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David West Plays Vital Role In Helping T.J. Warren Realize NBA Dream

History was made on Thursday night when the Phoenix Suns selected T.J. Warren with the 14th overall pick. Warren, a 6-foot-8 forward out of N.C. State, is the first player drafted that worked directly with David West through his AAU Garner Road Basketball Club program.

Warren, who was invited by the NBA to sit in the green room, had the support of his mentor on the special night. West lends a hand, and ear, to players in the family program during the season while his older brother, Dwayne, runs the AAU club.

During the summer, West instills strong values -- in basketball and life -- in the youngsters enrolled in the program. If you go to the Garner Road website, the first thing you are greeted by is the motto: “No Books, No Ball.”

Warren declared for the draft after a sophomore season in which he was named the ACC Player of the Year and a Second Team Associated Press All-American. He has been lauded as having one of the most polished offensive games in a very deep draft class.

The Suns were one of the teams that worked Warren out and he felt as though he performed well in front of the team’s decision-makers. He couldn’t be sure where he’d go, but Phoenix was a logical landing spot.

“I felt like I had strong workouts. The Phoenix Suns were one of my best workouts,” Warren said after being drafted. “I did a lot of great things there, and it showed today. I’m very fortunate to be in this position.”

Warren has West to thank for helping him realize his dream. West has been a part of Warren’s life for nearly half of it.

“David has been a mentor to me since a very young age,” the 20-year-old said. “Since I was 10 years old, just learning from him, from his game. It means a lot to me.”

The importance of the moment wasn’t lost on West, who was drafted 18th overall by the New Orleans Hornets in 2003. Warren spent several summers away from his family and in the care of West’s as he worked towards his basketball goals.

“It’s a pretty special moment. We’ve had T.J. since he was 11, his parents trusted us with him,” West told RealGM on Thursday night. “They trusted us during the summer to stay on him. They gave us a lot of leeway with him in terms of pushing him. This is something he’s talked about since he was a little kid. Something he’s worked his butt off for; it’s great that it happen for him.”

Not only has Warren achieved his goal, but Phoenix’s system also suits his game extremely well. The Suns like to score and Warren can do that in bunches.

“I think my style of play fits very well,” Warren said. “I like to get up in transition for easy baskets, running the floor very hard. Their style of play matches my style of play. So it’s a perfect fit.”

West agreed.

“Perfect,” he said of the match. “They’re an open, run-and-gun system. Very good offensively, one of the highest scoring teams in the league. He’s the best scorer in this draft, so he’s going to fit in perfectly with what they do.”

Warren was one of the first players West was able to take under his wing early on. The two have maintained a close relationship as Warren has grown up and West has moved through what is now an 11-year professional career.

“Everyday I’m there for him, even now,” West said. “I stay in his ear everyday, keeping his mind in the right direction in terms of making sure he remains focused. Early on with him, I was with the Hornets and we weren’t making the playoffs so I was with him from April all the way through to the end of September. We had three or four years like that and they paid off for him.

“Just his hard work, him being a basketball guy. He’s a basketball junkie. He doesn’t have a whole lot of things going on outside. He’s got his family, a very small circle. He’s going to make the transition well. This is something we’ve been talking about since he was a young, young kid.”

The Suns drafted Warren in large part because of his work on the court, but West believes that success will come at the next level because of how strong he is mentally. It’s not surprising given the tenacity the mentor as brought to floor since he was Warren’s age.

“He has it up here,” West said, pointing to his head. “He’s constantly grinding, pushing himself. He pushed himself all the way to this level.”

In many ways, Thursday night could be a stepping-stone for the AAU Garner Road Basketball Club, but the program’s guiding influence insists that he won’t use Warren as a promotional tool. Still, guiding a player from his pre-pubescent years through to high school, college and ultimately the NBA is bound to get the attention of young players and those around them.

