Growing up in the Triangle, T.J. Warren had friends who suffered from poverty.
Throughout his college basketball career at N.C. State, and now preparing to enter his second season with the Phoenix Suns, he has managed to stay connected to the community through sports.
Saturday evening was no different.
Warren, who was back in Raleigh for the first extended period of time since becoming a first-round NBA draft pick in 2014, teamed up with Southeast Raleigh-based organizations for the inaugural Building a Stronger Raleigh charity campaign at Broughton High School.
His efforts to essentially combat poverty in the area – the overall goal of Stronger Raleigh – were joined by his mentor, Spurs forward David West.
“I feel like it’s important to … come to events like this and show my face and support the community,” said Warren, the 2013-14 ACC Player of the Year. “It’s important to be here.”
As the crowd awaited the arrival of the NBA players, occasional pops of Wolfpack red appeared in front of the gymnasium doors.
Warren and West signed autographs and posed for pictures for fans before headlining the exhibition basketball game Saturday night.
The pair played on opposing teams, Warren answering a West bucket down the stretch with a put-back dunk. Their camaraderie showed on the court.
Off the court, Warren said he has learned valuable lessons from NBA veteran West through the years.
West, a Garner product, said Stronger Raleigh highlighted a significant trait in his 21-year-old friend.
“This is in line with who he is,” West said. “He’s just developing himself as a young player, trying to find the right things for himself in the world of professional sports. This is part of who he is, and it makes me proud to be part of it.”
The Stronger Raleigh campaign asserts that 70,000 of the city’s residents live in poverty, a majority residing in Southeast Raleigh. It has led to a 20 percent unemployment rate. Poverty in the area also affects education, as 40 percent of that population doesn’t have a high school diploma.
West said he and Warren joined the cause to “bring light to an area that doesn’t necessarily get a whole lot of resources.”
West said he has used the majority of his offseason since he was drafted in 2003 to volunteer with youth. Warren, who has looked up to the Garner High Hall of Famer for years, is on the path to follow in West’s service footsteps.
Warren will host his first basketball camp from Aug. 10-12 at the JD Lewis Center on Garner Road.
The camp aims to develop basketball fundamentals for Raleigh youth.
And Saturday’s all-star game was just a primer.
“I just want to show my face,” Warren said. “I know there’s a lot of kids who probably signed up for my camp that’s going to be here. I just want to give them a glimpse of what they can learn from me.”
The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 15.4 minutes, 6.1 points and 2.1 rebounds through 40 games his rookie year with the Suns.
Before the former Wolfpack star broke N.C. State’s single-season scoring record and went on to the NBA, Warren was just another kid coming up in the Triangle.
“I’ve been here 20 years. I’m from Durham, but I spent a lot of time in Raleigh, my AAU team (Garner Road) was in Raleigh,” said Warren, who was approached by children in Wolfpack gear claiming the same Garner Road Basketball Club. “I just want to show that I was once that kid in the stands looking at a lot of NBA stars (and) show them there’s a way you can make it.
“I used basketball to just set myself free.”
Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan