Jameel Warney is not supposed to be on the cusp of playing in the NBA. As a kid, he was not heavily recruited. He was not well known in coaching circles.
He was tall and that is all it took.
“He was going to AAU (Amateur Athletic Union youth basketball) and they were looking for tall kids to play basketball,” his mother Denise remembered. “So, he had a friend and that friend’s mother told me that someone was interested in boys playing basketball, so I sent Jameel there and at that time he was a lot taller than the average eleven year old.”
“In the beginning, they didn’t think he would make it,” she added.
But in this Thursday’s NBA draft, Warney has a chance to become the first Stony Brook player drafted to the sport’s premier league in over 45 years.
In preparation for the event, Warney has participated in workouts with several teams, including the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.
Warney’s agent, Sean Kennedy of Excel Sports Management, has five clients currently in the NBA, including Golden State guard Shaun Livingston and Miami center Hassan Whiteside.
Under Kennedy’s advisory, the forward has spent recent weeks to pursuing his professional basketball dreams, which could culminate in Thursday’s draft. It is possible he could hear his name picked in the second and last round.
Since 1989, the draft has only had two rounds, but prior to that it was much longer, allowing for more players to be selected. In 1969, Marvin Lewis of the then-Stony Brook Patriots was picked in the 11th round of the draft by the New York Knicks. Lewis never played in an NBA game, but remains the only player in school history to be drafted.
Over his four years at Stony Brook, Warney accrued numerous awards, records and honors. His 43-point performance in the conference championship game against Vermont, which took Stony Brook to its first NCAA Tournament, cemented his status as the best player to have ever played for the Seawolves.
But Warney was more than a big fish in a small pond. He had the best player efficiency rating in the nation last season and established himself as one of the premiere athletes in any mid-major conference.
Throughout his college career, he has established himself as one of the best rebounders in the nation. According to Sports-Reference.com, Warney is ninth in the NCAA in career rebounds since the 1993-1994 season.
“I feel like rebounding translates [to the NBA],” Warney said. “It doesn’t matter what level of basketball you play on, it translates. So I feel like I come in with an elite skill in rebounding.”
Although his pedigree is large, there are doubts about elevating his playing style to the level required by most NBA teams. In today’s iteration of the game, power forwards, such as Warney, are looked to have a solid jump shot. Throughout his college career, instead of shooting, he would either bully his way into the post for a layup or pass the ball to a shooter on the perimeter.
But Warney can rebound — a heavily sought skill in the NBA — giving the former Seawolf hope to make it in the league. Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson was paid $82 million on a five-year contract, based mostly on his ability to wrangle in offensive boards. The Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Championship on Sunday night, due in large part to Thompson’s skill.
“He fits with any NBA team that is comfortable with a guy of Jameel’s size being a power player,” said Dave Boff, Warney’s high school coach. “There are some teams that believe in really huge, big guys and then the other teams that seem very comfortable with undersized guys that they know just get the job done. You think about Malik Rose with the San Antonio Spurs — I know San Antonio’s been in to see Jameel a lot this year.”
In college, Rose was a 6-foot-7 center on the Drexel Dragons, before graduating in 1996. Ironically, Rose and Warney represent two of the six players to ever win multiple America East Player of the Year awards, as Drexel was formerly in the conference. Rose is the all-time America East leader with 813 NBA games played.
Both Warney and Rose have tremendous rebounding skills and great back-to-the-basket games. But unlike Warney, Rose could shoot the ball well from the outside.
“[Warney]’s a little bit bigger, probably doesn’t shoot it as well as Malik,” said University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari after his team’s NCAA Tournament win over Stony Brook. “And one of the things he will probably have to do is prove he can make 15, 17-footers. But he’s a great kid and works hard and you can tell so proud of being a part of that, basically bringing Stony Brook into what it is today.”
Unfortunately for Warney, this year’s draft is filled with talented big men, many of whom are more athletic and have a better a shooting touch. DraftExpress, a site dedicated to coverage of the NBA draft, ranks Warney No. 100 among incoming rookies.
Even if Warney does not get drafted, he could get invited to an NBA Summer League scouting team. If he does well in the league, he could crack a roster.
But there is always a chance that he does not get a call from any team. He would have to make a decision to play in the NBA Development League or internationally. Teams in the Korean Basketball League have tape of Warney and want him to come over and play, according to his mother.
“If I’m really close to the NBA, if I can sign a 10-day contract or play for the rest for the rest of the season, the D-League sounds more plannable,” Warney said. “If I have a lot of work to do, it’s all about making the most amount of money as you can make, so overseas would be the ideal situation for me.”