“We don’t really look at it like that. We are basically looking at it as just the beginning. We are invested in terms of these young people,” West vowed. “That’s my passion. That’s just what we do, my brother, we ultimately want to guide these kids and give them whatever we can in terms of what we’ve learned. Basketball is just a tool; it’s just a vehicle to reach these young people. T.J. is one of those guys that bought in right away; he’s a listener. Once he gets comfortable and opens up, anything that I would tell him when he was younger he took it to heart because I was where he eventually wanted to be.”

It seems likely that we’ll see West at future NBA drafts, supporting more young talent he has helped guide.

Are there more T.J. Warrens in the Garner Road pipeline?

“Oh yeah,” West said with a smile.

More On Kentucky's Downside

I have received a number of Twitter questions asking how to interpret the Best Case and Worst Case Scenarios in my projections. If you think of a normal bell curve, while most of the mass is in the middle, the tails can stretch out for some distance. I don’t think there is much value in trying to present the full tail for each team when projecting the season. If I reported the true outliers for every team, every team’s range would be ridiculously large. I tried to settle on cut-offs that communicate the relative riskiness of teams.

The real question is how often teams fall within my Best Case/Worst Case range. I have an idea based on past seasons, but since I used those seasons to fit the model, I’m not quite willing to make a definitive statement on that question yet. For now, let me present a couple of outliers from last year.

- What would my new simulation model have projected for Kentucky and Michigan for 2012-2013?

Kentucky 2012-13

Median Simulation : 16th

Best Case: 4th

Worst Case: 43rd

While most of us fell in love with the upside for Kentucky’s starting lineup last year, what we were not accounting for was the fact that Kentucky had very little depth. If Kentucky’s starters were injured or struggled, the downside simulations were quite weak. In fact, based on the number of available at-large bids, Kentucky’s worst case scenario was that of a borderline NCAA/NIT team last year.

And as we saw, the worst case scenario came to fruition. According to Sagarin’s margin-of-victory-based “Predictor”, Kentucky finished 38th last season. According to Ken Pomeroy’s old MOV formula, Kentucky finished 48th. And according to Ken Pomeroy’s new capped MOV formula, Kentucky finished 67th last season.

Michigan 2012-13

Median Simulation: 23rd

Best Case: 6th

Worst Case: 57th

As with Kentucky, Michigan had a relatively large range for a Top 25 team. And the reason for those large ranges is because both teams were relying a ton on freshmen last year. The performance of freshmen is extremely unpredictable. In the end, Michigan finished above my best case scenario at fourth or fifth depending on your preferred MOV system.

While these finishes were just outside my projected range, I am comfortable with both of these. That is because I believe in both cases those were true outlier seasons, far out in the tail.

Despite having what the experts labeled as the 8th-12th best recruiting class in the country, Michigan’s freshmen class was by far the most productive in the country last year. To have freshman Nik Stauskas come in and make 80 threes, to have Mitch McGary play like a superstar in the NCAA tournament, and to have players like Spike Albrecht come out of nowhere and play mistake-free basketball was incredible.

Meanwhile, for Kentucky, just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. From the injury to Nerlens Noel, to the disappointing play of a highly touted transfer PG, to John Calipari’s rare failure to get the Wildcats to buy-in on defense, everything broke the wrong way.

If these are the type of seasons that fall just outside my projected range, I feel fairly confident in the accuracy of my system.

- What does this mean for 2013-2014?

While I am not guaranteeing that Kentucky will finish in the Top 13 this year, my model is essentially saying that this is extremely likely.

Kentucky simply has too much depth for things to completely fall apart this year. As I noted last week, Julius Randle could be a massive underachiever and Will-Cauley Stein could get hurt, and Kentucky would not miss a beat. The only possible weakness on the Wildcats is the lack of depth at the guard positions.

But with a downside of 13th this year instead of 43rd last year, Kentucky fans can be confident that even if things go wrong, the team will still be relevant in March.

- Didn’t I have Michigan rated lower than 23rd in last year’s preseason projections?

Yes, absolutely. Michigan is a huge reason that I added the simulation to the model. What I wanted to be able to do was more effectively emphasize the importance of star players. It is much easier for the winner of a competition to be a role player. And because Michigan had Trey Burke (and to a lesser extent Tim Hardaway), they already had their stars last year. They only had to find role players to fill in around them. I agree that my old model was too pessimistic, and Michigan is a large reason I added a simulation to my model this year.

