.

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Vaccaro described the terms as a “three-year, multimillion-dollar” contract with buyout considerations that will allow Jennings to leave the team and make himself availabe for the NBA draft when eligible next year. Vaccaro declined to discuss financial specifics of the contract.

Bodiroga “had a comprehensive plan for Brandon that included specific training and education, tutoring programs . . . as well as media training,” Jennings’ Los Angeles attorney, Jeffrey Valle, said in a prepared statement.

Bodiroga also arranged for Jennings’ 13-year-old brother, Terrence, to enroll in an English-speaking school and land a spot on a junior club team in Rome, Vaccaro said.

Jennings’ mother, Alice Knox, “was very impressed with the comprehensive planning,” Valle said.

Jennings lived in Lakewood and played at Compton Dominguez before transferring to Oak Hill in Mouth of Wilson, Va., for his final two prep seasons. He became a McDonald’s All-American and was ranked by many prep basketball observers as the top point guard in the nation this year.

After brokering the deal, Vaccaro said in a news release, “This opportunity will enable Brandon to compete at a very high level in Europe and is also an environment that he and his family will find comfortable.”

The Italian team hasn’t won a European League title since 1984 but has had some impressive talent through the years.

In 1989, Danny Ferry played for the team, then known as Il Messaggero Roma, instead of joining the Clippers. The roster that season also included current Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw. Former Laker Michael Cooper (1990-91), ex-Detroit Piston Rick Mahorn (1991-93) and former UCLA point guard Tyus Edney (2004-05) also have played for the team.

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Vaccaro said the situation was the “best choice,” noting Rome is an “international city” comfortable for Americans, with a team directed by an English-speaking coach, Jasmin Repesa.

As many as seven European pro teams made contact with Jennings’ representatives, Vaccaro said, but Virtus Roma “moved the quickest, and Brandon didn’t want it to drag on.”

Vaccaro and others have speculated that more high school stars will follow Jennings’ lead and bypass “one-and-done” college careers in favor of turning pro in Europe.

Jennings’ decision led Arizona Coach Lute Olson to announce last week that he would no longer recruit players likely to leave for the NBA when they turn 19.

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Virtus Roma President Claudio Toti said, “We are really happy to have reached an important agreement never done before, with a player of great qualities as Brandon is, despite his age.”

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com


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