“One thing I learned is that hard work is always rewarded. It just may not be when you want it to be,” Jeremy Hemsley said in an exclusive interview with the East Village Times.
The path Hemsley describes took him from Rancho Cucamonga to San Diego State to now playing with the Sheffield Sharks of the British Basketball League. In between his time with the Aztecs and the Sharks, Hemsley faced what he described as “the toughest year I’ve had” when he was without a team or any prospects for starting his professional career. Yet, through it all, he never quit working.
Hemsley was a staple with the Aztecs throughout his entire career and was a full-time starter in every season except his junior campaign. After appearing in 134 games and scoring 1,392 points in four years with the Aztecs, he was provided an opportunity to make the NBA G League with the College Park Skyhawks, an affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks. His opportunity lasted two days.
Due to the vagueness of the pre-exam questionnaire, a failed physical forced the Skyhawks to release Hemsley. They suspected he might have issues with a heart murmur. His dreams of reaching the NBA and playing pro ball took a sharp turn for the worst and quickly became his worst nightmare.
“I was hurt. I was really working so hard up until that point. It happened so fast, and it was just out of my control. I fly home the next day. The first thing I do is see a cardiologist. I’m doing all kinds of tests, running on the treadmill, seeing if there’s anything wrong with my heart. They told me they couldn’t find anything wrong with my heart,” Hemsley said.
That’s when the journey began for the basketball player. His dreams were crushed, and he did not know where to go from there. Hemsley went from a star player on one of the top college basketball teams in the country to not knowing what would come next.
“That whole year, I was back home, working out every day and sleeping on my parents’ couch. It was a tough year. It was the hardest year I’ve had in terms of not knowing what’s next,” Hemsley said.
Hemsley had the support of his parents and friends. As time went on and without offers from teams, he wondered if he needed to get a regular job and repeatedly questioned if professional basketball was meant to be.
Still, he was dedicated, motivated, and repeatedly worked on his game, just waiting for an opportunity. He would sneak into his old high school gym and work out every morning at 4 am. With COVID-19 protocols tightening across the country, the gym rat in Hemsley needed to stay consistent.
Throughout that entire year, Hemsley learned a lot about himself and his passion for the game.
“I learned that I love basketball more than I thought I did. I just learned how hard I could work. It’s whether or not you want it. I learned discipline and go for what I wanted,” Hemsley said.
The early morning workout sessions, the pure dedication and commitment of honing his craft, and the tiresome regime were finally rewarded with one simple phone call.
“I was doing my regular routine. One of my old travel ball coaches called me as I was walking into the gym and asked if I would play in the UK. I said I would play anywhere at this point,” Hemsley told EVT.
Jeremy Hemsley’s travel ball coach put him in touch with Jeff Bonds, who formally played for Sheffield and was the BBL MVP in the 2006-2007 season. Bonds put in a good word for Hemsley, and the next day Hemsley spoke with Sharks head coach Atiba Lyons. After the team spoke with SDSU coaches Steve Fisher and Dave Velasquez, Hemsley was on a plane halfway across the world to start his professional career.
“I had no choice but to rely on God. I was starting to think basketball was done and just meant for high school and college. I couldn’t have planned that. It happened so randomly, and it happened so fast,” Hemsley recalled.
Since that phone call, Hemsley has flourished. He appeared in 33 games for the Sharks and became an immediate contributor for one of the most prestigious clubs in the United Kingdom. This season, Hemsley led Sheffield to the playoffs in one of the most unique formats in pro sports. The quarterfinals consist of two games, and the team with the highest total score from the pair wins the “series.” If there is a tie after two games, then the third would be a sudden-death, overtime game.
Having lost the first leg of the series by two, the Sharks went into Thursday’s matchup, needing to win by more than two. Hemsley was a huge part of their playoff games and hit clutch shots down the stretch.
Hemsley ties it! pic.twitter.com/DJ4c1GVCSh
— bbl fix (@BblFix) May 6, 2021
Unfortunately, the Sharks season ended on a last-second putback to lift the Newcastle Eagles over Sheffield with a final aggregate score of 160-158. Still, Hemsley proved to the world- and himself- that playing professional basketball is where he belongs.
“I’ve been around NBA players and played around NBA players. I know what that competition and work ethic looks like. I emulate that. I’m working as hard as I possibly can to set myself up for something bigger and better,” Hemsley said.
If his first year in pro ball is any indication, Hemsley should have no problem climbing the ranks of international basketball as he keeps his NBA dreams alive. He averaged over 17 points per game with three assists and four rebounds in his time with the Sharks. He became the go-to guy for a team in a playoff run and caught the attention of many agents and teams.
— The B. Braun Sheffield Sharks (@SheffieldSharks) May 6, 2021
More importantly, Hemsley is happy to be playing basketball. After the up and down journey since his junior year with the Aztecs, the hard work, dedication, grind, and perseverance are finally paying off.
“I’m thankful to be doing something that I love to do. The fact I’m even here playing basketball and doing what I love is wild to me.”
Guiding him through this time was a message from him SDSU coach Dave Velasquez, who recruited Hemsley since he was 16 years old.
“He always told me to be myself. He made me comfortable with being myself. It is easy as a coach to turn a player into what you think they should be. He never tried to change me. He let me be myself. He wanted me to smile and have fun. I just got to be myself, and things will work out in your favor somehow,” Hemsley said.
While the path wasn’t exactly how Hemsley envisioned it, it has certainly worked out in his favor. From his time at State to his G-League attempt, to sleeping on his parents’ couch and sneaking into his old high school gym every day, to a phone call from his old coach and a starting gig with a pro team overseas, it has all paid off. Where his journey takes him next is anyone’s guess, but with the same thoughtfulness, humility, and honesty that endeared him to SDSU fans, Hemsley is living in the moment, soaking in the experience instead of fixating on goals down the road. He hopes to continue to climb the ranks and play at the highest level possible.
“I’ve learned to not make any plans. I don’t know what the future holds. I would hope to be playing at the highest level. I hope to take this talent that has been given as far as it possibly goes.”