In the past year, Jake Wiley has learned much about basketball, life and himself.
Most of all, he discovered that he loves peace and quiet – a rare commodity in New York, where Wiley spent the last six months making some noise in the NBA and the G-League.
“Someday I’m going to have a place in the woods, where I never hear a sound,” the former Eastern Washington star said last week in Cheney.
The occasion was a homecoming of sorts, an Eagles home game at Reese Court, where Wiley played for one life-changing season last year.
Seen from a distance, Cheney was just another step for a kid who went from high school in Newport, Washington, to Missoula and Lewiston before landing at Eastern.
It was far more than that.
“I don’t know if I could have made that jump if I hadn’t played here,” said Wiley, last year’s Big Sky Conference player of the year who’s now taking some time off from the game.
The break isn’t voluntary. Plagued by injuries – plantar fasciitis in one foot, an ankle sprain in the other – Wiley was waived two weeks ago. He and agent Alvin Snow, another EWU legend, are pondering their next move.
Signed last summer as a two-way player by the Brooklyn Nets, Wiley spent the last four months bouncing from the NBA club to the Nets’ farm club on Long Island.
“It was quite a ride, 24/7,” Wiley said.
One morning in October, Wiley woke up expecting to travel to Minnesota for an NBA game; a few hours later he was on a jet bound for Mexico City with his Long Island teammates.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Wiley said. “I had games where I thought I was never going to play, then I started the second quarter. I feel like I was used to the college schedule, but this was way different.”
“You have to grow up quick, because these are grown men and there’s a lot of money being thrown around,” Wiley said. “If you’re not totally dialed in and focused, that hurts everyone – it’s a business.”
Wiley spent most of his time with Long Island, playing almost 21 minutes per game while averaging 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds.
Wiley also honed his craft. The Nets like his ability to shoot from outside – Wiley hit 37 percent of his 3-pointers this year – as well as his ability to guard multiple positions.
The payoff was five games in the NBA, including appearances before family members in Denver and Portland.
“It was an incredible experience, checking into an NBA game, and hard to describe,” said Wiley, who averaged 0.8 points and 2.2 rebounds in those five contests.
“In the NBA it’s super physical, the speed, and everyone is extremely skilled,” Wiley said. “It was a steep learning curve, but I improved a lot.”
Adjusting to New York was the bigger challenge for Wiley, who in the last decade hasn’t lived in a town larger than Missoula.
On the subway, Wiley was sometimes recognized for what he was – a pro athlete. Out of nowhere, someone would proclaim to the rest of the subway car, “Hey this joker plays for the Nets!”
He also rubbed elbows with celebrities, including boxer Floyd Mayweather and former NBA quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“You never have that experience in Spokane,” Wiley said.
Then again, New York isn’t home, the way Cheney felt last weekend.
Wiley was in town to watch former teammate Bogdan Bliznyuk set the Eastern career scoring record. Former Eagle Felix Von Hofe was there too, though Wiley won’t use the word ‘former.’
“There’s a brotherhood here, even with the new guys – we’re all Eagles here,” Wiley said.
“It’s just the relationship I have with my teammates,” Wiley said. “I feel loved, and you don’t get that on every team.”
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