Jason Guarente (@JasonGuarente )
Justin Jaworski scanned the court and saw the types of players who were once recruited ahead of him. There was Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp, Tennessee’s Yves Pons, Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. Power Five conference guys. Then there was Jaworski. From Lafayette.
“Every time I’m going in people are like, ‘What the heck is Lafayette?’” Jaworski said. “That motivates me. I’ve got nothing to lose. I just kind of go in with a chip on my shoulder like I’ve had my whole life. Try to prove myself every single time I’m out there.”
Justin Jaworski (above) has caught the interest of some NBA teams after a strong college career with Lafayette. (Photo courtesy Lafayette College)
Jaworski is getting invited to the same NBA pre-draft workouts as the big dogs. He tried out for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey was at that one. So was Morey’s No. 2, Elton Brand.
The ping pong balls have decided the draft order. The teams must now decide whom they covet. Jaworski has a chance at his loftiest dream. These workouts have already taught the Perkiomen Valley grad something. In his mind, his small-school pedigree doesn’t matter.
“Not only do I think I can hang with them, I think I can thrive,” Jaworski said a few hours after his Sixers audition last week. “I’m very ambitious. My whole life I’ve been that way. I feel like I’m at this level. I’m looking for one team that will take a chance on me and give me an opportunity.”
Jaworski is no stranger to being an underdog.
When he was at Perk Valley, lifting a non-traditional power to the second round of the PIAA Tournament, Jaworski lit up the scoreboard. He scored at least 20 points 20 times in 30 games as a senior. He scored at least 30 points in three of his final eight games. The Vikings pushed Reading High, the eventual state champ with San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV, to the brink of elimination.
Despite all of that, Division I schools weren’t calling. Jaworski’s choices were Lafayette or American. He picked the Leopards, a one-hour drive from home. The 6-foot-3, 196-pound sharpshooting guard’s college story played out the same way as high school. He averaged 21.3 points as a senior, shot nearly 40% from '3' and 91.3% from the foul line.
Jaworski had chances to leave. He didn’t have to stick it out for four years at his public high school. Prep schools were available. He didn’t have to plug away for four years in the Patriot League. Major conference schools were interested. He stayed where he started out of loyalty.
“Why would I abandon the people who believed in me from the beginning?” Jaworski said. “If you’re good enough they’ll find you at any level. I didn’t feel like I had to go anywhere else. I could be successful there.”
The NBA found Jaworski. Other than the occasional quizzical look from a fellow invitee, being from Lafayette hasn’t diminished his stock. The Schwenksville native has run the floor with Power Five rivals. The door to being drafted or signed as a free agent remains propped open.
Jaworski (above) is used to approaching hoops situations with a chip on his shoulder. (Photo courtesy Lafayette College)
The first part of these workouts usually includes combine-like tests. Vertical leap. Shuttle run. That kind of thing. Jaworski said he was surprised by how well he fared in these measurements. But the fact remains most of the players he’s competing against are taller and can jump higher. He’ll never win that battle.
“Physically, some of these guys are freaks,” Jaworski said. “I don’t have that God-given NBA body. I feel like I make up for it in a lot of other ways. Personally I think I’m the best shooter coming out of college basketball. I know that’s a big statement. That’s honestly how I feel about it. I pride myself on other things too. Being in really good shape. Understanding how to play the right way. I try to make up for what I lack physically.”
NBA teams tell Jaworski’s agent they know he can score. They know he can shoot. There’s a potential role for him. The J.J. Redick role. The Seth Curry role. Jaworski has modeled himself after those players. He has admired how they move without the ball. How they score in transition. How they’re efficient with their dribbling. The question mark for Jaworski is whether he can defend point guards at the highest level.
Even if it might seem far-fetched to an outsider, this was always Jaworski’s goal. When he matched up against the AAU powerhouses and faced more highly-regarded recruits, he always held his own. There was never a basketball situation in which he felt overmatched. Why couldn’t that continue all the way to the top?
Jaworski has experienced his first brush with that possibility. His locker for the Sixers workout was the one that belongs to George Hill. It was right next to Joel Embiid’s and across from the one reserved for Ben Simmons. Jaworski couldn’t help but wonder what it’d be like to have a permanent place in a room like this one.
“That’s the dream,” he said. “I believe I’m good enough to do it. I need to get that opportunity and roll with it.”
If he doesn’t get a chance in the NBA this fall, he said he’ll likely head overseas to Poland and try to gain citizenship.
For now, the focus is on proving what he has at every other level. That he belongs.
“All I ask for is one opportunity,” Jaworski said. “If it’s a Summer League deal or a training camp offer, just one offer. I want to see how I can compete on that stage.”