Jodie Meeks, a Seasoned NBA Veteran, Takes the International Stage for the First Time
Jodie Meeks has had an accomplished basketball career.
The 6-foot-4 shooting guard led Norcross High School to its first Georgia state championship. As a junior in college, he set the single-game scoring record (54 points) and made the most 3-pointers in a season (117) for the storied Kentucky program. Then he was a second-round NBA Draft choice by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2009 and played a decade in the league, capped by a championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.
Through it all, there was something Meeks, who turned 35 on Aug. 21, had never been able to do: represent his country and play for USA Basketball. That desire is now a reality as he was named to the USA Basketball Men’s AmeriCup Team over the weekend following a training camp in Las Vegas.
“You always want to have a chance to compete in the Olympics, but obviously it’s so hard to make it in America because the talent level is so high,” Meeks said. “So this would be special for me to compete and win a gold medal.”
Meeks and the U.S. team travel to Recife, Brazil, this week for the 19th edition of the FIBA AmeriCup, a 12-team Americas zone tournament. The Americans are defending champions and will look to extend their record to eight gold medals. They open Group C play against Mexico on Friday, with the tournament running through Sept. 11.
For Meeks, this is the swan song of his playing career. He last played in the NBA during the Raptors’ title run in the 2018-19 season, seeing action in eight regular season games and 14 more in the playoffs. A new family — he and his girlfriend had twin girls in 2019, then got married in 2020 — plus the COVID-19 pandemic limited his opportunities.
This past season, his Toronto connections led him to play 18 games for Raptors 905 in the NBA G League. Meeks also played this summer in the Big3, but he says he has “officially retired” from pro ball, making this opportunity a little more special.
“I’m young, but in basketball, I’m a little older,” Meeks said matter-of-factly. “I’m no spring chicken anymore. But that’s OK. I can still move, I still feel like I can still play. And obviously I’m out here doing well. So for my career, it’s definitely been a good one and this will be the icing on the cake.”
As with any ending, there is a new beginning. Meeks’ next hoops adventure will be as an assistant coach with the Birmingham Squadron, the New Orleans Pelicans’ G League affiliate.
“Obviously, you want to play as long as possible and then when it’s over, it’s hard to just give it up cold turkey,” Meeks said. “So you want to stay around the game, whether that’s broadcasting or coaching or front office. But I felt like coaching was my calling card because I felt like I have so much to give to the younger generation on just the mental aspect of basketball — shooting, coverages, all those types of things.”
Meeks is one of three players with an NBA championship ring on the AmeriCup roster — joining Patrick McCaw (Raptors, 2019) and Norris Cole (Miami Heat, 2012-13) — and he feels he can be a mentor for young players.
“I feel like I’ve been through pretty much everything in basketball,” said Meeks, who averaged 9.3 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists in his 10 NBA seasons. “Starting for 200-plus games, coming off the bench, sixth man, out of the rotation, traded, playing with superstars…all that. I feel like I’ve been through every possible situation, so passing on my knowledge to these guys and in coaching, I think that will help out a lot.”
Although his playing career may be coming to a close, the national team staff will be looking for Meeks to be a big contributor when he hits the floor.
“The greatest thing — and this may sound simple — but he loves to play,” said U.S. coach Alex Jensen, an assistant with the NBA’s Utah Jazz. “He’s angling out of (his playing career), but he loves to play and it’s a great example for the younger guys who are trying to hopefully be where he is someday. That’s what we look for when we put the team together, guys that enjoy playing.”
That point was evident during a drill last week. The players had to sprint the length of the court and back twice. Meeks was at the front of the pack but was caught by the 33-year-old Cole on the last segment and both finished at about the same time, with some good-natured chatter, and ahead of their teammates.
“I’ve always thrived on competition,” Meeks said. “My body is still young and I still compete at a high level so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.