When he first saw Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki, Jameel Warney was taken aback at how tall the former NBA Most Valuable Player really was.
“I was speechless when I first saw him,” Warney said. “It’s crazy, seeing a walking legend like that. He’s every bit of seven-foot.”
Starting Monday, the sight will become a regular one for Warney as he will take part in the Mavericks’ training camp. Warney played for the team in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League in early July, later signing a partially-guaranteed contract on July 26.
“This is my first training camp ever, so you gotta expect the unexpected,” Warney said. “But it’s going to be a lot of practices, a lot of games and you got to play your best during this time to try to make the roster.”
The rookie will have much to prove after his Summer League performance. Warney averaged 6.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game coming off of the bench. Former Purdue standout A.J. Hammons started over Warney, but the New Jersey native outperformed the Indiana-born center despite playing fewer minutes.
Warney and Hammons have developed a healthy relationship, working out with each other and using each other’s strengths to help their games. Warney uses the opportunity to play against the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a measuring stick to see how he fares against taller defenders.
“It’s great to go up against seven-footers everyday,” Warney said of Hammons. “I went up against Jake [Petras] who’s big but not as athletic as these guys.”
With Nowitzki in his last year, Dallas has surrounded him with veterans such as center Andrew Bogut and forward Harrison Barnes, both of whom were on the Golden State Warriors’ 2015 championship team as well as the 2016 NBA Finals runner-up team. But the team also has gathered younger players such as forward Justin Anderson and guard Seth Curry.
For Warney, this presents the opportunity to learn from players who have held the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy — given to the team that wins the NBA Finals — as well as players who are still finding their way in the league. Anderson in particular has stepped up to become a leader to Warney, especially during Summer League play.
“Justin has been really helpful to all of us younger guys,” Warney said. “He’s a leader, he’s got a loud voice. He knows what the organization wants.”
Now a second-year player, Anderson came into the Las Vegas Summer League with 55 NBA games under his belt. He started nine of those games.
“He is always talking defense,” Warney said of Anderson’s leadership role during Las Vegas Summer League. “He knows what position to be at. He’ll tell you what position to be at. He wants you to be good and he will force you to be good.”
Anderson is not the only player Warney is learning from. He expressed interest in learning from forward Quincy Acy. The former Sacramento King and New York Knick is known around the league for his brand of aggressiveness.
“The few times he got a one-two step against me, I just let him go,” Warney said. “I didn’t want to get postered.”
When Warney first heard Acy signed with the Mavericks, he remembered Acy’s season with the Knicks and recounted the 2014 Christmas game against the Washington Wizards.
“The one thing I remember from him is when he was in New York he got into a little scuffle with John Wall. That’s a tough guy. That’s the first thing I thought about when they signed him.”
According to Warney, the Mavericks present themselves as a family. The organization is tight knit and everybody interacts with each other. Warney even has gotten advice from head coach Rick Carlisle. Carlisle boasts one of the best resumes in the NBA, having taken his team to two NBA Finals in the last decade, winning in 2011.
“He gives us a lot of pointers,” he said. “He’s always giving us young guys pointers. When he speaks, you better listen because he holds a lot of weight in that organization.”
The opportunity to play for a team such as Dallas presents Warney with one of the most unique opportunities in the NBA. He has the chance to play with one of the best players of all-time in Nowitzki, a Hall of Fame coach in Carlisle and two champions in Bogut and Barnes.
“I love Dallas,” Warney exclaimed. “I’ve been blown away by the city. I’ve been blown away — it’s great. I would love to spend an NBA career here.”