The Journey

Hakim Warrick's road to where he is today has been a long and winding one.

"Yeah, it's crazy. I think I need to write a book or something," Warrick said, jokingly.

To understand how the Syracuse star – now one of the premier power forwards in college basketball – has gotten to where he is now, it is better to look at where he started.

Warrick's basketball story began at University City High School, outside of Philadelphia. As a freshman, Warrick garnered little attention for his basketball talents. As a member of the junior varsity team his freshman and sophomore years, Warrick said he had lost his confidence.

"I remember coming home to my mom crying because I really didn't play," Warrick said.

In his junior year, Warrick transferred to Friends' Central High School in Wynnewood, Pa. – a school not known for churning out Division I-A prospects.

"No, not at all," Warrick said. "That was strictly an academic move right there."

But, sure enough, Warrick started getting more regular playing time on the varsity team, and, much like one of his high-powered dunks, Warrick's confidence began to take off.

The summer before his senior year, Warrick played on a traveling AAU team. Playing on a team full of talented high schoolers, including current University of Arizona guard Mustafa Shakur, Warrick dominated games with his high-flying athletic ability.

People could start to see things coming together for Warrick, said Friends' Central basketball coach Keino Terrell.

"We knew how talented he was because we saw it everyday at practice," Terrell said. "He was just scratching the tip of his capabilities."

One of his capabilities was his versatility. The opening game of his senior season, Warrick's team played the defending state champions. At 6 feet 8 inches, Warrick started the game at point guard.

Terrell wanted to exploit the match-ups against the other team's big men, so he had Warrick play on the perimeter. The results: not one turnover from Warrick, who ended up playing all five positions that night.

Warrick also recorded a streak of three consecutive triple-doubles in his senior season. To add a little zest to those triple-doubles, Warrick tallied double digits in points, rebounds, and blocks – not assists – in those three contests. Warrick and others were starting to take notice to how he could take over a game.

"It all goes back to confidence," Warrick said. "Just being able to go out there and play and show people I can play and getting the recognition. …That gave me a lot of confidence."

And with better results on the court, Warrick's confidence increased even more off it. But few colleges noticed.

When recruiting season came around, Providence was the only big-time school Warrick had gotten attention from. The prestigious Nike recruiting camp had passed him over. But, the day after the camp had started, Warrick got a call saying someone had gotten hurt and he was the person chosen to replace the injured player. One more piece to the puzzle had fallen in place.

"If it wasn't for that, (Syracuse University basketball) coach (Jim) Boeheim never would've seen me and I probably wouldn't have been here (at Syracuse)," Warrick said. "Probably wouldn't even have been going to Providence. Before that, it was probably a very low Division I (school). I would've been happy to squeak into a mid-major or something like that."

Even though Boeheim liked what he saw from Warrick, Boeheim was ready to give Syracuse's final scholarship offer to a guard from Harlem, N.Y. named Julius Hodge. But, at the last minute, Hodge decided to go to North Carolina State instead, leaving a spot open for Warrick to fill. Warrick and Hodges have crossed paths over the years, but Warrick never spoke with him about their connected pasts.

"I didn't thank him, but I'm really thankful he didn't decide to come here," Warrick said.

Coming into his freshman year, Warrick was billed as the sleeper among the incoming freshmen, that also included center Craig Forth, point guard Billy Edelin, and fellow power forward Mark Konecny. Konecny was the one given the opportunity to start early on in the season, but he transferred because of off-the-court issues after just two games. Another door opened for Warrick, and he walked right through.

Warrick played in 35 games his freshman season, starting 19 of them. He averaged more than six points and almost five rebounds per game. Warrick's sophomore year, he was named the Big East's Most Improved Player, bumping up his averages to 14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds a contest.

Warrick is probably best known for blocking Kansas guard Michael Lee's last-second 3-point attempt, securing Syracuse's first NCAA championship in school history. Last season, as a junior, Warrick proved himself to be one of the more dominant low-post forces in the country, averaging 19.8 points and 8.6 rebounds a game.

Now, Warrick is one of the senior leaders on the No. 5 team in the country, according to ESPN.com. He comes into this season as a National Player of the Year Candidate, and along with junior guard Gerry McNamara, form one of the best 1-2 punches in the country.

But Warrick could've easily have jumped to the NBA early. He talked to his former teammate, Carmelo Anthony, who left after just one season at Syracuse. Former SU forward Derrick Coleman offered his advice as someone who went through a similar experience, leaving after his junior season to play in the NBA.

"I tried to get all the information from all the guys I could to help make my decision," Warrick said.

With all the advice he had been given, Warrick decided to stay.

"Reason No. 1 was to come back and graduate, and just win a national championship," Warrick said. "I can't really put them No. 1 and No. 2…I think it's just. … No. 1 and No. 1a."

Not only will Warrick graduate, but he is on schedule to graduate in December. He has taken summer classes ever since his freshman year and has put academics as a priority in his college life, something he credits Friends' Central for.

"It (Friends' Central) was a really tough academic school," Warrick said, "and I think that helped me prepare for college. That was one of the main reasons I chose to go there."

And, as far as going about winning a national championship, Warrick knows expectations are high for this team. All five starters are back from the end of last year, and all but three players remain from the 2002-03 championship team. And, Warrick has improved the weakest part of his game – the jump shot.

Automatic from 15 feet and closer, Warrick rarely ventured outside that range, attempting just seven three-pointers in his college career, and only making one.

With a thinner frame than most NBA power forwards, Warrick was told he needed more of a perimeter game to be effective at the next level. So Warrick set out to make that the focus of his offseason workouts.

"I've worked on pretty much just being more consistent, just getting in a lot of shots…spot shots, off the dribble, just getting repetition, and just having the confidence to go out there and shoot it," Warrick said.

Boeheim dabbled last season with Warrick playing small forward, but that quickly faded after the first few games. Warrick expects that he may play a little bit more on the perimeter this year, something that Boeheim thinks will only make him tougher to guard.

"His perimeter game's improved," Boeheim said. "He works hard on it. He's getting better playing away from the basket. He is getting stronger. I think he has a chance to be as dominant as any player in college basketball this year."

It has been that kind of hard work and dedication to constantly improving that has catapulted Warrick from a looked-over high school recruit to one of the top players in the country in just a few short years.

"It was funny looking back on last year," Warrick said. "People said I had a chance to go to the NBA when it was all of four years ago that everyone knew for sure that I was a four-year player. Just being able to turn that around and have people talking about me leaving early shows you the progress I've made."

"I think he already is being appreciated more by NBA types as just a guy who can play and they're not concerned so much what he weighs anymore," Boeheim said. "I think he has a legitimate chance to be the best player in the country this year and really improve his status in terms of going to the NBA. Obviously it will help us."

A twist of fate, being in the right place at the right time, capitalizing on the opportunities before him. All have been a part of Hakim Warrick's basketball journeys. Warrick says he is confident it was all meant to be.

"Yeah, definitely after my whole career, I feel like I was destined to come to Syracuse, destined for all this stuff to happen," Warrick said. "I'm just really fortunate, just really thankful I got the chance to do this."

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