From undrafted player to Team USA Male Athlete of the Year is the story of Texas Legends forward Jameel Warney. He never would’ve seen the award coming, let alone seen himself being selected as one of twelve young men to dawn a jersey with “USA” scrawled across the chest. It’s something that has been the norm since 1992 for NBA players to do, not players in the league’s developmental system.
“Ah man, it’s crazy, man,” said Warney to Def Pen. “If you told me after the draft when I’m undrafted, I was going to be Male Athlete of the Year for Team USA, I would’ve called you crazy. Everyone [who’s] in my circle or just been around me for a while know[s] that I’m one of the hardest-working, competitive guys around here.”
The 6-foot-7, 259-pound forward was alerted to USA Basketball’s decision to make him their athlete of the year in a semi-outdated way: Via mail. No phone call, text or email from representatives of the organization. Rather, Warney was notified by his jubilant mother.
“I found out probably a few weeks ago,” said Warney. “My mom texted me and told me – because they sent me a letter in the mail – so she was the first one to find out. She’s really the emotional person in the family. It’s always great to have her smiling and happy about things. It’s always great to put a smile on her face.”
Making his mother happy and satisfied is one of the reasons why Warney works so hard at his craft. It’s what helped him stand out in the eyes of decision makers for a once in a lifetime opportunity. An opportunity to represent his country in international territory in front of those who likely didn’t know who he was. His chance wasn’t squandered, as he averaged 12.9 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds while shooting 64.9 percent from the field as the team went 5-0 and dismantled teams by an average of 19.6 points. His stellar play helped him be named MVP of the FIBA AmeriCup.
“I was definitely honored,” said Warney. “I mean it’s crazy how over the summer I just felt like making the team was an honor in itself. I played well and played to my abilities. I’m happy I won the AmeriCup MVP. I’m happy that they chose me for Male Athlete of the Year. It’s definitely a great group of guys to be categorized with. It’s definitely a true honor and great honor to be mentioned with those guys.”
The guys Warney is alluding to are legends and pioneers for the game of basketball for both the NBA and USA program. He’s joining a list that includes Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Tim Duncan and many more.
“’Well deserved,’ was my first thought,” said Legends head coach Bob MacKinnon to Def Pen. “You look at the list of the guys who’ve won it in the past: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, I mean people like that. Now you add Jameel Warney’s name to that list. It’s obviously a significant award and one that is well deserved for what he did for USA basketball.”
Warney wasn’t alone in helping Team USA be successful overseas. It was a collective effort from the team, as the program took a chance and went an innovative route of having G League players represent the country. Doing so, and of course winning the gold medal, enabled the players to show executives, scouts and doubters that they truly are some of the best basketball players in the world. It’s just about receiving a high-profile opportunity to showcase their talents.
In those two weeks, the country’s basketball program put a group of players from the NBA’s developmental system and a quasi-retired coach at the forefront, and they delivered. Doing so can do nothing but elevate their stocks, and put more eyes on G League talent.
“A tremendous accomplishment for the guys in our league,” said MacKinnon. “It shows the quality of players in our league. That they can play on the highest stage and win that tournament with a team comprised of all G League guys. It proves more to the point that this is the second-best league in the world.”
The G League continues to become more credible each season as an avenue for aspiring NBA players. At first, the league was taken as somewhat of a joke, but over the years it’s become the go-to destination for not only players, but coaches and executives to gain quasi-NBA experience.
But like many leagues, the G League does have a downfall: The salaries of its players. It’s easy to say that if players were at least paid six figures, then the league could become a better option than going overseas or maybe even playing college ball.
“I would suspect this would be my last year if I don’t make the NBA,” said Warney. “There’s always the overseas route. At the end of the day, you gotta start making money. This is a career, you’re not going to make lifetime savings off the G League. So, you have to start thinking about your future family. Helping your family out right now. So, I feel this is probably my last year and [then I] gotta move on to other things.”
Warney is currently in his second season in the league and is averaging career-highs in points (20.4) and rebounds (10.1) for the seventh-seeded Legends (9-9). He’s had an increased role with more minutes and shots going his way, and he’s taken advantage of the increased role he’s been placed in by coach MacKinnon.
“Confidence is a beautiful thing, man,” said Warney. “I had a great summer. I’m always a confident guy, I know what I can do. I have always been a good rebounder, I’ve kind of been a good scorer too. At the end of the day, I’m trying to help my team get a win and do anything that helps the team out.”
With a bigger role and two MVP awards, Warney is enjoying one of the best runs he’s had in his basketball career. Despite the lack of time in the day, there is for him to sit back a relax, and truly reflect on what’s been doing on in his life.
“It’s been kind of hectic,” said Warney. “With me playing a few games with the Legends, then going to Team USA and coming back to the legends, I really haven’t had time to sit down and put this season into a thought or process. It’s just fun to keep on playing basketball with your teammates and some of your friends. It’s fun to just keep on getting better every day and just trying to get wins.”