To some, Willie Warren is known for a 19-game NBA career as a Los Angeles Clippers guard.
Others recall the season that he was Blake Griffin’s running mate at Oklahoma.
But most in North Texas remember him as the North Crowley standout who threw down “the dunk” in the high school state championship.
Still a YouTube sensation, Warren’s breakaway dunk in the waning moments of the Class 5A state title game in 2008 remains the stuff of legend not only in Crowley, but also the entire Fort Worth area.
The dunk, a flying tomahawk slam with 55 seconds remaining at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center, sealed the Panthers’ 73-67 win over Fort Bend Dulles.
Warren moved on to college and then pro basketball, where he spent parts of two seasons with the Clippers. Now, at 25, he is a starting guard for the Chongqing Fly Dragon in the Chinese Basketball Association.
Although the Fly Dragon struggled to a 4-34 record and last place in the 20-team league this season, Warren led his team with a 38.9 scoring average and set a single-season CBA record with nine games of 50 or more points, including a 66-point effort in December against the Shanghai Sharks, who were led by Michael Beasley (42 points) of the Miami Heat and Bernard James (20 points) of the Dallas Mavericks.
Warren, a McDonald’s All-American as a senior, had his No. 32 jersey retired at North Crowley on Feb. 17 before the Panthers’ regular-season finale against Arlington Martin.
With the boys state playoffs in full stride, we caught up with Warren.
What’s it like to play pro ball in China? It’s a very good league for a short period of time. I played in Israel and Europe, and those are traditional eight-month leagues or nine if you’re in the playoffs, whereas China is five months or so. Right now, I’m just trying to make some money for my family and enjoy what the game means to me. One day, I’ll try to get back to the NBA, but for now I’m probably going to keep playing in China.
Looking back, what would you change about how your career has unfolded? Just being patient. I would have been more patient, especially looking back at some of the decisions I made. You got to be ready for this, the NBA or any professional league, to be a job. It’s just bigger than basketball. Basketball is a big part of it, but you’ve got to be ready for the business aspect of it as well.
You grew up in Texas and have done a lot of traveling. What did you like most about Los Angeles? Well, I don’t know necessarily that I like this, but it’s a lot more of the fast life compared to here or New York or Miami. You’ve got the beautiful cars, the beautiful women and the beautiful weather and a lot of parties and celebrities. If you get caught up in it, you’re going to have a hard time being successful. I tried to enjoy some of it, but mainly spent a lot of time going to the beach and just trying to focus on getting better as a player.
What are your fondest memories of playing at North Crowley? When I was here, I was just trying to win. There wasn’t much of a mystery to it. I do know that the hard work pays off and doing this helps the younger guys when you see guys like Keith Langford and myself honored in this way. Not everyone will get a jersey retired, but it’s something to look forward to if you’re working and trying to get better. I kind of laugh, though, when I think about winning state because it reminds me of the hard times me and Coach [Tommy] Brakel had together. As far as that dunk, I remember that like it was yesterday. We had made a run to finally get the lead and I can’t remember exactly what happened, but my teammate T.J. Franklin was taking the ball out and I went long. I want to say Coach Brakel drew it up out of a timeout and it just worked to perfection. That dunk was really just like a statement dunk. It just meant that all our hard work had paid off.
North Crowley continues to produce great basketball talent. What advice do you give these guys about recruiting? I’ve already said this once, but the main thing is patience. Patience will help you through a lot of things, and not just making decisions about college, but life, also. It’s something I wish I would have done more of. If they have patience and look for the right situation, they can do a lot in their career. I think for me, OU was a great decision. It was close to home, I got to play with one of the best college players ever in Blake Griffin.