This also explains why Michigan’s upside remains extremely strong this year. Again, Michigan is going to be relying a lot on unproven players. But with Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson leading the way, if this year’s guards click, the upside for Michigan remains that of a Top 5 team. (The Wolverines also needs McGary to get over his lingering back issues.)

But the real importance of the simulation is the earlier note about depth. This year Maryland, Alabama, NC State, Temple and Vanderbilt have very short benches. Those teams might have competitive rotations, but the lack of scholarship players is a risk. Do not be surprised if injuries derail the season for at least one of these teams.

NCAA Tournament Day 2

As I stuck on truTV on Friday night and soaked up the replays of Florida Gulf Coast’s Chase Fieler taking alley-oop dunks from Brett Comer, I was reminded that it isn’t just the great basketball that makes the NCAA tournament special. It is the other moments as well. It is the sight of Florida Gulf Coast senior Sherwood Brown reveling in the moment. When he started at the school, they weren’t even eligible for the tournament. But with his career reaching his fourth year, he was going to make sure he sucked up every moment. He shook hands with the announcers. He went into the cheerleaders and grabbed a group hug. And in the locker-room, his team celebrated as a family.

Meanwhile, the dejection on Georgetown head coach John Thompson III’s face was equally dramatic. I thought his words were so appropriate. “I told these guys, no matter what people write about you, no matter what happens, I am proud of you.” And he is exactly right. People are going to act like Georgetown failed because the big name brand school with all the resources lost to the small school just joining D1. But this was still a tremendous season. This group of players with no seniors and losing a key starter to academic eligibility still made tremendous strides this season. I was still proud to watch them play this season, even if they were the Goliath knocked off the mountain-top.

And that is truly the beauty of the NCAA tournament. All these teams, win or lose have had tremendous seasons. The X’s and O’s are great. The bracket busters are great. The buzzer beaters are great. But ultimately, the window is short. The moment of opportunity is fleeting. And win or lose, the drama of it all coming to an end is always great theater.

Reckless Abandon

Ole Miss used great strategy against Wisconsin. They used full court pressure, not to cause turnovers, but to make the Badgers waste clock. And while that may seem counter-intuitive, (why slow down a slow team even further?), it worked. The Badgers didn’t have their normal time to probe for good shots. And with Mississippi also switching between man-to-man defense and zone defense to confuse the Badgers even further, Wisconsin had to settle for more bad shots than usual. The Badgers ended the season with a horrific shooting performance. Jared Berggren was 2 of 10, Ryan Evans was 2 of 8, Ben Brust was 2 of 9, Traevon Jackson was 2 of 10. And that was easily enough for a hot Ole Miss team to advance.

In the locker-room, the interview with Ben Brust said it all. In near tears the sophomore noted that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end for his 5 senior teammates. They were his brothers. They were the only team to beat Michigan and Indiana twice. They had put in too much work, and too much effort to see the team lose without putting up a fight.

Meanwhile, despite Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson’s horrific 1 for 11 start, his coach never chided him. He simply said, “This is your half, take advantage of the moment.” And Henderson responded with 5 of 10 second half shooting.

Indeed this was probably another take-away from Friday. The unbridled teams win in the tournament. Florida Gulf Coast played without fear and Marshall Henderson wins by playing with reckless abandon.

On Friday Illinois played with reckless abandon as well. Freed from the dreaded Big Ten defensive teams that deny fast-break points at all costs, the Illini played like the aggressive team John Groce tried to build early in the year. (I.e. when the team started 12-0 and took three point shots without fear.) I heard a lot of criticism of Illinois taking 31 threes in the game because it opened the door for Colorado to come back, but I completely disagree. Illinois isn’t a great half-court team. They don’t have big guys who can score around the basket. And they aren’t a great passing team. The truth is, they are never going to get a better look than an open three in transition. And on Friday, those threes proved that more often than not in the NCAA tournament, ruthless aggression wins. (Of course those transition threes would not have been possible with great half-court defense. Illinois’s first half steals showed it most dramatically, but when Illinois’ DJ Richardson drew a 5-second closely guarded call in the second half, that might have been the biggest defensive possession of the game.)

