BULL CITY STAR
From the ACC blood running through his veins to pickup games with future NBA players across town when he played at Riverside High School, T.J. Warren seemed destined to make Durham basketball history.
He did so last season at N.C. State by winning ACC player of the year and he’s set to take it a step further at the NBA Draft tonight.
Warren joins 19 other top prospects as invited guests to the NBA Draft at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where he’s projected to be a first-round pick.
If things go as expected, the 6-8 high-scoring forward will be the first Durham native since Hillside High School’s Rodney Rogers in 1993 to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft.
“That means a lot,” Warren said. “Growing up in Durham in a tough environment, just to be able to do something positive playing the game I love is big for me and for the city as well.”
Warren followed his father, former N.C. State player Tony Warren, to play for the Wolfpack. He topped his father by being named ACC player of the year after averaging a league-leading 24.9 points per game last season and leading the Wolfpack to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
His bloodlines were only the beginning of his indoctrination to high-level basketball. When Warren played at Riverside early in his high school career, he would head to Duke for pick-up games with guys like Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler — all starters on Duke’s 2010 NCAA championship team.
“It was fun,” Warren said. “I think about that all the time. It was great fun.”
After his sophomore season at Riverside, Warren transferred to Raleigh’s Word of God Christian Academy before completing his high school career at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.
In November 2011, he committed to the Wolfpack as part of a stellar freshman class for coach Mark Gottfried. He averaged 12.1 points per game in a reserve role as a freshman in 2012-13 and toyed with entering the NBA Draft last summer.
Instead, he and his father decided one more season with the Wolfpack could make Warren an even better pro prospect. That plan, and Warren’s follow-through with strenuous off-season conditioning, brought marked improvement last season.
Warren displayed a deft scoring touch while making 52.5 percent of his field-goal attempts. His ability to get to the basket and convert moves into shots and points consistently made him one of the nation’s most exciting players.
Duke forward Rodney Hood, another player in New York this week and projected as a first-round pick tonight, said Warren’s game lends itself to scoring.
“TJ is a great scorer,” Hood said. “He’s really good around the basket with his little floaters and finishes and things like that. He stepped up for his team big time this year.”
Once again, Warren had a choice to make after N.C. State was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. This time, at 20 years old, he decided to make the jump to the NBA.
“I just felt confident.I had a positive feel for it,” Warren said. “It was the right time. I’ve been getting great feedback. I know I made the right decision.”
He’s expected to be picked in the mid-teens of the first round. Boston, with the No. 17 pick, appears very interested in his talents.
Back in 1993, after being named the ACC player of the year at Wake Forest, Rogers was the No. 9 overall pick by the Denver Nuggets. Three months later, Warren was born in Durham.
While Rogers played a power game that earned him the nickname the “Durham bull,” Warren’s game is more refined to include making touch shots.
Still, both their games got them from Durham to the top of the ACC and, tonight, to the NBA.