Warney works to take his game and his team to new heights. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)
Jameel Warney, above, hails from New Jersey, which is seen as a hotbed for basketball talent. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

It should not surprise anyone that 2013-14 America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney’s preferred song to listen to before a game is “Return of Simba” by J. Cole. The track opens with a sampling of “The Lion King” in which Mufasa, Simba’s father, tells the young cub he is destined to be the new king once Mufasa passes.

For Warney, becoming leader of the Seawolves might as well have been a monarchical process, made inevitable at birth.

“When he arrived on campus I told him that [it would be his team,]” head coach Steve Pikiell said.

“This year I think he truly believes that now. You see it in practice now, you see it in the locker room too.” For Warney, the transition never had to be explicitly noted and he is already working on being the best leader for a team devoid of seniors.

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“You can just feel it. It’s just transferring from the seniors’ team to my team,” Warney said. “Everybody’s younger now, less experience. They’re listening to us leading the stuff. It’s a different experience from last year. Past few years I’ve tried to lead by example, but now this year I have to lead by both vocal and by example.”

The example Warney has made is one of the best in mid-major basketball. As a sophomore last season, Warney averaged 14.5 points and eight rebounds in 29.7 minutes per contest. He ranked fifth in the entire nation in field goal percentage at a 61.6 percent clip and 50th in double-doubles.

In a game against the Detroit Titans, he scored 32 points and collected 21 rebounds on 13-14 shooting from the field. For all his low-post scoring ability, Warney’s is also a deft passer when facing opposing pressure.

“We broke down all the tapes, Meel got a lot of touches,” Pikiell said. “This year, we need him to score on those touches. He was our best passer last year, passed the ball out of the post a ton. One of our huge emphasis is to have him score most in the post. He’s very unselfish that way and I love that trait, he’s a big guy that can pass, I love that trait. Now we gotta get him to be a little more selfish to score when he gets those touches.”

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“It’s a great feeling having your teammates score,” Warney said, “I feel like having my teammates score makes my game easier because you have to respect everybody else more and then you can’t double team me. At the end of the day, there’s somebody wide open. You get somebody a great shot. If they make it, they can’t double and triple team me for long.”

The theory is great on paper, but last season, Stony Brook simply did not have a great deal of knockdown shooters. With Roland L’Amour Nyama, Bryan Sekunda and Deshaun Thrower stepping into the fold and returning players Scott King and Chris Braley likely to get more playing time, Warney will be even more dominant with the added spacing this season.

“I feel like I have more offense this year,” Warney said. “Last year I could just get in the post and just score. [This year] I can shoot a jumpshot on occasion, drive from 15 feet.”

The added prowess will go a long way for Warney, who looks to finally lead the Seawolves to the promised land. Asking Warney what would satisfy him come season’s end offers no alternative. “Being in the NCAA Tournament,”

Warney answered. The prior disappointments have not been in vain however, helping Warney grow and pass on knowledge to the team’s younger athletes.

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“It’s a humbling experience. When you can finally win it’s probably the greatest feeling and we’re just working hard for that everyday to finally get that feeling,” Warney said. “The season is really long. We just gotta stick together everyday, when you’re down ten, when you’re up ten, you gotta have the same mindset. 40 minutes is a long game.”

This mindset of Warneys stems from his roots in New Jersey, a hotbed for basketball talent, with names like Rick Barry, Kyrie Irving and Kenneth Faried catapulting their young careers in the Garden State.

“Jersey is one of the best states out there,” Warney said. “I feel like I play Jersey ball. Toughness, togetherness, just do anything to win.”

Doing anything is going to be needed come March, when the Seawolves will have another chance at achieving what they have sought over the past handful of seasons. The throne has been Warney’s since day one. Now we get to see what he does with it.

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