The Day's Shocker

Style clashes were everywhere. We had bruising Villanova, going up against the 4-guard lineup of North Carolina. Wait, is that right? Had these teams actually flipped their rolls? Was it true that Villanova actually dominated the points in the paint 38-16 in this one? And yet North Carolina still won.

That was shocking. But it was not nearly as shocking as the news that UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad might actually be 20 years old. That’s right, Muhammad might have pulled a Danny Almonte and faked his age in order to look extra dominant against his competition, and improve his NBA draft stock. Muhammad will still certainly be a top lottery pick in this year’s draft (since it is one of the weakest drafts in recent memory), but I have to think teams will think twice about drafting someone who would lie about something like that for all these years.

And we also learned that sometimes depth does matter in the NCAA tournament. I thought that with all the TV timeouts that teams couldn’t get tired out. But with UCLA’s Travis Wear and Tony Parker each picking up 3 first half fouls, UCLA was forced to keep its five other rotation players in the game at all times. And you could tell at the end of each half that UCLA simply had no energy defensively. They started the game playing lock down defense against the Gophers. But at the end of the first half, the Gophers got whatever they wanted dumping the ball into the paint. Low scoring back-up centers like Elliot Eliason and Maurice Walker dominated. And in the second half, Andre Hollins could pretty much take an exhausted Larry Drew at will. Minnesota caught almost no breaks this season playing in a rugged Big Ten. But UCLA was indeed the perfect first round draw as many experts expected.

Hot and Cold

The real story of the day was the back-and-forth scoring runs. 2013 has been the year when no team has handled success well. Whenever a team looks dominant, it tends to follow that up with its worst performance of the season. And thus perhaps it was not surprising that Friday was the day of hot and cold play.

-Temple led NC State 38-22 at halftime, only to see NC State cut the lead to 74-72 with 2 seconds left. Temple held on for the victory.

-La Salle led 44-26 at halftime, only to see Kansas St. take a 60-58 lead with 6 minutes left in the second half. Again, La Salle put the game away in the final minutes.

-Illinois led Colorado 37-21 at halftime, only to see Colorado take a 44-39 lead in the second half. Illinois then ended with a run of its own to win 57-49.

Finally, Georgetown took an 18-11 lead on Florida Gulf Coast. But FGCU went on a 41-15 run to take 52-33 lead. Then Georgetown had a run to cut the lead to 72-68 before FGCU sealed the game with free throws at the end.

Coaching Questions

After a day like Friday, we could start to question the pedigree of a number of coaches. We could ask how Bo Ryan can post such great margin-of-victory numbers during the regular season each year, but never follow that up with a Final Four run. We can ask what the string of losses to teams seeded 10+ in the tournament really mean for John Thompson III. But in both cases, I think we need to cut these coaches some slack. Bo Ryan never had a true point-guard this season, so for his team to go out with an offensive swoon, shouldn’t really be criticized. His team over-achieved this year. Similarly, John Thompson III’s teams massively over-achieved. It has been clear since November that the offensive weaknesses would likely cause the Hoyas to bow out in the NCAA tournament at some point. There is a reason JT3 won the Big East coach of the year award, and it is because this 15 over 2 match-up was not nearly the mismatch it looked like on paper.

No, the coach that most concerned me on Friday was NC State’s Mark Gottfried. His inability to get his team to buy in on the defensive end is a huge concern. NC State is rarely going to have as much offensive talent as they had this season. And in the newer, stronger ACC, it may never be the preseason pick to win the league again. But without some commitment to teach defensive fundamentals, NC State will never match its fanbase’s rabid expectations.

