Around the block: Warrick’s heroic play preserved 2003 national championship, Syracuse legacy

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 27, 2013 at 12:43 am Contact Kevin: [email protected] With less than five seconds remaining in the 2003 national championship game and Syracuse leading Kansas 81-78, the Jayhawks’ Michael Lee squared up from the corner to shoot a potentially game-tying 3-pointer.But the ball never reached the basket. Syracuse forward Hakim Warrick, playing center due to team foul trouble, raced to the corner and swatted Lee’s shot to preserve SU’s lead.The Orangemen were national champions.“Not too many people on the planet could have made that play,” Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins said. “People didn’t really realize he was playing the center position. He wasn’t playing the forward, and he came all the way from the middle of the court. That was the difference of the game.”Warrick, now an eighth-year NBA player just released by the Orlando Magic on Saturday, was a key contributor to that 2003 national championship team and SU’s only title. The sophomore power forward out of the Philadelphia area averaged 14.8 points per game on the 2002-03 team, second only to Carmelo Anthony.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIn the 2005 NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzlies selected him with the No. 19 overall pick.On the 2002-03 team, the bulk of attention was given to freshmen Anthony and Gerry McNamara.The Post-Standard columnist Bud Poliquin, who compares Warrick to current SU forward C.J. Fair, said Syracuse could not have completed its run through the NCAA Tournament without Warrick, whose ability to move across the court brought an extra dimension to the Syracuse lineup.“He was the prototypical (Jim) Boeheim forward,” Poliquin said. “Good, wiry, springy, all those wonderful clichés; the perfect basketball instrument. If he’s not there and replaced by another Hakim Warrick, no, the team doesn’t win it all.”If Warrick was underpublicized in 2003, the same could be said of his recruitment out of high school, said Sports Illustrated basketball writer Pete Thamel, who covered the recruitment. A late bloomer, Warrick was SU’s second target behind New York City product Julius Hodge, who ultimately chose North Carolina State.“Syracuse was pining, swooning, killing for Hodge,” Thamel said.Hodge never made it past the Sweet 16 during his career with the Wolfpack. Warrick won a national championship. Warrick increased his average points per game every season at Syracuse, culminating in a senior season in which he was named the Big East Conference Player of the Year and a consensus All-American.Former Syracuse forward Demetris Nichols, who arrived at Syracuse for Warrick’s junior season and currently plays for the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League, fondly remembers Warrick as a dynamic player he looked up to. Nichols describes Warrick at SU as a good, quiet kid who enjoyed playing video games and relaxing with friends. Warrick also made his fellow Orangemen better on the court.“He was a great teammate,” Nichols said. “He worked hard, and I looked up to him with his work ethic. He was the best player on the team, and I wanted to be the best when he left. To see him play well after college and where he went, I was influenced to do the same.”After being drafted by Memphis, Warrick spent four seasons with the Grizzlies, averaging double figures per game in three consecutive seasons from 2006-2009. He’s moved around a lot since then, seeing stints with Charlotte, Milwaukee, Phoenix, New Orleans and Orlando in the past four seasons. In 526 NBA games, he is a career 49-percent shooter.In an interview less than an hour before he was traded from Charlotte to Orlando last Thursday, Warrick looks back on his time at Syracuse with fond memories. He remembers the Orangemen going into the season unranked, and how the team started to see its potential through close, tough regular-season victories against teams like Missouri and Michigan State.And of course, he remembers the block.“I was playing center, and I remember Kueth (Duany) rotating when they swung the ball to the corner, and he couldn’t get there,” Warrick said. “I was just trying to alter the shot and contest it. I didn’t think I could block it. I just tried to turn my body away from him (Lee).”Warrick said he stays in touch with many of his Syracuse teammates, including Anthony, McNamara and his college roommates Josh Pace and Andrew Kouwe. Although he regards the Orange’s impending move to the Atlantic Coast Conference with mixed feelings, he points to SU’s stability under Boeheim as something that separates Syracuse from other programs.“Coming into that program, something that separates us is we’re like a family,” Warrick said. “With coach Boeheim, the same coach and the same loyalties, we’re more like a family than just a team.”Clay McKnight, who was an administrative assistant for the championship team, echoes the sentiment that the group formed a close bond, pointing to Pace as the “glue guy” of the team.McKnight said Warrick was the most fun to be around – always in a great mood and striving to improve his game. Warrick arrived at the gym early for workouts and embraced the idea of becoming a better player, but without seeking recognition for his achievements, McKnight said.“He was more quiet, quietly beating you in a way,” McKnight said. “He was just coming into his own and realizing his potential. He was not going to talk smack, he just performed.”Warrick’s roommate Kouwe, a walk-on for the 2002-03 team, described the team as “just having fun” during the end of the regular season and through the tournament run with wins over Manhattan, Oklahoma State, Auburn, Oklahoma and Texas before the 81-78 championship game victory against Kansas.Kouwe remembers the team soaking in the atmosphere of a packed Bourbon Street during Final Four week in New Orleans, and gives Warrick credit as one of many players who generated positive vibes all season long. A Buccaneers fan, Kouwe said he enjoyed football conversations with the Vikings-biased Warrick that often led to good-natured debate.“I still talk with him today,” said Kouwe, now a sales representative for New Era in New York. “He loved joking around in practice, and he made practice fun. He doesn’t take things too seriously.”Warrick said he hopes to stay injury-free and play five or six more seasons before retiring from professional basketball. He said he isn’t exactly sure what he’d like to do next, but that he’s working with a financial planner to make sure he’ll be financially stable.Whatever he does, he will always have a national championship ring – along with the iconic block that is replayed again and again at the Carrier Dome, and will likely continue as long as Syracuse basketball is played.When prompted for thoughts on the 2003 Syracuse team, former UW-Milwaukee and Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl launched into an in-depth description of the block. Thamel said, “You could not genetically compose a better player” to get to the corner and make the block. Poliquin considers it an electrifying moment, and McKnight recalls it as “one of Hakim’s many moments where you just said ‘Wow.’”Hopkins remembers being on the sideline, with a championship at stake, observing a scene that brought national glory to a team, school and city.“You never know,” Hopkins said. “You get a wide-open look by Mr. Lee – not a good experience when you’re a coach, seeing him that wide open. But then when you see Hakim fly out – not only that, he avoided the foul, he jumped to the side. Which was amazing.” Commentslast_img

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