Note: The following piece is written by former Stony Brook forward and current Texas Legends power forward Jameel Warney. This is a start of a continuous series titled “The Warney Files” where Warney will be writing about his experiences as he starts his career in the D-League. Warney can be followed on Twitter @fullcoursemeelz.
I hit it off with Steve Pikiell the first time we met on my unofficial visit to Stony Brook. Coach was a special player in his own right. Not only was he part of Jim Calhoun’s first recruiting class at UCONN, but he was one of the team’s captains for their first ever Big East championship. Pike had already been the head coach at Stony Brook for seven years before I stepped on campus, and had built them from the ground up.
Stony Brook and Rider were on me the hardest throughout high school, with high majors jumping in the summer of my junior year after an AAU tournament. From the outside, people will always question why I’d pass up the opportunity to play in a power conference for a team in the America East, but Stony Brook just felt like home to me.
Assistant coach Jay Young was loyal to me from the jump and I felt like if I returned the favor things would work out for their program, and what I wanted to accomplish both academically and on the basketball court. Coach Young is one of a kind, he’s been a father figure to me and our relationship goes way beyond basketball.
To be honest I wasn’t ready for college ball the day I stepped on campus, it was just a different scene. First day of summer practice was tough, I came in overweight and the coaches ran me ragged. Like most freshman I was homesick and ready to get back to Plainfield.
Freshman year took some adjustment, I was just getting my feet wet and we had a talented roster of upperclassmen. If anything it helped me realize what it would take to survive and thrive in college basketball.
By sophomore season the team had lost Tommy Brenton to graduation, who left the school as the program's all time leading rebounder. Tre (Carson Puriefoy) and I felt like we were ready to take over, but we still had some growing up to do. There was competition between the upperclassmen and us younger players for whose team it would be.
We finished 14-2 in conference and 25-8 overall, but still missed out on the NCAA Tournament after a two point loss to Albany in the America East Tournament Finals.
That summer I did what I had to do to get in better shape, Tre and I were the only two returning players who played significant minutes the year before. The biggest adjustment for me was figuring out how to tell people what they needed to hear rather than what they wanted to hear.
It got to the point that all that mattered was winning, anything that got in the way of it would have to be tossed out the window.
Tre was with me on my whole journey at Stony Brook. We were apart of the same recruiting class, he experienced every win and loss alongside me. A team is only as good as it’s lead guard and Tre did a great job, from hitting clutch threes to getting people the ball in the best possible position.
Leading up to Christmas break we were 7-6. That time of year can always get a little rough-- between workouts, practices, study halls and finals you’re putting in 14 hour days, I was ready to get back to New Jersey.
After break we took out Washington by five on the road. At that point we were riding high, expecting to run through our conference schedule. Two games in we had already lost at Vermont by 14, a place I still hadn’t won.
By January 19th we lost our second conference game, by 17 at home to Albany. After a road loss to New Hampshire and a home loss to Vermont we were 6-4 in conference and staring up at Albany and Vermont.
Coach Pike and the program were used to finishing in the top two in the conference at this point. Four out of the five previous seasons they hadn’t lost more than three games in the America East.
We were getting chewed out by the staff and knew we’d have to get our act together. We finished off the regular season with six straight wins and felt good heading into the conference tournament.
After my first road win at Vermont in the semifinals we headed to Albany. Big time players make big plays and Peter Hooley hit a game winning three with barely any time left on the clock. At that point knowing we weren’t going to the tourney I was ready to get home.
The more ball the better, but just like other college students we always wished we could enjoy our spring break a little... instead we headed to the CBI where we lost to Mercer by two.
That offseason the team took a trip overseas which was a good team building experience. 10 days without a cell phone works wonders for team chemistry.
When classes started back up in the fall we knew this would be our last shot at the NCAA Tournament. As a team we went at it as hard as possible in practice and during workouts. Tre and I were in the best shape we had ever been in during our time at Stony Brook.
That year we took Vanderbilt to overtime in their house, only lost one game at home (on Senior Night) and had an 18 game win streak. Senior night was a blur filled with emotions. After the loss coach Young ripped into me. Worse yet, an NBA scout that was there to see me told him I was soft.
The next three games were the most important of my life, I went to work averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds on the way to Stony Brook’s first America East Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament berth.
Everything moved quickly after that, Coach Pike got the Rutgers job and I had to finish up my course work all while meeting with agents and going through pre-draft workouts.
Pre-draft was a crazy time for me. l was flying all over the place, sometimes not knowing where I was headed to workout until my agent told me the day before. Once I got word of where I was headed I’d spend time doing as much research as possible on the organization and coaching staff.
For me the most important part was letting teams get to know me off the court, besides what they were able to see on it. The whole process is one giant job interview, you have to be prepared for any question at any time.
When I wasn’t traveling for team workouts I split my time training at Stony Brook with Rell (Tyrell Sturdivant), Rutgers and with my agency in White Plains. I was constantly on the move to the point where it felt like I was putting in 23 hour days.
The team workouts themselves were a great learning experience for me, it’s always a positive when you get put out of your comfort zone. Most teams run them as mixed groups so the guards and big men go through everything together. They’d often have us launching NBA distance three’s along with the guards which was never a big part of my game in college.
Different organizations have different ways of doing things, you’ll find yourself trying out some things you’ve never done before. What it really comes down to is the people running the show have been in this game way longer than you have, they know what it’s going to take to make and stick around in the league.
The Celtics do a three-minute run of up and backs which is brutal, it’s known among prospects going to work out for them. Try it yourself if you end up bored on a court one day.
Portsmouth was a letdown for me, I felt like I didn’t play my best ball and show what I I’m capable of on the court.
After going undrafted I talked with my agent where we decided Dallas would be the best fit for me for Summer League. I had a good workout with them and there was some opportunity for playing time. At that point I was focused on showing everyone what I’m capable of, I knew there were some doubters after my performance at Portsmouth.
Summer League was a great experience. I flew out to Dallas for mini-camp for five days before we headed out to Vegas. The team put us up at a hotel on the strip, overall it was a great, but i was just locked in on the basketball.
The biggest adjustment for me was getting used to West Coast time, by the time 6 or 7 o’clock rolled around I was ready for bed and I found myself waking up by 4:30 most mornings. Our first game against the Heat I was a little nervous going in but after a put-back dunk I settled down and started to play my game.
Going in I knew I had to make the most of my minutes, and I thought I played pretty well. Once I realized I had a shot of making training camp by crashing the glass and playing my game everything slowed down around me.
At this point I spoke with my agent to figure out my future. I had a great offer to play for a team in South Korea or I could head to training camp with the Dallas Mavericks. In the end I decided pursuing my lifelong dream of playing in the NBA was more important to me than a larger paycheck.
During rookie workouts before camp started, I ended up rolling my ankle pretty badly. The injury was so bad that there were some days where I couldn’t even walk on it. Despite the injury, I was able to play my game by crashing the glass and boxing out whenever I had the opportunity to work.
When we were in Dallas, I basically mastered how to use Grubhub. I couldn’t get around much because of my ankle so I ordered in a lot. I think I may have ordered from every possible place within a mile or two of the hotel.
We had a day off after our game against the Suns. The following day I was called into the film room and was told I was being released. They let me know they were happy with my effort, skill set and basketball IQ-- the injury certainly didn’t help my cause.
I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity given to me by the Dallas Mavericks organization and at this point I’m ready to get back to work with the Texas Legends.
Nothing’s better than turning the doubters into believers.