Jordan Walker is in the midst of the busiest year of his life. The 23-year-old guard from the University of Alabama-Birmingham helped lead the Dragons to 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 is still more to come. Walker, who goes by the nickname Jelly*, will compete for a roster spot during training camp and the 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 great,” Walker said. “Best experience of my life.”
Although he did not 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 had back-to-back 20-plus point performances in the Mavericks’ last two games – both wins. Those outbursts helped Dallas to a 4-1 record, the organization’s best showing in Las Vegas since 2017.
Walker finished Summer League as Dallas’ second-leading scorer — behind Jaden Hardy — averaging 13 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting and 48.1 percent from deep. He also finished second in assists with 3.5 per game. match. 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 balanced.
“I guess you could just say you’re always ready when your number is called,” Walker said. “That’s one thing I’m proud of because I was never the main character when I was younger. I didn’t even start high school until my senior year. So I know what it’s like to not be the main character and have to play a role.
“And when your name is called, you have 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 my head straight and understand that eventually my name will be called and when it is, I have to be ready.”
One of the biggest differences between the college game and Summer League is the level of competition. Walker picked it up quickly, making mental adjustments to adapt to the style and speed of the game, but he was also able to 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 is better, I’d say for me, is the distance. In college, people would probably always have three people on me all the time, you know? So it was a little harder. But here, it’s like everybody on my team is able to score. So you have to pick your poison.”
He used his time in Las Vegas to learn 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 had to be a defensive pest and stay aggressive on offense.
“He just told me to be aggressive, and being aggressive doesn’t necessarily always mean shooting the ball,” Walker said. “[It] just means always being aggressive to try to make plays because not only does it help you, but it helps your other teammates as well. So he said as a point guard, you have to be aggressive.
“And that’s probably what I’ve learned the most from and just understanding that it’s the little things that get you a job. He said that obviously his goal in Summer League is to get every job, and 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 the Summer League wasn’t a given until late June. He entered in 2023 NBA Draft pool after his senior year at UAB, but he knew getting drafted was a long shot. The prospect of not being drafted upset him, so he hit the gym the morning of the draft to continue working on his game.
He watched the draft from home and didn’t hear NBA commissioner Adam Silver or deputy commissioner Mark Tatum call his name. After Tatum announced the final pick — Chris Livingston, chosen by Milwaukee Bucks – Walker began to think about his future and his professional career. Then he talked to his agent, Daniel Hazan of Hazan Sports, and found out the Mavericks wanted to sign him for a training camp.
“It was surreal for me,” Walker said. “It was kind of fake to me. I didn’t really believe it at first … it was like, am I dreaming? You know, somebody’s going to pinch me or something. I really didn’t expect something like that to happen. When you look at the way my draft process went, and then when you don’t get picked in the draft, you never experience anything like that.”
“So when the Mavs called — my agent had it on speaker — and they told me they were going to bring me down for training camp and Summer League, it was surreal to me because I knew I had an opportunity, and I knew 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’s excited to compete for Dallas’ open two-way contract after his friend and Summer League teammate McKinley Wright IV signed an agreement in Europe. He is convinced that his character and work ethic give him what it takes to play at the highest professional level.
“Hopefully I’ll get the last roster spot,” Walker said. “And when the time comes — because I want to speak into existence — when I do, I just want them to know that they’re getting the hardest working player ever. I know it sounds crazy and a lot of people say that, but my word is my bond. One thing about me is that I tell the truth, and I speak the very truth.
“So when I say they’re going to get the hardest worker ever, they really are going to do it. And they’re going to get someone 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 wanted to be, you know?”
So the most eventful year of Walker’s life keeps getting busier. He will start training camp with the Mavericks in late September and fly with the team to the United Arab Emirates to participate in the NBA Abu Dhabi Games in October. He will 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 a little bit and her mom and just having fun right now,” Walker said. “But eventually I got back in the gym and just work. That’s it. Every day, all day, just work. That’s what my summer, the rest of my summer before training camp is all about. I’m 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. Formed in New York City around 2016, the group 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 uses Jelly as a nickname.
“It’s like a social media phenomenon, and it really exploded when we were in high school,” Walker said. “There’s just something that everybody can do because everybody can’t dunk. Not everybody is tall enough to dunk and do stuff like that, but jelly is something that everybody can do, no matter how tall you are or how big you are, you know? Anybody can make a jelly layup. So that’s really what it is.”
“My name is Jordan, and Jelly just goes together easily, but we’re actually all those nicknames when we’re in our own specific places. But when we get together, of course, we call each other our own names. But for the most part, everyone just calls me Jelly. … It’s actually stuck since I’ve been at UAB, where that’s just what everyone calls me when it comes to basketball — just Jelly. So I’m fine with that.”