Building A Legacy

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The journey for T.J. Warren began when he was only six years old. The Durham-native and son of former N.C. State basketball player Tony Warren still remembers it well.

The journey for T.J. Warren began when he was only six years old. The Durham-native and son of former N.C. State basketball player Tony Warren still remembers it well.

"I was about six years old. I had a ball, it was like in my room or whatever, my dad used to lay it out for me and I used to play with it a lot," Warren recalled. "It just went from there."

On Monday, the 6-foot-8 forward was the sixth player in N.C. State history to be named ACC Player of the Year, joining Ronnie Shavlik, Lou Pucillo, David Thompson, Rodney Monroe and Julius Hodge. With the Wolfpack pedigree in his family, along with the experience of two seasons in Raleigh, Warren is knowledgeable about State's heritage.

"N.C. State means a lot to me," Warren said. "Being able to wake up in the morning knowing I play for N.C. State, knowing that my dad played here, it is a great honor. Being able to put that jersey on knowing that a lot of greats that came through the program, David Thompson, Julius Hodge, Rodney Monroe, Chris Corchiani, there is a lot of greats.

"I just try to live up to the tradition and have that will to win and lead the team."

Warren is making his mark at N.C. State and placing his name among the greats that he mentioned. Entering the ACC Tournament on Thursday, the sophomore has scored at least 30 points in a game 10 times, tying him with Kenny Carr for third place all-time in Wolfpack history behind only Thompson (32) and Monroe (21).

His current scoring average of 24.8 points per game would be the fifth-best ever in State's long and storied basketball legacy.

Warren played basketball at an early age. Spending time in the Northgate Park section of Durham, it did not come easy at first.

"Growing up in Durham, I remember playing pickup all the time at Club Boulevard School," Warren said. "It was kind of rough at first, it was kind of a hard area. A lot of great players came from Durham. It means a lot, It is a great feeling to be able to do something positive out of Durham."

A couple of years after first picking up a ball, it began to dawn on Warren that his father was once a member of the Wolfpack. Tony Warren spent three seasons at N.C. State under Norm Sloan. While he did grow up in the land of the Blues, T.J. came to comprehend how important the Pack was to his family and he never forgot his roots.

"I fully understood it at about eight [years old]," Warren said reminiscently. "I would see red of the Wolfpack and just growing up year-by-year after that, I became a fan of State. I became more familiar with it. Now I am here."

As he got older, the attack game that Warren has featured during his two seasons at PNC Arena began to surface. Even at a young age, the ability to finish was there.

"I had a good knack for the game at a young age," Warren said. "I always had a good feel for the game. I was able to just finish around the rim, especially elementary school all the way up to grade school and then beyond that."

When he reached high school, Warren began to attract the attentions of college coaches and prep followers. When he entered Riverside High School as a ninth grader, he first got in contact with N.C. State.

"It was Coach [Sidney] Lowe and Monte Towe who first came to see me during my freshman year at Riverside High School," Warren vividly recollects. "They were coming to my open gym workouts. It was really exciting. N.C. State was always on my list of schools that I would love to play for."

Moving on to Raleigh (NC) Word of God and Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, Warren continued to both improve his game and attract a national following. By the time he became a high school senior, he was ranked the No. 25 prep player by Scout nationally.

However, Lowe was dismissed after the 2010-11 campaign. Warren, who at that point also listed North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Georgetown among his favorites in the recruiting process, felt some uneasiness initially with Mark Gottfried and his staff due to lack of familiarity.

"When they got a new coaching staff, it took me a while to get a feel for them, and build that relationship with them," Warren said. "Other than that, I have always loved N.C. State. The coaching staff was great. It is one big family."

"Coach Gottfried is doing a tremendous job with this program," Warren added. "Seeing us get back to the top and get back to the tournament consistently, that is something you want to build off of and keep going from there. I just have faith in the program really."

After committing to N.C. State, Warren had a terrific freshman season and slid into the starting five permanently midway through campaign. In his first year wearing the Red & White, Warren averaged 12.1 points per game, while leading the ACC in field goal percentage at 62.2 percent.

Heading into the offseason, Warren was not content to rest on his laurels. He, along with Gottfried and the coaching staff, identified where he could most improve. Warren worked out rigorously and dropped 23 pounds in the months prior to fall practice.

"I knew I wanted to be on the wing, while I am able to play both inside-out, but I wanted to slide to the wing spot," Warren said. "Getting in shape, it was mine and Coach's decision. I just took the whole spring and summer and worked my tail off trying to get in shape and improve my body. I wanted to get toned up. It has done me well this season. A lot of credit to Coach Alejo and the coaching staff."

Warren's scoring jump from last season entering the ACC Tournament is 12.7 points per game, more than double his output as a freshman. His free throw percentage, a weakness in his game at 54.2 percent last season, has jumped to 71.1 percent this year.

He also repeated as the league's top field goal shooter, making 53.2 percent of his attempts. Warren augments his game by ranking in the ACC top-10 in both rebounds and steals. He attributes the growth to his offseason workouts, both in the weight room and in the gym.

"Getting into the gym on my own and late night workouts, you have to love the game," Warren said. "Some guys are forced to play the game, but me, I just love playing basketball and having fun."

"I think with T.J., in his mind, he felt for us to win he needed to be more aggressive," Gottfried said. "The bottom line for him is he wants to win. He is trying to help his team win so whether it is being more aggressive throughout the whole game or rebounding the ball, or getting a steal late, he is trying to do those things to win. Scoring has been just a part of that."

Warren is getting plenty of looks from NBA scouts and draft prognosticators. Projected to be a mid-first round selection in the upcoming draft, he has watched professional players and used the experience to mold his game. He has become a master at finding the open spots with the three-point line.

"I have watched a lot of NBA basketball," Warren said. "My favorite player is Kevin Durant, so I study his game a lot. I try to take little parts of his game to try to add them to mine."

"My mid-range [shot], a lot of people don't expect it," Warren added. "I am sure opposing coaches know now that is one of my strengths. Guys do not know really how to defend it, so I try to find open gaps and spots in the halfcourt, and try to get inside the arch and find little ways to get up shots in a variety of different ways."

The buildup to the ACC Player of the Year Award was heated over the final weeks of the regular season.

Writers and pundits had strong opinions as to whether Warren was a complete player deserving of the award, along with noting N.C. State's status as a team on the bubble for NCAA Tournament selection was something that detracted from his candidacy. The Internet and Twitter world was unrelenting, but Warren was able to avoid distractions by spending time with his teammates and on campus.

"Social media gets a little overwhelming at times," Warren conceded. "I just enjoy being around my teammates. They give me a lot of encouragement and confidence to be able to do what I am doing. I trust them just as well as they trust me, as well as the coaching staff.

"The social life on campus is good. Just playing basketball here is a lot of fun. The fans are supportive, as well as the students, professors and the academic advisors. They look out for your best interests."

With what could be his final games at N.C. State fast approaching, Warren is not looking towards the distant future in professional basketball. Instead the sophomore still feels there is plenty to be accomplished this season with the Pack.

"We can definitely be a surprising team," Warren claims. "Looking at our record and looking at the games that we have played in, coming down to the wire, it is just a couple of more plays. We just want to go into this ACC Tournament with a lot of firepower, a lot of confidence, and just come out with a lot of energy and try to win the whole thing.

"That is the main goal, to finish out the season, win as many games as possible and get to the [NCAA] Tournament. That is a team goal as well as the coaches' goal."

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