Jordan Walker is in the midst of the busiest year of his life. The 23-year-old guard from the University of Alabama at Birmingham helped lead the Dragons to the NIT Championship game in March, signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Dallas Mavericks in June, played in Summer League in July, and became a father for the first time just days ago.
Despite everything already happening this year, there’s still more to come. Walker, who goes by the nickname Jelly*, will compete for a roster spot during training camp and preseason with the Mavericks this fall. It’s a potentially life-changing opportunity, but Walker is confident and ready to build on what he learned during NBA Summer League to prove he has what it takes to play in the NBA.
“Summer League was amazing,” Walker said. “The best experience of my life.”
Although he didn’t play in the team’s opener against a loaded Oklahoma City Thunder team and struggled to score in games two and three, Walker closed the tournament on a high note. He posted back-to-back 20-plus point performances in the Mavericks’ final two games — both wins. Those outbursts helped Dallas notch a 4-1 record, the organization’s best showing in Las Vegas since 2017.
Walker finished Summer League as Dallas’ second highest scorer — behind Jaden Hardy — averaging 13 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting and 48.1 percent from deep. He was also second in assists with 3.5 per game. His game-high eight dimes against the Indiana Pacers helped boost his average. Walker attributes his success after a slow start to his ability to stay poised.
“I guess you could just say just always being ready when your number’s called,” Walker said. “That’s one thing I pride myself on because I never was the main guy when I was younger. I didn’t even start in high school until my senior year. So, I know what it’s like to not be the main guy and have to play a role.
“And when your name is called upon, you got to be able to produce, whether you get two minutes on the floor, or 10 minutes on the floor, 30 minutes on the floor. So, I feel like that’s what made me able to keep a level head and understand that eventually my name will get called, and when it does, I have to be ready.”
One of the biggest differences between the college game and Summer League is the level of competition. Walker picked up on it quickly, making mental adjustments to adapt to the style and the game’s speed, but he could also use his teammate’s abilities to his advantage.
“You have to make those decisions even faster than you did in college,” Walker said. “But the part I say that is better, I would say for me, is the spacing. In college, people always would probably have like three people on me at all times, you know? So, it was a little harder. But here, it’s like everyone on my team is capable of scoring. So, you have to pick your poison.”
He used his time in Las Vegas learning on and off the court from his coaches and teammates to make himself as indispensable as possible. Jared Dudley, who coached Dallas’ Summer League squad, preached to him that if he wanted to make it in the NBA, he would have to be a defensive pest and stay aggressive on offense.
“He was telling me just be aggressive, and being aggressive doesn’t necessarily always mean shoot the ball,” Walker said. “[It] just means always being aggressive to try to make a play because it not only helps you, but it helps your other teammates. So, he was saying as a point guard, you have to be aggressive.
“And that’s probably what I learned from the most and just understanding that it’s the little things that get you jobs. He was saying his goal obviously in Summer League is to get everyone jobs, and in order to do that, it’s the little things that matter the most.”
Walker already had a contract when he landed in Las Vegas, but playing in Summer League wasn’t a given as recently as late June. He entered the 2023 NBA Draft pool after his final year at UAB, but he knew getting drafted was a long shot. The prospect of not getting drafted upset him, so he went to the gym the morning of the draft to keep working on his game.
He watched the draft from the comfort of his home and didn’t hear NBA Commissioner Adam Silver or Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum call his name. After Tatum announced the final selection — Chris Livingston, picked by the Milwaukee Bucks — Walker began thinking about his future and his professional career. Then he spoke with his agent, Daniel Hazan of Hazan Sports, and found out the Mavericks wanted to sign him to a training camp deal.
“It was surreal to me,” Walker said. “It was sort of like fake to me. I didn’t really believe it at first … it was sort of like, am I dreaming? You know, someone needs to pinch me or something. I truly didn’t expect something like that to happen. Looking at the way my draft process was going, and then when you don’t get picked in the draft, you never experience stuff like that.”
“So when the Mavs called — my agent had it on speaker — and they were telling me that they’re gonna bring me down for training camp and Summer League, it was surreal for me because I knew I had an opportunity, and I knew that it’s an opportunity that 99 percent of the people in the world don’t get,” Walker continued. “I was just blessed and grateful for the opportunity.”
Now, he gets to show the Mavericks and their fans what he’s made of. Walker says he is excited to compete for Dallas’ open two-way contract after his friend and Summer League teammate McKinley Wright IV signed a deal in Europe. He’s confident that his character and work ethic give him what it takes to play at the highest professional level.
“Hopefully, I do get that last roster spot,” Walker said. “And when the time does come — because I’m going to speak into existence — when I do, I just want them to know that they are getting the hardest-working player ever. I know it sounds crazy, and a lot of people say it, but my word is my bond. One thing about me is that I tell the truth, and I speak very truthfully.
“So when I say they’re going to get the hardest worker ever, they truly will. And they’re going to get a person who wakes up every morning grateful for the opportunity and blessed to be in that position who would treat it as such every single day because it can be taken away from you in a heartbeat. And there are people out here who are dying to be where I would be, you know?”
So the most eventful year in Walker’s life keeps getting busier. He’ll start training camp with the Mavericks at the end of September and fly with the team to the United Arab Emirates to take part in the NBA Abu Dhabi Games in October. He’ll spend a lot of time in the gym in the coming months. But for now, he’s enjoying fatherhood, his new daughter and his family before resuming his hectic schedule.
“[I’m] just hanging out with her for a little bit and her mom and just chilling for right now,” Walker said. “But eventually, I got to get back in the gym and just work. That’s it. Every day, all day, just working. That’s what my summer, the rest of my summer before training camp consists of. Just working on my game every single day, day in and day out.”
* Walker is a member of the Jelly Fam, a group of basketball players known for their signature finger roll layups. The group originated in New York City around 2016 and consists of Ja’Quaye James, Pedro Marquez, Jahvon Quinerly, Milicia Reid, Nas Reid, Isaiah Washington, Leondre Washington, and Sidney Wilson along with Walker. Each of the members use Jelly as a nickname.
“It’s just like a social media phenomenon, and it really blew up when we were in high school,” Walker said. “There’s just something everybody can do because everybody can’t dunk. Not everybody’s tall enough to dunk and do stuff like that, but jelly is something that anybody can do no matter how tall you are or how big you are, you know? Anybody can do a jelly layup. So that’s really what it is.
“My name is Jordan and the Jelly just goes together easily, but we’re all actually those nicknames when we’re in our own specific places. But when we come together, obviously we call each other our own names. But for the most part, everyone just calls me Jelly. ... It actually stuck since I’ve been at UAB to where that’s just what everyone calls me when it comes to basketball — just Jelly. So, I’m good with it.”