Get to know the Americans playing in the East Asia Super League (EASL)

Get to know the Americans playing in the East Asia Super League (EASL)

Over the years, there are more and more American basketball players looking for opportunities overseas. There are only about 450 guaranteed spots in the NBA, plus a few two-way spots per team. If one can’t crack an NBA roster, players often turn to playing abroad or in the NBA G-League.

For many players, going overseas is a sensible choice. There are many leagues to choose from, including the EuroLeague in Europe, NBL in Australia and Chinese Basketball Association in China. 

Some Americans have found solace in the East Asia Super League – a rapidly growing tournament that is considered to be the "champions league" of East Asian basketball. 

Jameel Warney, who plays for the Seoul SK Knights, has found success in Korea. After playing four years at Stony Brook and going undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft, Warney established himself as one of the best American imports of all-time in the Korean Basketball League (KBL). Ever since arriving in Korea in 2019, the 6-foot-8 forward/center has amassed three MVP awards, three All-KBL teams and a KBL title.

Although Warney was not able to find NBA success, he has been thriving in Korea. Warney recently opened up about some of the differences between playing overseas and back home in the USA.

“Well, it’s a lot different,” Warney said to BasketballNews. “There’s a lot of spacing in American play, but even here [Korea] and in Europe, it's kind of team-based [basketball]. You can clog the paint up in this side of the world and there’s a lot of great shooting here, especially their big men… It’s a lot of different stuff between these two things [like America and Korea], but I mean I enjoy both of them a lot and I love being here for the last five years."

Jamil Wilson, who played for Oregon and Marquette from 2009 to 2014 but went undrafted in the NBA, echoed Warney’s statements.

“It’s just completely two different styles of basketball,” Wilson said. "You get that everywhere you go. When I played here [in the Philippines], there was a different style of basketball played in Korea, where I am now. When I played in Europe, whether be it in Italy, Israel, Russia or anywhere like that in the past, it’s just a different experience depending on where you are and how they play. Some countries like to play up-tempo, and some like to be really tactical with sets and things. So it just kinda depends on where you are and with the organization and the coaching staff as well.”

Wilson has had stints in a lot of leagues in Europe before landing with the Korean side Anyang Jung Kwan Jang Red Boosters this year. Wilson says he has enjoyed the journey of playing overseas thus far.

“I enjoy everything. Everywhere you go, it’s a unique experience – culture and basketball itself – so I’ve been enjoying my journey abroad and Korea’s no different,” Wilson said.

In choosing the place where they want to go and play next, however, Wilson shared a rather unique yet wholesome moment that he considers for himself and his career.

“All of my decisions revolve around my son and spending time with him," Wilson said. "So whatever is time-flexible and allows me to spend the most time with him, that’s probably what I’ll do or where I go.”

For Warney, it’s all about the fans and the people in the organization. He mentioned the relationships he's built over the past few years he has been with the team.

“The people, obviously,” Warney said to BasketballNews when asked about considering where to play. “I’ve been with the same people for like the last five years. My head coach, he was the assistant for my first two years, but now he’s the head coach and we have a great relationship. I’ve been with (teammate) Yang Ming for five years and my translator also. So a lot of guys I’m familiar with over the past couple of years.”

Warney adds that he considers his long-time teammates and coaches as family: “I think other people like being with different teams, it’s like a one-year pitstop or maybe two then they go to a different team. [But] it’s not like a business to me, I guess it’s more of like a family/personal basis for me.”

For DJ Stephens, he's drawn to certain leagues and teams with a solid fanbase. After a lengthy career in Europe, Stephens is now with the Chiba Jets in Japan and he appreciates the love that the Japanese fans show each and every game.

“Some of the best fans I’ve ever played for,” Stephens told BasketballNews. “They are real supportive in every game that we have and the arenas are sold out. Our fans buy merchandise with our names on it. You see towels being waved with players’ names on it. The fans are really loyal and supportive, so that’s a big thing for a basketball player, to have a lot of support.”

Some players spend several years in the NBA and experience some success, but then transition to overseas basketball (like the EASL) as they get older. Austin Daye, who won an NBA championship in 2014, can attest to this His main reason for coming to Asia to play basketball is to enjoy the game before he hangs it up and create memories with his teammates.

“The decision to come here was pretty simple – I played with the same team last year. The drive of the coaching staff and the players, I know that they’re looking to get to a championship. And as you get older, it’s not so much about numbers and things like that. It’s more about just having fun and trying to enjoy time as your career winds down – which mine is,” Daye said. 

Daye values winning more than anything, and he’d be fine putting up lesser stats if he has an opportunity to win at this stage of his career.

“Winding down and winning is something I would rather do than wind down just getting numbers and losing. So I chose to come here for this year because I want to try and win a championship," Daye said. "And next year, who knows? The same factors apply to me – just try to win, have a great time with teammates, and try to enjoy the experiences overseas.”

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