Jarell Eddie nervously reported to work at Verizon Center exhausted on the morning of Jan. 7. He was running on adrenaline, unable to sleep the previous night because he didn’t know whether at 5 p.m he would still have the dream job he had recently secured. The Washington Wizards had until then to waive Eddie before the sharpshooting swingman’s contract would become guaranteed for the balance of the season.
Eddie arrived at the arena and completed his usual routine, the possibility of a dreaded request to visit an executive’s office lurking in the back of his mind. But that never came, and he was back home by 3 p.m.
“Time just ticked so slowly,” Eddie said.
It wasn’t until 5:15, when Wizards assistant general manager Tommy Sheppard telephoned him, that he knew he would remain in Washington. Sheppard congratulated him. He told Eddie, who scored 12 fourth-quarter points in his NBA debut Dec. 26, that the Wizards’ brass thought highly of his work ethic. The conversation lasted less than two minutes, and just like that, Eddie, undrafted out of Virginia Tech in 2014, was an NBA player for the foreseeable future.
“It’s just like a weight lifted off your shoulders. It’s what it is,” said Eddie, 24 . “You get the weight off your shoulders, and you can just play basketball.”
Reaching the NBA was never far from Eddie’s mind. He was a top high school recruit from Charlotte with blue-blood college basketball programs in pursuit. But he chose Virginia Tech, a football school, and then-coach Seth Greenberg.
“It was a very big get,” Greenberg recently said in a phone interview. “He was a guy that was kind of a man-child when he was younger and leveled off a little bit in high school, but he always had something in him.”
Eddie’s stint in Blacksburg, however, encountered an immediate roadblock. He was averaging 2.1 points off the bench in his freshman season when he was charged with marijuana possession in February 2011. Greenberg suspended him for the rest of the spring semester.
“He was immature,” Greenberg said. “But he’s very bright. He’s a terrific student. But he had immaturity. He thought it was going to be easier like most high school kids. They all think it’s going to be easier. But in a lot of ways, I think that it might’ve been a blessing in some ways.”
With school and basketball snatched away, Eddie moved in with a friend and began working at Lefty’s, a restaurant on Main Street in Blacksburg, as a dishwasher. He earned minimum wage working 5-to-11 shifts Friday and Saturday nights for six weeks. He wasn’t allowed to work out at school facilities, lost his spring credits and was required to attend summer school the next two summers to stay on track academically.
“It took me from being entitled and being reckless, doing whatever I was doing, to a more focused approach, knowing that there were things I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be,” Eddie said. “There were things I couldn’t do to get where I needed to be. . . . Once it’s away from you, it’s like, ‘Whoa. I need it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’ So you buckle down and get it done.”
Eddie insists he always thought he was an NBA player, even during his time away from the sport. He had the size — he’s 6 feet 7 — and one elite skill the league was increasingly seeking: shooting. But Eddie’s college numbers didn’t indicate that a career in the NBA lay ahead. He shot 44.3 percent from three-point range his sophomore season and 37.6 percent as a senior but never averaged more than 13.3 points per game. He shot just 35.5 percent from the field during his final campaign, which concluded without Eddie ever making an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
“My college career was one that you wouldn’t dream of,” Eddie said. “I had a lot of ups and downs. More downs. A lot of losing. So it was a tough college career. But I always knew that someday I would be an NBA player. I just knew that. I never doubted myself. I knew I would have to get to this level.”
To reach the pinnacle required patience and a nomadic lifestyle. His professional career began as a member of the Wizards’ summer league team in Las Vegas. He then signed with the Atlanta Hawks for training camp and preseason but was waived before the regular season started. A four-day stint with the Boston Celtics followed before he joined the NBA D- League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants. He was later traded to the Austin Spurs, won the D-League’s three-point competition and signed a 10-day contract with the Hawks in March but never appeared in a game.
Eddie then played for the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs last summer before re-joining Austin. He played there until the Wizards, in desperate need of wing depth because of injuries, waived center Ryan Hollins and signed Eddie on Dec. 23. Three days later, he torched the Brooklyn Nets with four three-pointers in the fourth quarter of a 111-96 Washington victory.
“He can shoot it, and he knows what he is,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “He knows his limits, what he’s good at, and he works hard.”
Playing time has been scarce for Eddie since his scorching start — he has logged just 48 minutes and scored 19 points in six appearances after his debut — as the Wizards have had wing players return from injury. But he’s still in Washington, in the NBA, where he always thought he belonged.
“I knew I had some downs in college, but I wasn’t going to give up,” Eddie said. “I was going to do it. It was just a mind-set that I had, like, ‘I’m going to get to the NBA somehow, some way. I don’t know when it will happen, but it will.’ And it did.”