And perhaps that is why I should end where I began. A day like Friday is as much about ending as it is about winning moments. It is hard for me to believe that NC State senior Richard Howell’s career is over. The hardworking rebounder didn’t earn playing time until later in the career because he was often over-shadowed by more skilled players. But his hustle and grit, made NC State an incredibly fun team to watch the last two seasons. Scott Wood was one of the all-time great three point shooters in the ACC. And in a league with the ACC’s history, that is quite a compliment. And in a blink of an eye, their college basketball careers are over. To see NC State go down in the first round, without a single NCAA tournament win has to go down as one of this season’s biggest disappointments.

Expected Wins in the Field of 64

Once again, I’m tracking the expected wins in the field of 64 using the Pomeroy Rankings. San Diego St. increased its expected wins by 0.61 by knocking off Oklahoma. (See Own Game.) And its odds increased another 0.54 because Georgetown lost and because San Diego St.’s 15 point win increased their Pomeroy Ranking slightly. (See Other.)

Biggest Winners

EW Start Friday

Own Game

Other

EW End Friday

Mississippi

0.49

1.24

0.14

1.86

San Diego St.

0.89

0.61

0.54

2.05

Florida Gulf Coast

0.13

1.10

-0.01

1.22

La Salle

0.58

0.81

0.16

1.55

Iowa St.

0.69

0.79

-0.06

1.43

Temple

0.43

0.75

-0.02

1.16

Illinois

0.83

0.77

-0.09

1.51

North Carolina

0.84

0.64

0.01

1.49

Creighton

1.06

0.61

-0.05

1.61

Minnesota

0.82

0.54

0.01

1.36

Ohio St.

2.46

0.29

0.08

2.83

Miami FL

2.08

0.26

0.07

2.42

Florida

3.36

0.13

0.18

3.67

Indiana

3.22

0.11

0.08

3.41

Gonzaga

2.77

0.00

0.12

2.89

Overall the large number of upsets today meant that most teams gained from the other results. But when Miami advanced in the East that lowered expectations slightly for Marquette. And when Duke advanced that lowered the odds slightly for Louisville.

Biggest Losers

EW Start Friday

Own Game

Other

EW End Friday

Louisville

3.56

0.00

-0.08

3.48

Marquette

2.00

0.00

-0.08

1.91

Iona

0.14

-0.14

0.00

0.00

Pacific

0.14

-0.14

0.00

0.00

UCLA

0.49

-0.49

0.00

0.00

Cincinnati

0.51

-0.51

0.00

0.00

Oklahoma

0.56

-0.56

0.00

0.00

Villanova

0.60

-0.60

0.00

0.00

Colorado

0.76

-0.76

0.00

0.00

Notre Dame

0.82

-0.82

0.00

0.00

North Carolina St.

0.83

-0.83

0.00

0.00

Kansas St.

0.88

-0.88

0.00

0.00

Wisconsin

1.72

-1.72

0.00

0.00

Georgetown

1.92

-1.92

0.00

0.00

Europe Interview: Josh Powell Of Olympiacos

RealGM caught up with Josh Powell in Greece for a one-on-one interview to discuss his new team Olympiacos, Euroleague, his career in the NBA, Lakers and much more.

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12’s slump over? Is the Big Ten’s boom about to come to an end?

Notes On The 2012 Jordan Brand Classic

Anthony Davis wanted to wear Michael Jordan’s number in this game last year. This year no one chose to wear #23. Maybe people are right when they say this year’s class of high school seniors is missing a larger than life star.

Sweet Sixteen Day 2

What does every coach in the Sweet Sixteen have in common? A great efficiency margin over the last 5 years.

NCAA Tournament Day 4

Twelve of the 16 teams in the Sweet Sixteen were in the preseason AP Top 25, and Michigan St. was among the first teams in the “others receiving votes” category. But Indiana, Ohio, and NC State have all exceeded expectations this season by making it this far.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 4

Baylor broke through, Michigan and Tennessee had huge game tying 3's, but the true action on Friday took place in the A10.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

Surprises And Flops, Part 2

Examining the surprises and flops this season in the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and Atlantic-10.

College Coaches On The Hot Seat

Is there an empirical model to predict when a coach will get fired? The short answer is no, but there is data to suggest who deserves scrutiny.

 

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