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The best way to get some people motivated is to tell them what they can’t do. I learned that many years ago.

Back in junior high school, I was trying out for the basketball team.

With about a thousand other people — okay, maybe it was 50, but it felt like a thousand — hoping to make the team, I appeared at the gym after school. I remember enjoying basketball from the time I could barely throw the ball high enough to clear the basket.

As I got older, I shot up quickly in height. I was never a particularly great shooter. My five-foot, seven-inch frame, which puts me below the eye level of many of my teenage children’s friends today, seemed taller back then.

I could and did grab rebounds, fight for loose balls and play aggressive defense. At the time, we had three days of cuts. The first day, my name appeared on the “come-back-tomorrow” list, which meant that I was still one of the chosen few.

The second day, after an intense and physical tryout, I knew I’d made the list, because the coach nodded several times when I blocked shots and seemed pleased that I raced up the floor to poke the ball away from someone who thought he had a breakaway layup.

It was during lunch on the third day, before the final cut, that I lost my mojo. I was sitting with one of my friends, whom we’ll call John. Through the bits of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that were sticking to his braces, he told me he heard some other kids talking about me on the way to school.

“Oh yeah, what did they say?” I asked.

“They said you were still on the list of players who might make the basketball team,” John said.

I beamed. The final cut would only eliminate two or three more players, which meant that I just had to keep doing what I was doing earlier in the week and I’d make it.

“They also said you travel every time you shoot a layup,” he offered.

“What?” I asked, suddenly feeling as if he punched me in the gut.

“They said you didn’t belong on the team.”

Throughout the afternoon, in my head, I heard the echo of the words “didn’t belong.” When I stepped on the court that day, my feet barely moved and I didn’t even attempt a shot. Not surprising, I didn’t make the team.

Would I be in the NBA if John hadn’t planted the “you-can’t-do-it” bug in my ear? Not a chance. Would I have made the team? Well, maybe!

About 15 years later, I got a job at Bloomberg News. At the time, it was a growing news service and a securities trading device that refused to accept second place in anything. The facilities were magnificent, complete with fish tanks on every floor and free food for employees and guests, which included select company like Tom Hanks and Ed Koch, who came to the “Charlie Rose” show.

When I got the job, I overheard some of my former colleagues discussing how I didn’t belong at Bloomberg. This time, rather than slink away, I was determined to prove them wrong. While it was a challenging job, I enjoyed the opportunity not only to provide Bloomberg with relevant stories but also to compete against some of the best journalists in New York City. Early in my tenure at Bloomberg, I won a deadline writing award.

I’m not suggesting people pour cold water on each other’s aspirations through some misdirected tough love approach. I would, however, urge people not to listen to the nattering nabobs of negativism, a term coined by William Safire and shared by former Vice President Spiro Agnew.

Jameel Warney signs partially guaranteed deal with Mavericks

Jameel Warney dunks the ball for Stony Brook University. Photo from SBU

By Desirée Keegan

Jameel Warney’s coaches used to say the player held a basketball like a bowling ball, cupping it with his hand and wrist when driving to the basket. He holds the ball a little differently now. He’s gripping it like an NBA pro.

After competing for the Dallas Mavericks’ 2016 Summer League team from July 2 through July 8, Warney, a 6-foot, 8-inch, 260-pound forward, agreed to a partially guaranteed deal with the team, which amounts to a training camp invite.

“I always have the utmost confidence in myself and know that if I play hard, I can do whatever I think I’m capable of doing,” Warney said. “When I play well and with a chip on my shoulder, I won’t be denied. It was great to know that I can play with this level of competition.”

During five Summer League appearances, he averaged 6.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals and one block per game. Dallas never ran offensive plays designed to get him open, yet Warney still shot 60 percent from the field.

Jameel Warney block a shot for the Seawolves. Photo from SBU
Jameel Warney block a shot for the Seawolves. Photo from SBU

“A lot of hard work went into this and it’s great to get some recognition, but I still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I was happy that [Dallas] offered to bring me along to training camp, because it’s just another step toward ultimately making my dream come true.”

