Jacob Wiley didn’t expect to be where he is today, a professional basketball player with a season to prove himself in the G-League.
“I didn’t see it coming until it hit me. I couldn’t imagine this even six months ago. It’s just been a blessing,’’ Wiley, 22, told Brian Lewis.
And who can blame him. Wiley’s road to the NBA, while still uphill and windy, is unlikely.
Yes, he is spectacularly athletic with a near 40” vertical, an ability to run the 400 meters in 47.5 seconds and he has a build that shouts “tight end,” a position he played at an all-state level in high school and at Montana.
But as he notes, life can throw obstacles at you in the most unexpected ways. Wiley was forced to grow up fast. His father was an alcoholic, yet Wiley was so loyal to him, he left his mother at 14 and followed him to a tiny attic apartment, where his dad’s time on earth ended in suicide.
Wiley admits that history affected him deeply and even though he got a scholarship to Montana, he left the team in his sophomore year, 2014.
“I just fell out of love with the game,’’ Wiley said. “I was just young and immature. Instead of sticking with it and trying to make other things work alongside it, I just said, ‘I’m going to just move on and try other things.’ ”
“Other things” included a tryout with the Montana football team but he hurt his knee in practice and got his scholarship pulled. He had to take out student loans and wound up with a $7-per-hour job cooking and washing dishes at a retirement home.
From depths like that, getting up was the challenge. He left Montana for tiny Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho, an NAIA school. He was honorable mention all-American NAIA and transferred to Eastern Washington. From not loving the game to becoming a star in basketball’s fringe. It was all about the work ethic ... and having a child.
“He just plays so hard. He goes for every rebound, he’ll contest every shot and just plays at a size bigger than he is,” said Hayford, who now coaches at Seattle. “He rebounds like [Dennis] Rodman. … You wish everybody played the game that hard.
“He’s like 2017 Gomer Pile: Yes sir, no sir, I’ll work hard sir.”
He was Big Sky Conference player of the year and got an invite to the Plymouth Invitational Tournament for overlooked seniors in April. He did well and got more than a dozen workouts. The Nets gave him a partial guarantee and a two-way deal.
Kenny Atkinson, the latest coach to fall in love with his work ethic, thinks he’s worth the small risk.
“Upside, athleticism, versatility. He doesn’t have a ton of experience, but … he’s got a motor obviously,’’ Atkinson told The Post. “He’s a little fast and wild right now, but we see the athletic potential, the length, the speed, how hard he plays.
“He’s like a young colt running and we’re going to have to try to [coach him]. There’s a lot of development there to be done. But that’s how we look at those guys. You’re not getting a finished NBA product. It’s just not that easy.”
Once again, it’s up to him.
- No one on the Nets has a better story than Jacob Wiley - Brian Lewis - New York Post