Jalen Warley (above) came from a basketball background and became one of the top guards in the 2021 class. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_Kcallahan)
Although his father, Jason Warley, and his uncle Carlin Warley, both were Philly high school stars who stayed home to play in college, Jalen Warley never felt tethered to play collegiately in the city.
“They didn’t try to block me or try to push me to stay home,” Warley said with a mixture of appreciation and admiration about his dad and uncle. “They were just worried about what’s best for me.”
With the freedom to make the choice for himself, the 6-foot-5 nationally-recruited combo guard from the powerful Westtown School basketball program committed to Florida State University last month.
“I didn’t really feel like there was any perfect fit for me at home,” he said this week, “and they didn’t push me to stay home.”
Naturally, Big 5 basketball fans are disappointed that one of the state’s blue-blood recruits in the class of 2021 is leaving the nest, but Warley knows his dad and uncle are proud of him for making a mature decision, for making the hard decision.
And, it wasn’t like his choice to go to Tallahassee wasn’t because his dad didn’t glow about Big 5 ball.
"He talked about St. Joe’s and how much he loved it and how well the team did when he was there,” Warley said.
Warley, who lives in Chestnut Hill, selected the Seminoles over finalists Oregon, Memphis, Miami, Virginia and Michigan.
“Although my decision was mainly for the basketball part, I never felt how far a school was going to matter,” said Warley, who wasn’t able to visit Tallahassee due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. “I basically viewed all schools as if they were all 15 minutes away from me. I didn’t want to allow distance to affect what school was best for me, so I just tried to ignore that and treat it like a non-factor.”
The analytical Warley, who will major in business, adds another high-profiled recruit to Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton’s 2021 recruiting haul, which is considered the No. 1 class in the country by 24/7.
Warley, who was recruited to play both guard spots, joins center John Butler of Christ Church Episcopal (Greenville, S.C.), shooting guard Bryce McGowens of Wren (Piedmont, S.C.) and shooting guard Matthew Cleveland of Pace Academy (Atlanta) as top-60 recruits by 24/7.
This star-studded class is expected to keep Florida State, which finished 26-5 overall last season and the No. 4 final Associated Press ranking, in the upper tier of the Atlantic Coast Conference and therefore the country.
Hamilton, who was named ACC Coach of the Year last season, led Florida State to its highest final ranking in Seminoles’ history and the second consecutive season top-10 final ranking for the first time in school history. The Seminoles are 55-13 overall and 29-9 in the ACC in the last two seasons.
“A real big factor was being on a team that could compete with any team in the country,” Warley said. “Playing with talent is something I’m used to being at Westtown. I’m always trying to be around guys who can make me better.”
Indeed, Warley is used to being around talented players at Westtown, which won its seventh-straight Friends League championships last year with a pair of Division I recruited seniors: 6-2 guard T.J. Berger (Georgetown) and 6-8 Noah Collier (Pittsburgh).
Westtown (24-7) was playing its best ball, winning eight-straight to end the season, including a 72-59 win over Malvern Prep for the Pennsylvania Independent School championship on February 22.
This season, Warley will team with 6-11 senior Franck Kepnang and 6-11 junior Dereck Lively II, who are both highly-ranked recruits.
“Every practice is a battle between everyone in the gym,” Warley said about playing at Westtown, “there’s nothing given to you, I could say for sure.”
Of course, with the coronavirus shutdown, making a college choice wasn’t the only stress and change Warley needed to deal with since the middle of last March.
“I’m trying my best,” Warley said about the shutdown. “I think early on it was really difficult because I couldn’t even get in private gyms to work out, so I felt like I was in the same environment constantly.
“As gyms started to open up and as things started to slowly open up, I think I’ve just grown accustomed to it, as it’s just a new normal, so I’ve gotten better at it.”
As he did with recruiting, Warley leaned on his father, a school teacher, for advice.
“He did say whoever uses this quarantine the most to improve their game that you will see the difference,” Warley said. “He said not everybody is going to be working, but those who are, you’re going to see a difference when you step back on the floor.”
Although unable to practice against AAU teammates like a normal summer, Warley still didn’t challenge his famous father, a versatile 6-4 swingman for the Hawks and Frankford High, to some backyard one-on-one.
“He actually hung his shoes up early on before I could get big enough, but we’ll play a lot of shooting competitions,” Warley said.
When asked if he wins those competitions, Warley said with a laugh, “oh yeah, definitely.”
He didn’t even think about calling up his 6-8 uncle to practice posting up.
“No, no, I’m not going to mess with him down low,” he said, “I don’t want any problems.”
Jason was first team all-Public League in 1989 with his brother Carlin, who was a repeat selection for legendary Pioneers coach Vince Miller, as Frankford won its second straight Pub crown their senior season.
“Yeah, all the time I would always hear great stories about both of them,” Warley said. “It was just very helpful that they were very humble about it, so it kind of came normal to me.
“Anytime I was at a basketball game, I heard, “are you Carlin’s or Jason’s son?”
Warley can’t overstate the importance of having his father and uncle in his corner throughout the last year when he emerged as a top national recruit.
“A lot of their help was through the recruitment for me and the process because they went through the same process,” Warley said. “I mean, it was a little different in terms of cell phone calls and all that, but they had to make a decision too, so they helped me and said it had to be the right place for me and not going someplace that won’t challenge me, to go somewhere that would be easier.
“So they just talked about all the differences and what to look for in a school and they just kind of kept me focused on what was important.”
Warley aims to help Moose coach Seth Berger win another Friends Schools League title as well as defend their PAISAA championship. He said Westtown is hoping to play games by the end of November or early December.
“I’m on Westtown’s campus now, some people are a hybrid and some people are online, so I’m just kind of practicing a couple times a week,” Warley said. “I’m not leaving campus, but I am practicing every day.”
He will, though, be leaving the city soon to play ball in college, a choice he freely made