26-year old James Nunnally has seen more of the world than most, and he’s done it all in service of basketball. For him, there’s nothing better.
The Stockton, California native is the first NBA product from his high school, something he wears with extreme pride. He fondly remembers his debut with the Atlanta Hawks from January 16th back in 2014.
“I hold it really close to my heart,” he recalls. “It was a special moment. Not many people from Stockton, California from Weston Ranch High School make it. I’m the first one. It was a special moment for me and my family, to make them proud. I’ll always remember my first game.”
Nunnally’s pro basketball career has seen him make 11 stops in 10 different locations (he twice appeared with the D-League’s Bakersfield Jam in 2012-2014 and 2014). The most recent jersey he donned was that of Fenerbahce, a club in the esteemed Turkish Super League.
His first season with the popular foreign team was one for the history books. He helped lead Fenerbahce to the very first EuroLeague championship in their 104 year history. “It was a great experience bringing a Euroleague title to a club like Fenerbahce and the country as well. The whole country of Turkey was behind us and rooting for us to win. It was even better that it was in Istanbul. It felt like a home game.”
Nunnally joined a roster packed with former NBA talent (like former Baylor Bear Ekpe Udoh) and made history. “It’s really special, it’s a special feeling knowing that we’re the first team to bring a Euroleague title to Turkey and to Fenerbahce. It just goes to show you things are never guaranteed and to bring (a title) to Fenerbahce was great.”
The 6-foot-7, roughly 200-pound swingman has toiled internationally with Kavala (Greece), Cangrejeros de Santurce (Puerto Rico), Estudiantes (Madrid), Maccabi Ashdod (Israel), Sidigas Avellino (Italy) and of course Turkey’s Fenerbahce.
The Cali native is running out of passport pages, but is noticeably grateful for his overseas experience. Playing the sport he loves for a living, he admits the landscape of basketball outside of the States is a whole ‘nother beast.
“You must be very tactical, have great tactics in game planning. It’s very detail oriented. You have to really plan for a game because you’re only playing one to two Euroleague games a week and a lot of times it’s just one. You really have to play those games, they’re very important. It’s not like the NBA where you can lose four or five games in a row. In the Euroleague, you have to win. Winning is the only option.”
Not dissimilar to the NBA, where rosters are decorated with many different nationalities, it’s taken up another notch in his foreign duds.
But it’s still basketball, and they all share that common thread. “You learn different things about guys from different countries. Throughout the season you’ll hear them talk about their country. Basketball brings us all together. One game can do that. It’s pretty special how it works.”
The shared experiences and miles away from home bring an already tight group even closer together. “When you’re overseas it’s really a grind. You just have to be mentally stable at all times. You start missing home, everybody misses home, but that’s our job. It’s a fun game we play, and that’s our job.”
Domestically, he’s made stops with the Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers of the Association as well as the Jam and Texas Legends of the D-League. (Now of course the G League.) His stay in Frisco with the Legends was brief, but nevertheless left an imprint on the well-traveled basketball veteran.
“I liked how they ran the organization. People were friendly. (Eduardo) Najera was (the coach) and it was a pleasure playing for him. He let us play and really made it simple as a player, very simple. He just let us play. It was a short stop, I just got traded but it was a good time for me to be there.”
Intermittent amongst his other basketball endeavors, Nunnally gives the D-League a lot of credit in shaping his skill set. “The D-League taught me how to work, to work hard to get where I wanted to go. In college I really didn’t push myself but in the D-League I had to push myself to be able to compete with all the talent that was in the league. To keep myself ready and prepare for any opportunity I had.”
Having played in almost every corner of the basketball universe, the next step for James Nunnally could happen anywhere. From California to Texas to Israel to Turkey, it’s not a matter of when but where. For his part, he knows what he can do on his end. “I’m just gonna work hard this summer. I can’t really answer into detail but I’m just gonna work hard and be ready for next season.”