Willie Warren isn’t who he once was, which, according to the former North Crowley standout, is a good thing.
Now 28, Warren recently signed with the Mavericks’ NBA G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
A second-round pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2010 NBA Draft, Warren played 19 games for the Clippers before venturing abroad.
But before making his Legends debut February 23 against Northern Arizona, where he had 10 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes, he had played in Israel, Hungary, Italy, China and Iran. When he hit the floor at Frisco’s Dr Pepper Arena last weekend, it was his first time playing stateside since 2012.
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“It didn’t have to be this long. It was something I wanted,” Warren said. “I wanted to come back over here and show everybody a different person, older, more mature, a father, family man that’s a lot different from a spoiled McDonald’s All-American.”
Warren’s most recent stint abroad was in China with the Shanxi Brave Dragons, where he was teammates with former Houston Rockets big man Luis Scola. He joined the Brave Dragons last December as a replacement for another former NBA standout, Brandon Jennings, and from the start, he was an asset.
“They were 3-10 when I got there. We had 20-21 games left, and we won 14,” he said.
With Scola starting, he came off the bench for the first time in his career, a shift he embraced because he knew that if he excelled in bringing energy and sparking his team off the bench, it would make him more attractive to NBA teams once he returned stateside.
Warren considers himself very blessed to have played basketball around the world, to see places he might not have otherwise visited and to experience all types of international cuisine. But if you ask him to name the favorite exotic locale he’s played in his answer is simple-it depends.
“It just depends on what I’m looking for. If I’m going for the food, the culture and the living, I’m going to say Italy,” he said. “If I’m going for weather, food and all that, I’m going to say Israel. If I’m going for highest pay, then I’m going to say China.”
Asked how he’s changed most, his response was again simple, that he’s matured. He credits much of that growth to the birth of his son five years ago. Becoming a father has shifted his focus away from himself and the game and toward his son, a change he needed to become a man.
“It was great for me. It helped me mature a lot faster,” he said. “It helped me stop thinking about basketball as in what’s best for me, what’s the situation for me. Now I’m doing it for him. On gamedays, on those back-to-backs, on those travel days when he’s there and he’s cheering, that helps get me over the hump.”
Fatherhood, along with all he’s experienced and learned on and off the court from six-plus years abroad have helped make him a more well-rounded player and person, something Legends second-year head coach Bob MacKinnon Jr. quickly noticed.
“There’s just a level of professionalism. He’s been in the pros and knows what it takes to play at the next level, and he’s trying to get back to that next level,” MacKinnon said. “He’s a high-level player, so we expect a high level of play and a high level of professionalism because that’s what he’s shown in the past.”
Warren, who has a home in Grand Prairie, is happy to have his son, mother and close friends be able to see him play in person again with the Legends. And even though he spent much of this season in China, he’s still been avidly watching fellow Sooner Trae Young and calls himself a big fan of the talented freshman.
“Just the fact that he’s a freshman and he’s doing what he’s doing, that’s just what impresses me the most,” he said. “A lot of people try to say that he shoots too much, but for a freshman to come out there and try to take over a game the way he does is very impressive regardless of the shot attempts.”
As for the path Warren has taken to reach this point, a winding road which has taken him from North Crowley to Norman, to the NBA, around the world and back, he looks back with no regrets.
Sure, he realizes things could have turned out differently had he not decided to leave Oklahoma after his sophomore year, but then again, he also knows everything happens for a reason. And at this point, he’s at peace with how his career has progressed.
The Legends host the Fort Wayne Mad Ants Wednesday at the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco.
“I don’t live the game for regrets,” Warren said. “I love the path that I’ve taken. I’ve opened a lot of eyes around the world. Now, out of all the countries I’ve played in, if you say Willie Warren, they’ll probably know who I am. It’s lined up for me. I’m back over here. I have the opportunity. All I have to do is just play basketball now. I don’t believe in pressure, never have, so it’s not pressure. It’s just going out here and they always say that first impressions go a long way. Now I’m trying to make that second impression.”