Warren Proves He Belongs Among Freshmen Elite
By CHRIS TALBOTT
Associated Press Writer
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) -- It's time to get to know Ole Miss' Chris Warren.
USC's O.J. Mayo, Memphis' Derrick Rose and Kansas State's Michael Beasley may be college basketball's most visible freshmen, but Rebels coach Andy Kennedy believes Warren has done more for his team than any first-year player.
There's been plenty of evidence of that through a 13-game winning streak to open the season, and even in the loss at No. 8 Tennessee when he scored 24 points.
"Chris for our team may have had as big an impact on our program as any freshman in the country," Kennedy said. "We are sitting here at (16th) in the country and we certainly would not be anywhere close to that if Chris Warren hadn't had the start that he has."
Warren entered the week ranked second in the league and 34th in the nation with 5.7 assists per game. His 15.2 points per game are 12th in the SEC and he helped pushed Ole Miss to a school record 13-0 start and 86.2 points per game, eighth in the nation.
He repeatedly led Rebels rallies against the Volunteers, breaking Tennessee's press and pushing Ole Miss to a six-point lead in the final minutes before falling in the final seconds.
"Chris Warren is a great scoring point guard," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "What a talent!"
Ask the Orlando, Fla., native about his success, however, and he's as likely to pass the credit to a teammate as he is to find him open under the basket.
"I'm happy," Warren said. "I've worked hard. Hard work pays off. But it's a team thing."
And the team has flourished with the 5-foot-10 point guard leading the way. The Rebels, who host LSU on Saturday, were picked to finish last in the SEC West, but are one of the SEC's top three teams.
Kennedy and Warren's teammates have been impressed with his speed, ballhandling skills and understanding of Ole Miss' pressure game. But they say his unflappable approach has led to his success so far.
Dwayne Curtis, the senior center who's been a recipient of several Warren passes, is the freshman's road roommate. He rarely sees Warren smile, he said, and he rarely sees him frown.
"I can't even explain it," Curtis said. "He's only got one expression. He doesn't show much, you know what I mean?"
Kennedy said the best example of how Warren's demeanor pays off in games came against Clemson last month. Through the first 36 minutes, it was Warren's worst game of the year.
He was 1-for-13 and then-No. 15 Clemson held a six-point lead during the final game of the San Juan Shootout. Most freshmen wouldn't have had the nerve to fire off another shot, Kennedy said.
Warren never wavered. He made his next four shots, scoring eight of Ole Miss' last 10 points in an 85-82 upset.
"Not only did he have the nerve, but he had the resolve to get it done," Kennedy said.
Brian Smith, Warren's backup and the son of Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, believes the rest of the SEC is going to be surprised by Warren.
He's a very different player from Todd Abernethy, Warren's musclebound predecessor who led the Rebels to a surprise division co-championship and 21 wins last season. Warren fits Kennedy's style of play, which uses speed and relentless pressure to force turnovers that can then be converted in transition.
"I think he's the fastest player in the SEC, I mean by far," Smith said. "I'm a senior now and I've yet to play against anybody faster than him."
In fact, Smith said he hasn't really found a weakness in Warren's game. Warren's fast enough to break an opponent's press, can drive the basket or shoot the 3-pointer -- he's third in the league in 3-pointers per game behind Vanderbilt's Shan Foster and Tennessee's Chris Lofton.
All of those things make Warren a threat, but when asked about his best trait, he didn't hesitate: "I'd say it's winning. As long as we get the win, it's good."
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