By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Mar 31 2009 7:28AM
Mike Fratello came and went as the head coach. So too have Tony Barone, Marc Iavaroni and Johnny Davis. Jerry West was replaced by Chris Wallace in the front office. Also missing in Memphis is every player on the last Grizzlies team to make the playoffs -- the one that had the most successful season in franchise history (49-33) before it was swept out in the first round by the Mavericks in 2006.
Every player is gone except for one: Hakim Warrick.
It wouldn't surprise the fourth-year Grizzlies forward if he was forgotten from that team altogether, however. "That's been the case my whole career," Warrick says. "Just going back to high school and not really being a big name or anything like that and coming in to college and not being a big name. I've had to wait my turn."
Hardly a national recruit in high school coming out of Philadelphia, Warrick was offered a scholarship at the last minute when Syracuse's prize recruit, Julius Hodge, picked N.C. State over the Orange.
Despite winning the national championship as a sophomore, being named second-team All-American as a junior and first-team as a senior, Warrick slipped to No. 19 in the draft and occupied the "last man standing in the Green Room" status.
His NBA career has followed in similar somewhat slighted fashion. Warrick has just 82 starts in 297 career games. Despite his limited playing time, he still averages a respectable 10.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for his career. Even with the lack of burn, he's still had a better career than a handful of guys picked before him. (Does Yaroslav Korolev ring a bell?)
If Warrick has proved anything over the years, it's that if you give him an opportunity, he'll produce.
That's what happened when he transferred from University City High School in Philly to Friends' Central in the suburbs, going from an unknown kid with the nickname "Skinny" to a Division I prospect. The same thing occurred at Syracuse when he burst into the starting lineup in place of a senior forward after the second game of the season.
"One thing I learned from my high school and college years was that, once you get that chance to play, you got to be ready to play no matter what," Warrick says.
His per-48 minute career stat line is 22.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. At the beginning of the 2006-07 season, when Pau Gasol was sidelined with a foot injury, Warrick routinely dropped 20 in the Spaniard's absence. His reward? Bench duty when Gasol got healthy. When Gasol was traded to the Lakers the following season, again Warrick got the starting nod to close out the year. His reward? Back to the pine when Memphis brought in rookie big men Darrell Arthur and Pau's younger brother, Marc Gasol.
"It's funny," Warrick says. "I feel like a 10-year vet in my fourth year in the league."
Other than his wizard-like beard that sometimes sprouts 5-6 inches out from his chin, there's nothing remotely old about Warrick's game. The 26-year-old runs the floor like a gazelle and has springs for legs.
The premature aging he feels may come from the combination of five head coaches in four years and a roster that features seven players under 25.
"In order to win games and get in the playoffs, look at the teams [that are there]," Warrick says. "They've been with each other for a long time and they concentrate on trying to gel and get through the battles instead of trying to learn the offense and trying to learn new teammates and a new coach."
Warrick's dearth of consistent playing time hasn't been all due to the fact that he's had to constantly adjust to different coaches' agendas. No matter who is drawing the plays, Warrick remains a classic case of a "tweener." At 6-foot-9, 219 pounds he is too light to bang with power forwards down low and his perimeter skills aren't sharp enough on offense or defense to slot him at the three.
However, he still has that 38-inch vertical leap and a 7-foot-2 wingspan that keep him on the floor. He may not be conventional, but he sure is crafty.
"Whenever I go out there I try to exploit my quickness and my length and that's something I think allows me to get away with some things like not being as big as most guys," Warrick says.
Warrick will be a restricted free agent this summer. But instead of feeling misused and underappreciated and leaving Memphis because it didn't offer him a contract extension before this season, Warrick wants to be there when the franchise gets back on its feet.
"[Management] said they would like to sign me this summer," Warrick says. "I would like to be a part of the rebuilding process. To be in the playoffs and then just to go through all these losses the last three years [for nothing], I don't want that."
Warrick admits he still has things to work on -- namely his strength and ball handling. He plans on getting together with his former college teammate Carmelo Anthony as he tries to do every summer because "we definitely push each other and make each other better.
"I still think I have room to grow."
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