BALTIMORE – He has use of the CEO's tricked-out Jeep, an expense-paid condo and a glass-enclosed office overlooking the city's inner harbor – complete with a name plate that announces his official position: "Curator of Cool."
Interns aren't supposed to get these kind of perks, but then most interns aren't Brandon Jennings(notes), Milwaukee Bucks guard and endorser for Under Armour. Not only is he using the NBA lockout to work out at the athletic apparel company's headquarters this summer, he's also working in Under Armour's footwear department.
"Right now we're in lockout, so in Milwaukee we can't use any of the facilities or talk to any of the NBA coaches," Jennings said. "I felt like this is just a great opportunity and place for me where I can just focus and get better."
Under Armour was largely known for its football gear until it broke into basketball in 2008 when the company signed Jennings after he went straight from high school to a professional team in Italy. Kris Stone, Under Armour's director of pro basketball sports marketing, brought Jennings and several members of the Bucks staff to Baltimore this past season for dinner and a tour of the company's offices. Jennings noticed the building contained a basketball court, and asked if it was possible to work out there during the offseason.
Under Armour executives granted Jennings use of the facility and offered him an internship. Beginning last month, the 21-year-old Jennings has reported to the office for meetings with the company's basketball and jogging shoe developers. One of his ideas – styled after the bumper of a Bugatti luxury car – is already being implemented for a jogging shoe.
"We are kind of using him in an unorthodox way," said Dave Dombrow, Under Armour's creative director for footwear. "It's beneficial for both of us, hopefully. Forget about him being an NBA player for a second. He's a kid that's 21 that has a stylish point of view. We want to take that stylish point of view and put it on product. It's an unfiltered feedback. He's not shy."
To make Jennings feel at home in Baltimore, Under Armour rented him a condo, and Kevin Plank, the company's CEO and founder, gave him the use of his Jeep. The company headquarters also have a 10,000-square-foot workout facility where Jennings spends time with trainer Nate Costa. Former Chicago Bulls guard Jay Williams has also been hired to come down from New York City during the week to put Jennings through basketball workouts.
Costa said Jennings' strength was "pretty low" when he first arrived in Baltimore. In a month, he's gone from being able to lift a 60-pound dumbbell four times to a 75-pounder 12 times. Costa also said Jennings has improved his vertical leap and is engaged in martial arts and boxing training.
"It's a totally different training that I have done before," Jennings said. "I've gotten stronger. I've put on a little bit more weight. I'm probably like 180 pounds now, which is really good."
Williams believes Jennings has relied too much on the 3-point shot during his two-year NBA career. So he has Jennings primarily working on his midrange game and trying to develop a more consistent jump shot. For some ball-handling drills, Williams has Jennings outfitted with a weight vest. The workouts are conducted on the basketball half-court surrounded by conference rooms and employee cubicles.
"I put him through hell," Williams said. "I guarantee you, he'll be pissed and angry, but he never says anything angry toward me. He just says, 'What's next?' "
Jennings' internship is supposed to end at the start of September, but that could change if the NBA is still in a lockout.
"I'm hearing it's not looking too good and it might be a 50-game season," Jennings said. "My thing is to keep working and wait to see what happens."
Jennings also has been playing in pro-am games in Baltimore and Washington, and is expected to play in another in North Carolina soon. He also scored 81 points in a charity game in Long Beach, Calif. Jennings currently doesn't have any offers to play overseas, but is open to the possibility. Having begun his professional career in Italy, Jennings would prefer to play in China rather than go back to Europe.
Jennings also has some advice for any NBA player considering playing overseas.
"I don't think they know what they're in for," he said. "It's different. It's a different type of basketball. You're out of your comfort zone. The way we live life is different than how they live life. It's not about that one person on the team, it's about the whole team and winning.
"We flew commercial. We shared a room with our teammates – unless you want to pay for your own room. You eat meals with your team. There is no going out by yourself and getting something to eat. We eat together – breakfast, lunch and dinner."
Under Armour has more than 250 endorsers, including Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Michael Phelps and Heather Mitts, so it's not unusual for employees at the company's headquarters to see an athlete walking through the halls. But Jennings is different. He's in the building daily, eats lunch in the cafeteria and has a posh office that includes laptop and desktop computers.
Under Armour executives initially considered giving their new intern a more modest cubicle, but the rest of the footwear department was having trouble getting work done with Jennings around.
"He'll walk into the office, which is early for him, about 8 and say, 'How come no one is working right now?' " said Ryan Drew, the company's director of basketball. "I'll be in the middle of a meeting, and he'll just roll in. I'll say, 'Hey man, you have anything to add?'
"I love having him around."
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