Although his form may not have been there from the start, the now former Stony Brook University star’s previous head coach, Steve Pikiell, said he’s proud of the player Warney has become. He noted the vast improvement he saw in Warney’s game over the 22-year-old’s four-year tenure with the Seawolves.

“Everyone says great hands, great this, great that, but he’s just a great kid,” Pikiell said. “How he handled himself on and off the court was just awesome. He’s one of the best I’ve worked with in all of my 23 years of coaching.”

Warney began his basketball career as many young players across the country now do; in the Amateur Athletic Union.

“They didn’t think he was going to make it,” his mother Denise Warney said of her son’s coaches. “They said he was very lazy, and he was struggling with the drills and it seemed like something he wasn’t interested in. That all changed in two or three months.”

Warney learned from the experience and established a newfound passion for the sport. Within months, multiple AAU teams were interested in the abnormally tall middle school standout.

From there, Warney joined the varsity basketball team at Roselle Catholic High School in New Jersey. He graduated as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,968 points, and averaged 17 points, 13.5 rebounds, four assists and 3.5 blocks per game as a senior.

“He’s humble and he’s hardworking. I think that’s an unbelievable combination for a kid nowadays.”

— Steve Pikiell

“For Jameel, whether he’s well, sick or tired, he plays really well,” his mother said. “He just loves the sport.”

At Stony Brook, he enjoyed much of the same success.

Warney graduated with more victories than any player in school history, and is the school’s all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks and games played. The Associated Press All-American Honorable Mention also broke Stony Brook records for points in a season and in a single game when he scored 43 against the University of Vermont March 12.

Among all the records, Warney was also named American East Player and Defensive Player of the Year after leading the Seawolves to the American East Championship title and the first NCAA postseason berth in school history. He recorded 23 points and 15 rebounds in the first round of the tournament against the University of Kentucky on March 17, though the team fell 85-57.

“I saw something in him early on and I was able to help him bring that talent and ability out of him,” Pikiell said. “Mix that in with his hard work, and that’s how he’s gotten to the point he’s at. I know he can play at the NBA level. He has a skill set that everyone could use. He has a great motor, he’s a terrific rebounder, he has great hands, he’s a great passer, he has a tremendous physical ability and he’s an unselfish player. He has a great mind for the game of basketball, and those are attributes that bode well for him to be able to continue to play at the next level.”

Jameel Warney carries a net around his neck after the Stony Brook University men's basketball team won the America East championship. Photo from SBU
Jameel Warney carries a net around his neck after the Stony Brook University men’s basketball team won the America East championship. Photo from SBU

For Denise Warney though, it’s more than just her son’s accolades and titles. It’s about how proud she is of how far her son has come not just in the sport, but as a person. When she watches him, she can’t help but smile.

“The game for the NCAA berth, I just watch that game over and over again because it amazes me that he’s turned out to be such a great basketball player,” she said.

She is especially amazing watching him dunk the ball, because for her, it brings back a decade-old memory.

“When he was little, I remember him saying, ‘Mommy, I want a trampoline.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘I want to put it next to the basketball hoop so I can dunk,’” she said. “We laughed about it because now when I see him dunk a ball, I go all the way back to when he was 10 years old. I get this rush watching him, I’m overcome with this emotion, and I just keep becoming prouder and prouder of him.”

Warney and his mother both appreciate those who have helped him reach such heights thus far in his career.

“The years of improving mentally and physically, being mature and proving my stuff on the court with Stony Brook after high school — I’ve learned so much,” he said. “I feel like a lot of the people I’ve come across over my years of playing basketball have influenced my life. My coaches in high school, my mom, college coaches, the rest of my family and my close friends, I’m doing this all for them because they’ve been with me through the struggles and through the highs. I’m happy to have such a nice support system with me.”

He’s influenced the lives of others as well, as young children run around Stony Brook donning his name and number on their jerseys, looking up to the professional athlete who is continuing to put in the work as he climbs his ladder toward his ultimate goal of making a roster.

“He’s humble for a player as talented as he is,” Pikiell said. “He’s humble and he’s hardworking. I think that’s an unbelievable combination for a kid nowadays. That enabled him to get better and help us do things that no Stony Brook team has ever done, I think he can make a team and stay for a long time. I think his best basketball is ahead of him.”