RALEIGH — Much of the confidence fans and media members had in N.C. State came from the experience it brought back from a Sweet 16 team.
Names like C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Rodney Purvis were synonymous in the preseason with titles like ACC Player of the Year, All-ACC First Team and Rookie of the Week.
But entering Tuesday nights Jimmy V. Classic matchup against Connecticut, those players have been somewhat overshadowed by another impact freshman: T.J. Warren.
Warren, a reserve for the first five games, started for the first time at Michigan and scored a team-high 18 points. He has led the Pack in scoring three times and is their highest scorer at 15.3 points per game.
He has that knack, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. He knows how to get open. And with his size, hes got real long arms and finds a way to effectively get it done real quick.
That knack on the court didnt come easily for Warren. The 6-foot-8 forward has had to adapt to two positions for State.
In order to give Warren playing time with four players who were already established starters from last years team, Gottfried has used the freshman in a hybrid role at small and power forward.
After Richard Howell committed two fouls early in the first half of a recent game against Penn State, Warren was asked to step up down low with Leslie. Warren responded with the best performance of his young career, tallying 22 points and eight rebounds.
He also shot 3-for-4 from three-point range against the Nittany Lions when asked to assume the small forward position.
I feel like Im adapting very quickly, Warren said. Im feeling more comfortable on the court. Im playing different positions and learning about different players each game, and Im adapting to new parts.
Warren has earned the respect of Howell for his performances early on.
He helps out a lot because hes a scorer, Howell said. Hes one of the most prolific scorers in the nation, and I dont feel a lot of people are paying attention to that.
While his numbers dont match those of some freshmen scorers nationwide, Warren is making his mark in the ACC as the leader in points scored by a freshman and seventh overall in the conference.
Howell explains why Warrens efforts have gone unnoticed nationally.
I think the sole reason for that is because he doesnt get his points in bunches, Howell said. He doesnt go out there and people say, Oh my God, and its not some wild-type 20 point performance. He just scores, and thats something that we definitely need.
Warren was part of Gottfrieds first recruiting class that included fellow freshmen Tyler Lewis and Purvis. In the first week of the season, Purvis won Rookie of the Week honors, with Warren winning the award the following week after the Puerto Rico Tip-Off a trend he plans to continue throughout the year.
We have a strong freshman class, Warren said. But it doesnt stop after [these three weeks]. Im going to keep working hard and keep trying to get those awards.
Though he probably wont be touted as an impact player over the likes of Leslie, Brown or any of the starting five, one thing is for sure look for him to be a spark plug off the bench each time he steps onto the court.
He never pouts about his role, Howell said. We need him to come off the bench and provide us with that type of firepower.