Jameel Warney is probably the greatest player to have ever competed in the America East Conference. While whatever happens to him in regards to his NBA career is obviously important to him for a variety of reasons, he will at the very least go down as a Stony Brook Seawolves legend, one of the most-heralded small-conference players in the history of the sport, and a man who can be credited with helping an entire program get off the ground.
Those aren’t small feats. They are stuff of legend. Disney movies are made out of lesser things than what Warney did at Stony Brook. Still, at least in discussions being had within NBA circles, they are relatively unimportant.
Warney, despite high praise from nearly everyone who has ever played against him, was undrafted after his collegiate career was over. Did it bother him? No. Not at all, because as skilled as he is as a basketball player, he is as aware of what the perceptions of him might have been coming into the NBA Draft process.
“I wasn’t surprised (about not being drafted),” Warney told Today’s Fastbreak. “It’s kind of hard to take a chance on a 6’8″ undersized power forward.”
That didn’t change his goals or what his plan was to be professionally. As he put it, rightfully so, “a lot of good players enter the league undrafted.”
He then did all he could do. He found a team who was willing to take a chance on him and went to the wildly variable-filled Summer League, in the hopes of making the Dallas Mavericks.
“It was great to play in the Summer League to get more work in,” he said. “Yeah, it was (tough) playing alongside guys you knew for only maybe a week. The offense could get a little stagnant, but it was a fun experience. I loved the experience.”
Naturally, the power forward did what he has always done — impressed. Warney rebounded at a high rate, scored baskets without offense going through him, managed to block a lot of shots, and was impressive enough that the idea of him being a future NBA player seemed less like a pipe dream and more like an obtainable goal.
He wasn’t grasping at straws, he was closer to clinging to his actual dream.
The road to the NBA is going to continue to be a difficult one for the AEC legend. Currently a member of the Mavericks, Warney has been dealing with an ankle sprain at a rather rough time, as a half-dozen guys are fighting for the last guaranteed roster spot available. That isn’t going to stop him from figuring this thing out, however.
“I’m just trying to get healthy from that (ankle sprain),” Warney said. “The main goal is to obviously make the main roster, but who knows? There’s only so much of the situation I can control. I can continue to work, practice and keep pushing at it.”
What might be lost during Warney’s voyage through the fringe NBA landscape is how he, as a player and a human, is dealing with a very fluid situation many hundreds of miles away from his home of New Jersey. It is the human aspect, which might require a level of empathy from fans who usually have a hard time dealing with those emotions, that makes his story as worth following as does his abilities as a player.
“I’m from New Jersey,” Warney said after he was asked about a potential culture shock. “It is different. You go to downtown Dallas and it’s different from my home.”
That’s outside of Warney’s control. He is trying to make an NBA roster. He downplayed its impact on him and isn’t looking to make excuses. Dallas provided his best option, and despite it clearly being different than where he comes from, he is taking pro basketball on pro basketball’s terms.
“There’s a lot of smart guys (on the roster). I just listen to what everyone says, and keep pushing. I got to work on that jump shot. They’ve had me playing power forward and center. Just doing whatever is asked of me. I have a great skill in rebounding, and just trying to mash all that together.”
When asked about what the immediate future is looking like for him, Warney could only answer it in the same way any other non-guaranteed player can — he is unsure, but flexible. He is willing to do whatever it takes, wherever it may be, to eventually reach his goal of playing in the NBA on a full-time basis.
“I’m open to a lot of things. Overseas, the D-League, but hopefully getting offered that roster spot.”
By no means is Jameel Warney a household name. He, like many others, is on Twitter. His account has less than 2,000 followers. Not being a writer who dabbles in hyperbole often, I feel safe in saying that he might be — at least arguably — the best (domestic) basketball player on the planet no one has ever heard of.
Warney himself laughed at that idea, and only time will tell if that winds up being true, but he is a man no different than any other. He has dreams. It just so happens his are to play in the NBA, and he is ever so close, yet still so far, from obtaining them. But whatever happens to him between now and the start of this specific NBA season, he believes he’ll be in the league sooner than later.
“I just need to see what the best option for me is if it’s not this year,” he said. “If it’s not this year, I am one year away.”
We might not know him, but who is to argue with a three-time AEC Player of the Year, who just so happens to have certain abilities, such as rebounding, that translate well at the next level?
I know I won’t. I suggest you shouldn’t, either.