March 21-28, 2010 

By Eric Butler
USATourneyTime

Back when there was such a thing as a Southwest Conference, the nine-member league was dominated by Texas schools. And while SWC schools did participate in other sports, it was most decidedly football where league fans took the most pride.

In such a football-first atmostphere, it would take a heck of a basketball player to claim the conference’s Athlete of the Year honors.

Bubba Jennings was one heck of a basketball player.

From his hometown of Clovis to Texas Tech University to Artesia, it took a special talent to convert football-frenzied regions – at least temporarily – to take a major interest in hoops. And Jennings was that man.

Jennings, now an assistant coach at Texas Tech, has a particular fondness in his past for the times when he was given the green light to shoot. Given his ability to connect from almost anywhere on the court, most coaches never thought twice about turning on the switch.

The legend of Jennings, son of former Clovis head basketball coach and athletic director of Brooks Jennings, really began in his junior year. Bubba, whose real first name is also Brooks, once led the Wildcats to a hard-fought regular-season victory in Hobbs.

How hard fought?

Jennings went down to the floor and suffered a major cut to his head late in the game.

“He landed right on his head and it split his head wide-open. He was bleeding like a stuck hog,” recalled Jimmy Joe Robinson, Clovis’ head coach.

Though he later required 15 stitches to close the gap, a half-dazed Jennings wiped blood from his eyes and hit a pair of free throws with :15 on the clock to cinch the win.

Two players from that 1979 state championship team, which finished 28-1, went on to stellar college careers: Jennings and Nelson Franse, who ultimately played at the University of New Mexico.

“That was a really, really good team. Nelson Franse was on it, we had a big guy named Polar Bear (Robert) Anderson,” Bubba Jennings said. “We had a lot of size, as many big guys as we needed and some good guards. Everything we did was preparing for Hobbs. We felt like if we could play with them, we could play with anyone.”

During his senior year, Jennings was essentially the sole returnee with any major experience and his legend grew. In one game against Goddard, the 5-foot, 10-inch guard poured in 75 points and, as is oft-noted about that performance, several of his shots were of the long-range variety in an era when there was no three-point shot.

“I knew I was scoring quite a bit. I think after the third quarter that I had 55. Coach Robinson asked the team in the break if they wanted me to go for the record and they said they did,” said Jennings who paced the Wildcats back to another state title game appearance in 1980.

At college, he led Texas Tech to the Southwest Conference championship in 1985 and his senior season included highlights like a victory over then-second ranked SMU in a game that Jennings seemed to single-handedly shot down the Mustangs.

His Red Raiders’ career ended with SWC Athlete of the Year award as well as the Naismith Award – given to the best basketball player in the country under six-feet tall.

Entering the coaching fraternity, Jennings started as an assistant in Clovis before he accepted the head coaching job at football-mad Artesia.

The move paid off for Jennings and the Bulldogs as he coached Artesia to Class 3A state titles in 1995 and 1997, the first crowns on the hardwood for the school.

Those in attendance for the 3A state semifinals in ’95 won’t likely soon forget how Artesia made up a 10-point deficit in the last 50 seconds against Grants, en route to its first championship.

“It was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work, getting the program to the point where you get to competing for state championships,” Jennings said. “It was so exciting. We had never been there before. It was just a football school, but the community really got behind us.”

After moving back to Lubbock and being a head coach for Coronado High for a couple seasons, Jennings took an assistant’s job back at Texas Tech.

“I’d like to be a head coach again at some point, preferably at the Division One college level, but I really like Pat (Knight, Tech’s head coach) and the whole staff here,” Jennings said.

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