ACC Tournament

Legend of Tony Buckets: NC State's T.J. Warren follows dad's advice to take over

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMarch 12, 2014 

  • No. 10 Miami vs. No. 7 N.C. State

    When/where: 7 p.m., Greensboro Coliseum

    TV/Radio: ESPN, 101.5-WRAL

    Projected starting lineups

    Miami (17-15, 7-11 ACC)

    G Manu Lecomte 7.9 ppg, 2.4 apg

    G Garrius Adams 10.4 ppg, 2.9 apg

    G Rion Brown 15.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg

    F Erik Swoope 4.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg

    F Tonye Jekiri 4.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg

    N.C. State (19-12, 9-9 ACC)

    G Tyler Lewis 4.4 ppg, 3.5 apg

    G Ralston Turner 10.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg

    F T.J. Warren 24.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg

    F Kyle Washington 4.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg

    F Jordan Vandenberg 4.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg

    Player to watch

    Erik Swoope, forward, Miami

    The season averages for the 6-5 senior forward are less than impressive but he had 14 points and eight rebounds in Wednesday’s win over Virginia Tech and he has scored in double-figures in each of the past six games.

    Observations

    Miami knocked N.C. State out of the tournament last year with an 81-71 win in the semifinals. The Hurricanes have gone 8-2 in the state of North Carolina the past two years, with three wins over the Wolfpack. ... N.C. State has won its Thursday matchup in each of the past two years, both times beating Virginia. ... The Wolfpack is 0-2 all-time against Miami in the ACC tournament.

    Joe Giglio

— Sometimes you just need your dad.

Even when you’re the ACC player of the year, or check that, especially when you’re the ACC player of the year.

After N.C. State lost at North Carolina on Feb. 1, Wolfpack star T.J. Warren had a talk with his father, Tony. It wasn’t a Hallmark commercial or a Bob Knight-style verbal beatdown. There wasn’t so much as an “X” or an “O” in the advice from the elder Warren, himself a former N.C. State player.

It was more of a pep talk from Pop. Nothing Warren hadn’t heard before, but the kind of pick-me-up he needed to hear after that 84-70 loss in Chapel Hill.

“You have to lead them,” Tony Warren remembers telling his son. “They’re looking at you. You have to step your game up.”

Warren leads the Wolfpack into the ACC tournament on Thursday night in the hopes of pushing its season into the NCAA tournament. N.C. State (19-12) is on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble and needs to make a run. If Warren continues to play as he has recently, the Wolfpack will have a puncher’s chance in Greensboro.

Did Warren listen to his dad’s advice? In the nine games after the loss at UNC, Warren has averaged 30.4 points and made 56.4 percent of his shots. He scored more than 30 points in five of those games, and more than 40 in the past two.

No one from N.C. State, not even David Thompson, had put up back-to-back 40-point games in ACC and it hadn’t been done by any ACC player in 57 years.

The 6-foot-8 forward from Durham became the first N.C. State player since Todd Fuller in 1996 to lead the ACC in scoring (24.8 points per game) and the Wolfpack’s first ACC player of the year since Julius Hodge in 2004.

But Warren needed a parental push to figure out it was OK to take over games with his uncanny, yet prolific scoring ability.

“I just have to stay aggressive at all times, especially when the game is close,” Warren said. “I’m trying to put my stamp on the game.”

Time to do what you do

Warren has always put his team first, said Dwayne West, who runs the Garner Road Basketball Club and started coaching Warren 10 years ago.

“At no given time did he ever talk about ‘me, me, me,’ it was always about his team,” West said.

That selfless attitude actually worked against Warren earlier this season. While Warren has been productive throughout his sophomore season, emerging from a supporting role last season on a 24-win, NCAA tournament team to the No. 1 option this season, he had some notable lapses.

In a 68-64 home loss to fellow bubble team Missouri on Dec. 28, Warren scored 24 points but none in the final 12 minutes – he didn’t even attempt a shot in the final 5:50 – while the Wolfpack let a double-digit lead evaporate.

In the first matchup with the Tar Heels, he finished with 21 points but took just three shots during a critical nine-minute stretch to start the game, when UNC built a 20-6 lead.

That loss was enough for the elder Warren, who starred at Enloe High in Raleigh and then played guard for the Wolfpack from 1977 to ’79, to step in.

“He wasn’t playing his game,” Tony Warren said. “He’s very unselfish, and I understand that, but sometimes you just have to do what you can do.”

Warren said he was too much of a passenger in the first UNC game, which is why he was so aggressive when the Tar Heels came to Raleigh. Warren had 35 points in an overtime duel with UNC guard Marcus Paige. Warren hit a pair of free throws in the final second of regulation to send the game to overtime, but Paige got the last look and the last basket in an 85-84 instant classic win for the Tar Heels.

Third-year Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried gave Warren similar words of encouragement before their 56-55 win at Miami on Feb. 8. Warren had foul trouble early but scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half to carry the Wolfpack to a win.

The wins, nine in ACC play and 19 overall, are the most important statistic to the soft-spoken Warren, who doesn’t like all the individual attention he has received for his outstanding season.

“Here’s the most important thing about T.J. — he wants to win,” Gottfried said. “That’s all he cares about and that’s how he has played for us.”

Natural born scorer

In addition to leading the ACC in scoring, he ranks first in field-goal percentage and offensive rebounds, he also ranks in the top 10 in steals and rebounds. But what Warren does better than anybody in the ACC is score. Hence the new nickname, “Tony Buckets.”

Warren gets most of his points, and he leads the country in made field goals within 12 feet of the basket. He does so with an unconventional, quirky kind of one-handed release.

Warren is resourceful to the point he makes the difficult look easy. Late in N.C. State’s win at Pittsburgh, he had two defenders draped on him at the foul line but found a way to get the shot off and it went in without touching the rim, like it was a layup.

“I’ve just always had a soft touch, especially around the rim,” Warren said. “I work on my mid-range a lot, I feel like it’s a lost art.”

It’s an art Warren has nearly perfected, with his own imagination and the work he put in with West, whose younger brother David is an 11-year NBA veteran with the Indiana Pacers.

West would put Warren through different drills that focused on finishing at the rim and through contact, but that’s not the reason Warren has excelled.

“He’s just talented,” West said. “You can look at drills all you want, but he’s just talented.

“The thing about T.J. is there has always been somebody with more hype, that’s supposed to be more fabulous or better. But when you give him an opportunity, he has always made the most of it.”

Warren has one more opportunity in Greensboro to accomplish what he wants most – play in the NCAA tournament.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Warren said.

 

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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