Warren continues freshman road to success

Chris Warren always willingly stops for interviews on those days when we assemble at Tad Smith Coliseum. Answers all our questions, too.

Some days it's probably harder for him to do so, but he smiles and carries on. Monday might have been one of those days.

The Rebels' freshman point guard walked in with some of his teammates and headed for the locker room. Anywhere from four to eight of us are there on those appointed days of interviews to stop him, or whomever we are interested in speaking with.

Chris walked in, jacket hood pulled over his head. Central Floridians aren't used to the even mildly cold days of north Mississippi.

"Got a minute?" we collectively asked. He smiled and said sure. It wasn't quite as fun for him this day as it had been on many of the others. The Rebels' last game had been their worst, an 88-68 setback at Mississippi State.

But the mindset of the team appeared to be one of regroup and move forward. We heard that from all the players. Two home games are up next. The Rebs are still a very impressive 15-3 overall and a recoverable 2-3 in SEC play. With Vandy and Carolina in here this week, there's hope again.

The main reason? The Rebels are back home.

The road in basketball is just different. The Rebels didn't match the intensity of the Bulldogs last Saturday. There was even some question from a Rebel player or two whether the team wanted it badly enough.

To be honest, when one team, the one at home, is playing at its highest level all season and the other, the road team, is off its game as much as it had been all season, well, you see what you get.

"We didn't play very well," said Warren, the Rebels' backcourt leader, so good most of the season but not as much himself at MSU.

The freshman point guard is learning the league, getting used to the ways of SEC play, especially on the road. You can't do that in four or five games. No way. Sometimes it takes a year or two to get totally comfortable out there and have a mindset that the court, any court, is yours.

Warren's numbers weren't bad at State. He scored 15 points, his average. But he was only 5-of-20 from the field, just 2-of-10 from 3-point range.

Chris Warren, who appeared prominently in Sports Illustrated last week, had a freshman moment for a couple of hours at MSU. He'll learn from it and be better because of it. Nobody knows that more than former Rebel point guard turned assistant coach Michael White.

White started at point guard as a freshman for Ole Miss in 1995-96. By the time he graduated four seasons later, he was arguably the best floor general in the SEC.

"It takes a lot of mental toughness and maturity, and Chris definitely has that," said White, who started more than half the games his freshman season as well as basically all of them for the next three seasons. "You have to have a great feel for the game, and you have to have a good basketball IQ. Chris has all that, too."

What he doesn't have yet is experience.

White, who came to Ole Miss from Jesuit High in New Orleans and became a part of the Rebels' first two SEC West title teams and also the first NCAA tourney win for UM, said a lot rides on the shoulders of a guy playing the point. And a freshman has to be ready to move his game up a level or two in a hurry.

"More is asked of a point guard from a coaching standpoint," said White, the coach. "Getting guys in the right spots, being vocal, directing things on the court. He's like the quarterback of the basketball team."

Warren has learned much of that through 18 games for the 15-3 Rebels. The Orlando Dr. Phillips High product says it isn't all about scoring and offense either. In last Saturday's game, the Rebels weren't effective against State on defense.

"We've talked about our defense since then," Warren said. "As a team we didn't play defense good enough. Their guards were scoring. Their big men were scoring. That was a problem."

They'll try to correct all those problems this week. They started yesterday, early, at 6:30 a.m. with a wake-up practice. Vanderbilt comes in on a downward spiral about like the one the Rebs are experiencing.

Both were unbeaten longer than any SEC teams this season. Vandy, 17-3 overall, is 2-3 in SEC play, just like Ole Miss.

"We'll be ready to play," Warren said. "The good thing about this one is that we're at home. We can't lose at home. That's a rule."

OM Spirit Top Stories