When other colleges started seeing the potential in Jameel Warney as a high school senior, Stony Brook stepped up its pursuit. Coach Steve Pikiell told the New Jersey teenager to dream big and vowed that he would become so good that his number would be retired someday.
“It was one of his recruiting pitches,” Warney said on the phone this week before scoring 20 points in an NBA D-League game for the Texas Legends. He laughed a bit as he recalled Pikiell’s vision about a team that never had reached the NCAA Tournament and never had hoisted anyone’s jersey to the rafters.
“I believed it, he believed it. We were probably the only two who believed it at the time. I know it sounds crazy, saying it to a 17-year-old kid,” Warney said. “But I’m happy, six years later, to have my jersey retired.”
Warney will see that vision fulfilled as he watches his No. 20 raised at halftime of the Seawolves’ game against Binghamton on Saturday night. He will return for a game at Island Federal Credit Union for the first time since scoring 43 points against Vermont — the only Stony Brook player ever to reach 40 in the school’s Division I era — and leading the Seawolves to their first America East championship and NCAA Tournament berth.
“Pure joy,” he said in recalling the scene from March 12. “People can’t forget that game, ever. Down 15 with 13 minutes left and we just clawed back. We had the greatest home-court advantage I’ve ever been a part of. It was a big day for everybody.”
Saturday will be another occasion as the program’s all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks and games becomes only the second athlete in school history to have a number retirement. He joins Joe Nathan, who went on to become an All-Star relief pitcher in the major leagues.
The ceremony will be Stony Brook’s way of thanking Warney. The feeling is mutual. “It did a lot for me,’’ he said. “I came there in the summer of 2012 as an 18-year-old kid who was homesick the whole time, even though I live only an hour-and-a-half away. I think of all the growth from my freshman year to my senior year, how much I love the place, how my face would light up when I talked about Stony Brook to other people . . . I put my heart and soul into that university in my four years. I love that place. It’s my second home.”
Warney will celebrate his past during a break from preparing for his future, the D-League’s All-Star break. Despite a few minor injuries, he has made a quick impression. Quincy Acy of the Nets, a teammate in Texas this season, recently told Newsday that Warney “should probably get a chance in the NBA, and if he doesn’t, he’ll have a great life overseas because he has an unbelievable post-up game.”
Stony Brook’s all-time greatest player has bonded with Legends assistant coach Vin Baker, who built an NBA career after playing for Hartford, also an America East member. Warney has maintained his bond with Pikiell, who now is at Rutgers.
Plus, Warney watches just about every Stony Brook game on ESPN3 and is impressed with how his former team has proved the skeptics wrong. Warney said Lucas Woodhouse “is playing the best basketball of anybody in the conference” and regularly talks and texts with Tyrell Sturdivant, his former understudy and now his replacement in the pivot. Said Warney, “He is taking the conference by storm.”
Warney’s final home game ended with fans storming the court. Many of those same people will be there Saturday, seeing with their eyes what Warney was the first to see in his mind.
“It’s going to be crazy,” he said. “It’s going to be great to have something to cement my legacy, to have something that will always be there.”