Just a little less than four years ago – on Nov. 9, 2012 – Jameel Warney appeared in a Seawolves uniform for the first time making his first start at Marist.
It would be hard to think that his debut that night foretold a career in which he would be on the verge of shattering every Stony Brook record and having NBA teams consistently assessing his draft stock.
His first chance came just over 90 seconds into the game.
“His first shot was an air ball,” Carson Puriefoy said remembering their debut. “Turn around hook, air ball.”
Warney remembered it just as vividly, his first three shots were air balls against Adam Kemp of the Red Foxes.
“Oh I played terrible,” Warney said. “I mean, it’s a big difference guarding Kemp, when I was in high school I didn’t really play anybody my size to play somebody who’s 6’11”, 270, it was hard to adjust with my first three shots were air balls.”
“I remember not finishing that game. I remember checking out at like the nine minute mark and not playing for the rest of the game. I felt like that was one of my worst feelings in basketball and I feel like that’s just something I can’t do.”
The 6’8″ forward finished with eight points and five rebounds as the Seawolves pulled off a three-point win that wasn’t without it’s own drama, as Marist saw a game tying shot fall short in the game’s final seconds. Yet Warney said, looking back on it, he should have had a double-double in that game – which might be easy to say for the nation’s leader in double-doubles last season – but even as his head coach Steve Pikiell assured he would be thrown to the wolves early as a freshman, there was never a guarantee of success.
“There’s got to be butterflies because that’s your first game, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Warney said. “Are you just going to be another college player who’s good in high school and struggled in college? It’s a lot of pressure, but I felt like I changed that perspective over a few years and I’m more comfortable now.”
In his sophomore season opener, when the Seawolves opened up against the same team, Warney made sure he got the better of Kemp, who posted a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds against him in their first meeting. Warney posted a double-double, with 16 points and 13 rebounds, and helped lead Stony Brook to a convincing win.
To say his career has skyrocketed since three air balls in McCann Arena would be an understatement. The 6’8″ Plainfield, NJ native has collected the last two America East Player of the Year awards and led the country in double-doubles last season as a junior. He might be a shoo-in for a third straight Player of the Year award, but it has been the amount at which he has improved since joining the team that has been the most impressive.
“His body changed, he’s so much stronger now in the weight room,” Pikiell said. “He was truly a young kid when he showed up here, I knew how talented he was, to his credit he’s worked hard to get better.”
Pikiell said that every NBA team has either been in contact with him to talk about Warney and either have come to see him, or will see him when he plays this season. Warney said he tells the coaches not to tell him when NBA people are observing him at practice, as to not throw off his focus. While there might be this hype surrounding him, he said it is easy to block out as he stares at his final season.
“I can’t look for next year,” Warney said. “If I play bad this year, what’s going to happen? The team’s not going to scout me then or draft me, so I’d rather just play my hardest this season and let the teams talk to me, maybe next year get drafted.”
Pikiell knows his talented senior has a future in professional basketball, as Stony Brook has begun to churn out players who pursue careers overseas after their senior seasons. Whether the program can put a player in the NBA will rest on this season.
“I think Jameel Warney is going to play basketball for a long time,” Pikiell said. “I see players in the NBA that are just like him, so he’s going to have he’s got have a great year again.”
“He has an ability to play in the league and there are guys like him, they compare him to current guys right now in the league, so I believe in him. He believed in us, back in the day, could’ve went to any college in the country and I truly believe he can play for a long, long time. He can play in that league the three-letter league.”
Warney exudes confidence. He might not have said it then, but looking back on it, even throwing up three air balls he joked “it was a little struggle then” that the NBA could be in his future. The 6’8″ forward wanted to continue improving from his freshman year and joked “maybe grow a couple inches, which didn’t happen.”
His favorite NBA teams are the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs, teams he will use on NBA 2K games.
“I love the Nets, but Brooklyn took them,” Warney said. “So I can’t root for the Brooklyn Nets, so I went to Celtics and you always got to love Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich, so you got to love the Spurs too, so it’s a balance between those two.”
The first big man he posted up against in Kemp is playing professionally overseas in Macedonia and played most recently in the summer league for the Detroit Pistons this year. Where Warney’s career might take him, the future he might have could have him become a player in the NBA 2K games, an idea he hasn’t become accustomed to.
“The funny thing is I really don’t realize that because when I’m playing against somebody I’m not trying to lose in 2K, but in that perspective it’s really cool,” Warney said. “I talk to my friends and all that stuff and they were like, ‘it would be really cool if you can be in there next year’, but I have to improve too, because I don’t want to have a bad rating.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.