Role playing

Senior Storm Warren settles into whatever spot Tigers need him to play

At some point Wednesday night, Storm Warren will step on the floor at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and go about making an impact when LSU and Georgia square off.


It might be as a starter or it might be coming off the bench. But there’s no question that the Tigers’ 6-foot-8 senior will play some sort of role when LSU takes aim at a fourth consecutive victory.


The Tigers (16-10, 6-6 SEC) and Bulldogs (12-14, 3-9) tip off at 7 p.m. at the PMAC.


When Warren plays is a mystery, but what isn’t debatable is that Warren will come to the fray with plenty of energy.


Whether it’s crashing the backboards and teaming with 7-foot teammate Justin Hamilton to help LSU dominate the glass, blocking a shot or knocking the ball loose from a fellow big man, Warren is in perpetual motion.


“When Storm comes in, it changes the game,” guard Andre Stringer said. “He’s very explosive. He gets a lot of rebounds and I’m very impressed with how he’s shooting the mid-range jumper now. He does things nobody else on this team can do because he has so much experience and knows how to play the game.”


Something else Warren knows about is how to accept and embrace a role to help a team succeed.


He did so as a freshman in 2008-09 and is content with history repeating itself this season.


While most seniors might bristle at the idea of abdicating a starting job to a freshman or being in a spot where even he’s not sure if he’s starting on a given night, Warren has willingly swum upstream this season.


He began the year as a starter opposite Hamilton in the frontcourt as LSU waded through a 3-3 start with freshmen Anthony Hickey, John Isaac and Johnny O’Bryant figured out how to fit in and contribute.


By the seventh game, Tigers’ coach Trent Johnson installed the 6-9, 262-pound O’Bryant into the starting lineup in Warren’s place. That remained the status quo until O’Bryant broke his hand on a rim in practice a few days days before LSU began the SEC season in early January.


While O’Bryant recuperated from surgery, Warren was back in the first five for five games and he responded with workmanlike numbers: 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game.  


When O’Bryant came back from his injury, the four-spot became a time share again, although Warren remained a starter for one more game. O’Bryant moved back into the starting unit for five games until last Saturday when Warren was back with the starters.


“When you come into a game, you just have to be ready to play so it doesn’t matter if you’re a starter or not,” Warren said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether I start or come off the bench, so I don’t pay attention to it all. I find out when Coach writes it up on the board.”


While it may not matter to Warren, amazingly enough he might be more content coming off the bench.


To understand why, it’s necessary to remember the background with the senior, who arrived on campus with the recruiting class Johnson inherited when he was hired in 2008.


Warren was a reserve on the 2009 SEC Championship team, often spelling Tasmin Mitchell or Chris Johnson because – see if this sounds familiar – he came into games with and provided a jolt of energy.


He started the last two seasons for teams that struggled and was steady if not spectacular, averaging 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in 2009-10 and 7.7 and 5.7 last season when he battled through injury and made way for Malcolm White, a transfer from Ole Miss.


Storm Warren: Senior is averaging 8.2 points and 5.1 rebounds a game

Then as this season rolled around and Johnson and his coaches replenished LSU’s roster with more depth, Warren readjusted his thinking, especially as O’Bryant emerged.


“You come from high school and have these real high expectations and it’s tough to sit and watch,” Warren said. “I think starting helps (O’Bryant’s) confidence and that brings more to his game and prepares him for next year when he’ll have to start. I’m on my way out the door, so he needs to start getting ready to be a starter and somebody the team can count on.”


O’Bryant arrived at LSU as the first McDonald’s All-American of Johnson’s tenure and conspicuously hinted that he only intended to stick around one season. His thinking has likely changed because of the injury and a trickier learning curve than he might’ve expected.


Meanwhile, observing Warren has helped O’Bryant make the transition.


“Something I’ve learned from Storm is that it’s all about the effort you give when you’re out there,” O’Bryant said. “Storm does a great job of giving great effort. Whether he scores 4 or 24, he gives you the same level of energy. Watching him, I’ve learned to go out there and play as hard as I can.”


That’s paid off for O’Bryant and the Tigers.


Although he has been erratic at times, O’Bryant has certainly flashed the potential he arrived with on the way to averaging 8.1 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. He is averaging 20½ minutes a game, slightly more than Warren’s 19.6.


And that doesn’t bother Warren at all.


“I’m more comfortable because of the depth we have now,” Warren said. “It’s easier to come off the bench and play the minutes I do because we have more bodies and we don’t miss a beat whether it’s me or Johnny out there. And it also helps that we’re playing well. That makes it easier for everybody to accept their roles.”


It also makes it easier to coach a team that is still a work in progress and is likely a season away from tapping its full potential.


The Tigers are on the verge of a late-season run and have won three straight SEC games for the first time since 2009. That’s helped LSU turn February into a meaningful proving ground with a 4-1 record and a chance to stay hot with four remaining games against teams that don’t have league marks above .500.


The foundation is built for success next season for sure, so whatever the Tigers achieve this season is a major step in the right direction.


Warren won’t be around to impact what LSU does a year from now, but his influence won’t be hard to find, either.


Johnson called Warren a dying breed in praising the senior for knack for putting team first.


“You want all of them wanting to start,” Johnson said. “You want that, there’s no question. That’s being competitive. But also you want them to understand that you get after each other, but this is your role. At the end of the day, if everyone understands their role and everyone competes, we will all be successful. Because winning will overcome all of that – individual accolades.”


Accolades? Those don’t mean any more to Warren than whether his name is scrawled on a dry-erase board as a starter.


His goals are much simpler.


“As long as we keep winning, it doesn’t matter to me what my role is,” he said. “I just want to be out there when I can contribute most to help us win and I’ll be happy.”

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