Photos courtesy of Mitzi Estes
By Ed Nunez
Enchantment Sports Staff Writer
His name will forever be linked with the greatest in New Mexico high school basketball history. But that name might have been just a tad different in the record books if not for his little sister when she was a toddler.
“When she was little, she couldn’t say ‘brother,’ ” Brooks “Bubba” Jennings, Jr., said of his little sister Diane. She said “Bubba,” and it kind of stuck.
And so Jennings, named after his father, Brooks Jennings, was forever more Bubba — and will forever more be a part of state hoop legend.
On Sunday (April 7), the former Clovis High School and Texas Tech sharpshooter will be inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame.
“I’ve said it for years,” said Mark Smith, Enchantment Sports editor and a member of the NMSHOF board. “Bubba Jennings is the greatest high school basketball player I have ever seen in New Mexico.”
I have to agree with Mark — and I have my own personal account of competing against Bubba. As an eighth-grader, I won the City Hot Shot Competition in Albuquerque. I was invited to the Pit to face the winner from other parts of New Mexico for a chance to compete in Phoenix at the national level. Well, that winner just happened to be Bubba Jennings and while I do not remember the score of our contest, suffice it to say it wasn’t me that went on to Phoenix. I can also talk about playing against him as a member of the North All-Star team in 1980. He played for the South and he and I combined for 31 points. Never mind that he had 29 and I had 2. Everyone knew that Bubba was the best shooter, and arguably the best high school basketball player in the state in 1980.
Jimmy Joe Robinson was the head coach at Clovis from 1971-1984. He coached Bubba for three years and said, “It would have been four had they let freshman play on varsity back in the day.”
Man alive, 75!
During his senior year at Clovis, Jennings scored 75 points in one game against Roswell Goddard. This was well before 3-point shot came into play. There is a discrepancy on the score of the game; Robinson remembers the final as 121-80 and Bubba Jennings remembered it as 130-70. What is not in dispute is that Jennings outscored the Goddard Rockets single-handedly. Robinson stated that Goddard head coach Leon Sims had come by to scout us. He said that he had a player that was 6-foot-2, athletic and felt could shut Bubba down.
“They played a triangle-and-two on him, meaning they had two players guarding him nearly every time he touched the ball and they still couldn’t stop him,” said Robinson. For the game, he was 30-42 from the field, 15-15 from the free throw line.
“That game, he hit 14 shots outside the perimeter. I did a little figuring, if he had been playing in college, it would have been 111 points. In the pro’s it would have been 133 (based on the time element). I have never seen a shooting exhibition like that in my life,” said Robinson.
“I have to admit that I was a little motivated about what the Goddard coach had said about me,” Bubba said.
The 75 points is third all-time in state history. George Maes scored 81 points for Santa Cruz against Coronado on Nov. 21, 1964 and Nick “The Stick” Pino scored 80 for St Mike’s against El Rito on Jan. 12, 1963.
In Bubba’s junior year, the Clovis Wildcats beat Las Cruces Mayfield 70-55 to win the 1979 title. The Cats finished the season at 28-1. Robinson feels that this team was second only to the Hobbs Eagles of 1970, who averaged 114.6 points a game and finished the season at 25-1, as the best in state history.
“We averaged 91 points that year and had Nelson Franse and other players who could really shoot the ball,” said Robinson.
Summing up his experience coaching Bubba, Robinson stated, “I coached basketball in New Mexico for 41 years and I never saw a better player in the state of New Mexico than Bubba Jennings.”
According to Robinson, Jennings averaged 20 points per game as a sophomore, 25 points as a junior and 33.8 points as a senior; he is Clovis’ all-time leading scorer and went on to a sensational career at Texas Tech, leading the Red Raiders to a Sweet 16 while being names the Southwest Conference Player of the Year.
What a racket
Bubba learned much of his shooting techniques from his father Brooks Jennings Sr., who was an All-American at Eastern New Mexico University in 1959 and officiated high school basketball in New Mexico for 35 years. Brooks Jennings averaged 15.3 points a game while playing for the Greyhounds.
“Bubba would hang around with me at my games when he was younger,” Brooks said. “We played horse and all kinds of different competitive games. Then we started playing one-on-one. I beat him pretty regularly until about eighth or ninth grade, then he started beating me. That’s when I came up with a new challenge for Bubba. I started playing defense with two tennis rackets in my hands while defending him and we would go live.”
Brooks also placed a smaller rim around their basket at home. Old-school tricks like these helped make Bubba the remarkable shooter that he was. Former Hobbs Eagles guard Wallace Williams agrees. Williams played for Hobbs from 1978-80 and later played for the University of New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico.
“Bubba was a smart ball player, he had a quick shot and he was very deceiving. He was athletic and had a very quick release,” said Williams, now an assistant coach under Sean Jimenez at Rio Rancho’s Cleveland High. “The only shooter I would compare him to was Kenny Page (former UNM star 1982.) (Hobbs coach Ralph) Tasker had a rule, if you fouled Bubba, you were coming out of the game,” Williams added.
After Bubba graduated from Texas Tech, the city of Clovis declared Bubba Jennings Day.
“I thought he did a real good job of remembering and acknowledging everyone, but on the way home, I reminded him that he had forgotten to thank one person,” Brooks said. “That person was (NBA Hall of Famer and former University of Houston sensation) Hakeem Olajuwon. If he hadn’t turned pro, Bubba wouldn’t have been named the most valuable player of the Southwest Conference.”
For his part, Bubba Jennings has many memories of his time playing New Mexico high school basketball. “I remember crossing over my dribble against Hobbs as a sophomore and getting the ball stolen. It embarrassed me. It taught me never to do that again. I was always motivated to play against Hobbs,” said Jennings. “As a junior, we played Hobbs there, and three of our players were suspended.”
Former Clovis guard Nelson Franse picks up the story. “I had 40 points and Bubba had 30, we were up by one. Bubba had fallen and split his head open; he had to go out of the game,” said Franse. “I walked down to the bench and asked if Bubba could come in and Coach Robinson said, ‘ask his Dad.’ His dad said OK. With blood dripping, I line him up, he hits two free throws and we win.”
“He was a great teammate, would outwork everyone and was also very quick and a good defender.”
In that remarkable 1978-79 title season, Bubba said, “We had some really good players and good size underneath. Franse, Jeff Faubian, and I could really shoot, and underneath, Robert ‘Polar Bear’ Anderson took care of things.”
In 1980, the Wildcats went 27-4, but came up short against Hobbs in the 1980 4A final 102-91. Jennings, who didn’t score in the first quarter, scored 40 points and was named New Mexico Player of the Year.
In college, Jennings led Texas Tech to the Sweet 16 — and nearly the Elite Eight. But during that 1985 NCAA tournament, the Red Raiders were beaten by a last-second shot by Boston College guard Michael Adams, who would go on to play in the NBA. The Red Raiders also lost to North Carolina and Michael Jordan one season.
“Vince Taylor (fomer Hobbs star) did a decent job on Jordan; it was their bigs that killed us,” said Jennings.
In that 1984-85, Bubba won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith award, a national award given to the best college men’s basketball player who is 6-foot or under. Jennings finished his Red Raider career with 1,727 points, dished out 378 assists and had 149 steals. He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the fourth round.
After being cut by the Mavericks, he played in London, where he averaged 40 points a game and led the league in scoring.
Jennings later became an assistant coach under legendary coach Bobby Knight for seven-and-a-half years at Texas Tech.
“I was with coach Knight the entire time he was at Texas Tech,” Bubba said “He really kept the game simple for the players; they were never confused as to what they were supposed to be doing. He and I spent a lot of time studying video of our team and our opponents.”
Bubba still keeps a close eye on the Red Raiders — as much of the entire nation will be doing on Saturday. Texas Tech beat Gonzaga 95-89 last week for its first Final Four appearance in school history.
“The Red Raiders have an excellent chance to win it all,” Bubba said. “The coaching staff has the team very well prepared, hungry and believing they can win it. They are the best defensive team in the country.”
After coaching at Texas Tech, Jennings found his way back to New Mexico and coached Artesia to state titles in 1995 and 1997, beating the Albuquerque Academy twice. After leaving coaching for a bit, Jennings was in the banking business when a new coaching opportunity arose.
Jennings now coaches at Peaster, Texas, which is just outside Dallas. The Greyhounds finished this season with a record of 27-9, but did not qualify for the state tournament.
“I’ve got one kid, sophomore Braxton Bosher, who scored 44 and 38 points this season. I’d like him to take on the ‘tennis racket challenge.’ It will make him an even better shooter. I’m real excited to work with these kids,” he said.
Jennings and his wife of 23 years, Jackie, have three children; Cooper, 30, Kadie, 27, and Brooks III, 21, and a 3-year-old grandson, Porter.
Jennings embraces his future, but is appreciative of his past. In what might be the understatement of the year, Jennings says, “It would have been really nice to have had the 3-point line. I think my team in high school would have scored a lot of points.
”I was blessed to have a coach that pushed me and especially blessed to have a dad that challenged and pushed me the way my dad did; he has taught me so many valuable lessons on and off the court,” Bubba said.
“It was just an unbelievable time for me when I played New Mexico high school basketball.”
Ed Nuñez is a play-by-play announcer for ProView Networks and a staff writer with Enchantment Sports. If you have information, tips or questions for Ed, please send to EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com.