By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – When Andy Kennedy needed his first point guard, Chris Warren wasn’t on his radar.
So the starting point for a career that will end, most likely, as the school’s third-leading scorer was quite accidental.
“Chris was a kid we didn’t know existed. We were recruiting another kid who was playing against him,” Kennedy said. “That tells you how inexact recruiting is.”
That was in an Orlando AAU game almost five years ago.
Warren will play his final Ole Miss home game today at 3 p.m. against Arkansas. Depending on where he stands he may be hard to see again. Six-foot-six Zach Graham is the other senior being honored today.
That’s fitting. Position and angles are how the speedy Warren, listed at 5-10, has gotten to the rim throughout his career.
Make no mistake, though, it’s the 3-point shot that has been his bread-and-butter, the reason he became the player he’s become.
Every 3-pointer he makes adds to his own school record, and he is currently fifth on the SEC’s career list of made 3-point field goals with 318, 28 behind former Tennessee star Allan Houston.
He has completely blown up the theory that size matters.
“I have my days when I feel like I’m taller,” Warren says, smiling. “When I was younger I thought I was going to grow to be 6-7 or 6-8, so I practiced a lot of big man moves. I still have them in my repertoire.”
He’s had to settle for little man moves and is capping a senior season with the consistency that has marked his career. He ranks seconds in the SEC in scoring at 18.7 points a game, fourth in 3-pointers made (2.6 per game), seventh in assists (3.7 apg) and third in assist-turnover ratio (1.8 per game).
He leads the nation in free-throw shooting at 93.9 percent.
“Even as a kid, I’ve never had a problem taking big shots,” he said.
Neither did John Stroud.
Had Warren not missed 20 games – the entire SEC season plus a few – as a sophomore, he might be making a more serious challenge to Stroud’s career scoring record at Ole Miss.
Instead, he’ll most likely finish third, and the real question is whether the Rebels will play long enough or if Warren, who has 1,934 career points, will get hot enough to score 66 points and reach 2,000 for his career. He has two remaining games guaranteed.
A different time
Stroud, who coached New Albany’s girls to a 71-61 win over Lawrence County in Friday’s Class 4A championship game, was a different kind of player in a different style of offense.
“My junior year I averaged 26 points, the next year 25, but they guarded me really really hard,” said Stroud, who estimates he’d probably have scored another 100 points with a 3-point line.
He downplays comparisons to Warren.
“That was 31 years ago and two different eras. A lot of the records of the old days are safe, because the league was a lot better then. Nobody went pro early. There were better players for all four years. You never heard of anybody going pro. They stayed four years and got drafted.”
Stroud calls Warren a “remarkable” talent and has watched his ascent up the scoring list with interest.
“You marvel at him because of his size. To still go out and put up that many points, with the other team’s best defender on him, is a testament to him.”
So how does that happen?
“You have to have luck and not get hurt. You have to have good teammates who get the ball to you and set screens. A lot goes into it. You have to fit your coaches style of play.”
Stroud believes he and Warren were both good fits for the coaches they played under. Stroud, at 6-foot-7, often played down near the basket for coach Bob Weltlich. Warren has been the ignition for Kennedy’s offense, which is more up-tempo.
“I was really our biggest player when I played,” Stroud recalled. “I had to play center against Sam Bowie (of Kentucky) and all those tall guys. I had a really quick release, and we set a lot of screens. I was a great shooter.”
It would have been more difficult for Warren to overcome the size factor if not for his uncharacteristic work ethic.
“None of us are born with work ethic. It’s something that is learned, and obviously he was taught that at a very early age in his home. We don’t take credit for that. We’ve tried to make him a better basketball player,” Kennedy said.
The next level
Kennedy is certain the Warren will have the opportunity to play basketball at a higher level.
Kentucky coach John Calipari coached in the NBA with New Jersey, and believes Warren can make it at the highest level.
There are little guys in the league, he notes, and Warren’s demeanor – which for him is as consistent as a double-figure scoring game – could be an asset in trying earn a roster spot.
“He has the make-up. There are guys like him in the NBA, and they’ve stuck, because they were in there to take someone’s job,” Calipari said. “It’s not a friendly competition. He may be going up against someone who is 31 years old with a wife and two kids, and that’s how he feeds his family.”
One of Warren’s most memorable shots was his 3-pointer off a screen from just left of the key with 2.9 seconds left to lift the Rebels to a 71-69 win over Calipari and the Wildcats on Feb. 1. Warren was 4 for 7 behind the arc and had 22 points in the game.
Ole Miss fans would like to see a few more big shots before Warren gets away. So would he.
“I try to live with no regrets,” Warren says. “As far as one moment that sticks out, I’ve still got a few games left. That moment could come within those games.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600