LAS VEGAS – The last time Jameel McKay talked to Bryce Dejean-Jones, the two former Iowa State teammates discussed their dream scenario of reuniting in the NBA as members of the New Orleans Pelicans. Six weeks later, McKay has joined the Pelicans and is part of their summer league team, but his friend is gone. Dejean-Jones died May 28 in Dallas, while visiting the city to celebrate his daughter’s first birthday.
McKay and his New Orleans summer teammates are honoring the memory of Dejean-Jones, who was 23 years old, by wearing a “BDJ” patch on the left chest of their uniforms. The Pelicans play their first game tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers (9:30 Central) on ESPN.
“I talked to Bryce two days before the incident,” McKay said of a late-May phone call. “I was hoping I’d play for the Pelicans in summer league (if McKay went undrafted), because I knew they were interested in me, so we were talking about being teammates again.
“When I heard about what happened, it was just shocking. Everyone called me for confirmation, but I couldn’t give it. I didn’t know.”
The summer Pelicans coincidentally also have a high school classmate of Dejean-Jones on their roster. Point guard Larry Drew II, who excelled in ’15 summer league while playing with Dejean-Jones, went to the same Taft Charter High in Woodland Hills, Calif., near Los Angeles. Dejean-Jones was expected to play in ’16 summer league and in late May was roughly one week from completing his recovery from a broken right hand. Dejean-Jones played 14 games for New Orleans during the 2015-16 regular season, starting 11 times.
“It’s tough. It’s a tough situation,” Drew said of Dejean-Jones’ death. “We are from the same place. Watching him grow up and actually get the opportunity to achieve his goal of playing in the NBA, even being a part of helping him reach that, that was special for me.
“It’s a tragedy to say the least. I feel like I’m definitely out here playing for him here, and everything I do the rest of my career. He was a great dude, a very positive kid.”
McKay said one thing that stood out most about Dejean-Jones as a player was his relentless pursuit of reaching his NBA dream. After going undrafted in June 2015, he excelled in summer league with New Orleans and eventually signed a multi-year deal, initially on the team’s roster via a 10-day contract.
“He had a never-give-up attitude,” McKay said. “He went undrafted and took the hard way into the NBA, but he never questioned his ability and stuck with it. When he made it, it never came as a surprise to me, because I knew his abilities. It was just whether someone gave him an opportunity.”
“Every time I was around Bryce, I got the sense he knew where he wanted to be and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him from getting there,” said the 26-year-old Drew, trying to control his emotions. “He was fearless. He wasn’t afraid of the challenge and embraced it, and he got to achieve his goal of making it to the NBA.
“I felt like I was his big brother, and he was my little brother. That’s why it really hits home for me.”