Jameel Warney knows what he needs to do to make the NBA

RENO, NV - NOVEMBER 22: Georgios Papagiannis
RENO, NV - NOVEMBER 22: Georgios Papagiannis /

How long does a player need to toil in anonymity before finally getting rewarded for their skills and abilities? It is a question many talented G League players have to ask themselves while weighing the risk-reward of playing domestically in the hopes of a promotion or cashing in on their youth while they still have a chance overseas.

Jameel Warney is a talented and versatile foward with loads of potential, but few people know of the former Stony Brook Seawolves talent. Between great showings in Summer League and G League outings, he’s hoping his performance in the upcoming 2017 AmeriCup will be that last extra push that lands him a spot in the NBA.

“I don’t want to be too good that I start an international incident,” Warney jokingly told The Step Back.

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That’s the confidence of a player who has been flying under everyone’s radar since high school, consistently outperforming peers who have been lauded with more attention and recognition. 

Having gone to a tiny high school that didn’t net him huge attention from Division I programs, the 6-foot-8 power forward had to settle for Stony Brook in 2012. Since then, has been showing everyone why he isn’t to be trifled with. A three-time AEC Player of the Year, Warney was well known to mid-major fanatics, even as far back as his freshman season, after a solid showing against the Maryland Terrapins. It wasn’t until his final season under current Rutgers head coach, Steve Pikiell, that the rest of basketball loving nation noticed #BullySZN.

The first time Twitter — at least as a collective — made a fuss over the Texas Legends big man was during the 2016 America East Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament Finals against the Vermont Catamounts, when Warney dropped 43 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, leading the Seawolves to the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

That, in itself, was a huge deal. He had gone from a virtual unknown to every bracket-building, office cubicle employee’s trendy individual Cinderella. Then Selection Sunday happened … the Kentucky Wildcats and big bad Big Blue Nation were looming. The whole Cinderella seemed a little more unlikely.

If the stage AEC Tournament Finals wasn’t big enough, Warney followed that up by posting 23 points and grabbing 15 rebounds against the Kentucky Wildcats in the opening-round of the Big Dance. Granted, it was in a losing effort, but if people were not yet on the Warney bandwagon, they were quickly looking to find their way on to it after stellar play against a Kentucky roster riddled with future NBA talent.

With the attention garnered by those huge performances, Warney has become a man of the people on social media. He doesn’t have the largest following on Twitter, but one would be hard pressed to find a more interactive — and sometimes self-deprecating — professional athlete than the fun-loving NBA hopeful.

“There’s never been that much attention paid [to me],” Warney said. “I keep doing what I need to do. If it means I have to go out until Twitter explodes, I will just keep doing it. People [on Twitter] have my back and been here though my struggles. They know me.”

As it often is for low-major players, despite the brief shine in the national spotlight, Warney didn’t get selected in the 2016 NBA Draft. Instead, following a good Summer League showing and some preseason games, he found himself a member of the Texas Legends during his first professional season.

Last season, Warney averaged 17.3 points on 57.6 percent shooting and 8.1 rebounds per game for the Legends, the G League affiliate of the Mavericks. He would then go to his second Summer League in Orlando, help the Mavericks to the Orlando title and finish the event ranked near the top in player efficiency rating (PER).

It was a big deal. There was, for a lack of a better phrase, a palpable buzz on social media over Warney’s performances. People were starting to clamor for him to be signed to an NBA roster. But as brief as his fame was in March of 2016, the Summer of Warney (2017) proved just as fleeting.

In a last-minute decision this past summer, Warney would join the Clippers In Las Vegas for that organization’s Summer League team. Warney rarely saw minutes in the few games he played with Los Angeles, however. This wasn’t bad luck or an iffy decision, at least not according to Warney.

“I didn’t have the success I wanted to in Vegas,” Warney said. “I didn’t get a lot of minutes, but when I did, I didn’t make the most out of them.”

Whatever the reason for the lack of minutes, an essential wash in Las Vegas wasn’t going to do Warney’s NBA dreams any favors. He knows this. The struggle to earn an opportunity in the NBA has made Warney incredibly self-aware, he knows he has work to do before he can reach his goal. As often as he discussed his strengths in rebounding, defense and being able to bully his way around the bucket, he knows he needs to show he can stretch the floor.

Warney is hoping that the AmeriCup is yet another platform in which he can showcase his talents, the ones people already know he possesses, as well as those coaches want him to improve upon. Luckily for Warney, Team USA is going to be coached by a guy that certainly values the qualities a player like him brings to the table and minutes probably won’t be an issue.

“[Jeff Van Gundy] knows more about the game of basketball than any of us,” Warney said when discussing what playing for Team USA means to him. “He’s looking for some toughness. Some physicality. I bring that to the table.”

“In this new format, I get to represent my country. I’m going to do the best I can do. “

There’s a lot on the line for Warney when Team USA hits the court. He knows there’s a clock ticking and he can’t wait around forever to maximize his earning potential as a basketball player. It is why he acknowledges that maybe he has one G League season left in him, but might then be forced to look at options overseas if the money is right.

It’s not about failing to believe in himself, though. This is a man who believes he belongs with the more hyped, name-brand stars already in the NBA.

“One day I would like to coach college basketball. I love what coaches do for kids. But that’s down the line,” Warney said about his future. “I’ve got something to do right now. I’m playing basketball. I’m doing what I love. I’m not even close to being done yet.”

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Bet against him making the NBA if you want. People have been gambling against the idea of Jameel Warney his entire playing career. As often as those bets have been placed, Warney has been there to collect on those slips.

“This story is going to have one hell of an ending.” — @Fullcoursemeelz