Originally Published: Mar 23, 2010 11:23 PM CDT
There's plenty of blame to go around. Willie Warren was not the only problem with OUs basketball team this season. But he played a major role.
Head Coach Jeff Capel and his staff expected the sophomore to be a star on the court, a leader off the court, and then declare for the draft where he'd be a high lottery pick.
Instead, the coach got a player who led the team in scoring, but otherwise underperformed. He was charged with being immature and selfish. Clearly, not the leader Capel needed, Warren consistently displayed immature body language that was noticed not only by Sooner fans, but more importantly by impressionable teenage teammates. And check with coaches before underestimating the importance of body language.
Warren disappointed Sooner fans so much that they occasionally cheered when he was taken out of games, and not because of his good play. I've attended OU games since 1963 and that's the only time I've ever seen such a thing. Those fans were reacting to more than Willie just missing shots. It was mental mistakes, turnovers, and a nonchalant attitude--the bad body language. Their high preseason expectations were crumbling right in front of them. Willie's struggles may not have been as glaring in some years. But the mounting losses and youth of the team magnified his transgressions.
There has never been a question about Warren's ability. He was a fabulous high school talent and he produced with an exceptional freshman season. And yes, he led the 2009-10 team in scoring, but his numbers were not up to the standards of a national preseason player of the year--Sporting News).
Friends of mine who argue vociferously that Warren was not the only problem on Capel's troubled team are right. But anyone who argues he was not a major problem is sorely mistaken. Do you really think Willie Warren was not front and center in many of those late-night fireside chats among the coaches?
The trouble started early. Coaches have said that Warren never bought into the off season strength and conditioning program. That selfish, immature attitude naturally rubbed off on the young players. Instead of setting a good example of what it takes to be a successful piece of a team, the bar was being set low, especially for a pair of ballyhooed high school All-Americans, big-man Tiny Gallon and point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin. The Tiny One and TMG needed to see the amazing work ethic of a champion like Blake Griffin--not that of a John Daly or Stephon Marburry.
OU was undeniably consistent. Bad off-season, bad preseason, bad in-season, and now a bad-to-turning nasty post-season (Gallon accused of taking money from a financial advisor, Warren allegedly communicating with the same guy, Mason-Griffin and now Ray Willis reportedly leaving the team).
There is not doubt that Warren is gifted and that he was a major reason the Blake Griffin inspired Sooners of 2008-09 were a hair away from playing for a national title. But his success in year one was not carried over into year two. And what Capel needed more than anything from Warren this season was a mature leader who would show the way to the talented duo who struggled to find their way.
My best and unimpeachable source has consistently told me for over a month that the coaches were not welcoming Warren back to the team in 2010-11 with "opened arms." But in light of the all-but-certain departure of Mason-Griffin, the same source just told me that the stance might be softened and that Warren "might be welcomed back but with serious conditions."
If the first part is true--and I believe itit would perhaps be the first time in college basketball history that a player has gone from such lofty preseason expectations after year one to not being wanted the next.
Keep in mind a week after first hearing that Warren may not be welcomed back with opened arms; Warren did not travel with the OU team to the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. Didn't even go. Im sure apologists have reasons Warren did not go, but you can bust me if Im going to believe he would not have been with them if he was engaged with the team and if everything was hunky dory.
I hope he returns and all ends well. But I don't see it. Warren has not had fun and I expect he'll want to put this experience behind him and start over. One look at the roster will tell you the outlook is not promising.
But as but as one insider close to the situation told me, Willies no dummy. He can see where coming back might make him an extra couple of million dollars. And I could see him moving back up the draft boards if he improves his game and improves his image.
Warren seems to have two options:
1. Go pro where most mock drafts have him going late first-round.
2. Return for one more season. Apologize to coaches and teammates for letting them down. Commit to becoming their leader both on and off the court--beginning with offseason workouts. Commit to becoming unselfish and doing whatever it takes to regain their respect. Commit to making sure what will be a limited team reaches its potential. And commit to making it fun again.
They say life is about second chances. And if Warren chooses Door No. 2, he will have a chance to be applauded by Sooner fans and regain their respect as a winner.
Thanks for the read....db