Warrick: Winning NCAA title best memory

Hakim Warrick's Syracuse career ended with a first-round upset by Vermont in 2005. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

DALLAS – Hakim Warrick has probably been through more NCAA Tournament ups and downs than anybody else on the Chicago Bulls roster.

During his freshman season, his Syracuse Orangemen didn’t even qualify for the tournament and had to play in the NIT. In his sophomore season, Warrick made the key block at the end of the game to seal the school’s first national championship. After a Sweet Sixteen appearance in his junior season, the Orangemen were upset in the first round during his senior season, ending a run many thought could lead to another national title.

It’s safe to say that Warrick has experienced almost every emotion that the tournament can evoke. That’s why on the eve of this year’s Madness, I sat down with the former NCAA All-American to discuss the memories from his college career. (Full disclosure: I am a proud graduate of Syracuse University. I was a freshman when the Orangemen won the national title. I was painted orange and screaming in the stands at the Superdome in New Orleans when Syracuse finally won it all.)

Nick Friedell: What do you remember most about the night you guys won the NCAA Championship on April 7, 2003?

Hakim Warrick: Just the whole atmosphere. All the fans being there. Just how exciting it was to be a part of that.

NF: Is there a specific thought you had right after you made that block on Michael Lee’s shot?

HW: No, because there was still some time left. So I just was trying to focus on not letting them get a miracle shot or anything coming up. As soon as the clock went off and everyone started running on the floor, you realize that we did it. So, it’s just a lot of excitement.

NF: A lot of people don’t remember that you actually missed two big free throws with under a minute left that might have helped seal the game up. To go from that feeling, to the feeling you had when you blocked the shot. What were the range of emotions like?

HW: It felt like you let the whole team down. Having a chance to pretty much seal it, missing both was tough. But then to come back and make a big play like that, it’s just a lot of relief. You’re able to erase that and get the win.

NF: In terms of stuff you’ve accomplished up to this point in your career, is that your top moment?

HW: Yeah, definitely. Winning a national championship is the top moment. That’s as high an accomplishment as you can get -- a championship at any level. Whether it be playing as a little kid, college, or the NBA. There’s not too many people who get a chance to win a national championship. You just got to realize that you’re a part of history. A part of a special club.

NF: What’s it like standing on the floor after the game watching “One Shining Moment” with your teammates?

HW:It’s surreal. It’s something that you really, really, I don’t think completely will enjoy until maybe years from now when you’re sitting back, just looking at the highlights. And just looking at how big it was for the university and the city as well. It was a long time coming. Just to see how special it was for everyone and for us to give Coach [Jim] Boeheim his first [NCAA title] I think it made it even more special for us.

NF: Do you find yourself talking to your old teammates more during this time of the year or does it not really matter?

HW:No, not really. Just whenever we get a chance to talk to each other we’ll talk to each other. I talk to [former Syracuse guard] Josh Pace, who is a really good friend of mine. Pretty much all the time whenever we get a chance. Even assistant coaches. Coach [Mike Hopkins], I’m good friends with him. He’ll call me any time throughout the season when they get a big win or something he’ll call me and congratulate me and vice versa.

But whenever March rolls around, Final Four time, you know, coming up on the highlights show, there’s going to be something up there. Either the block, or cutting down the nets or something like that. It’s definitely a special time and something you’ll never forget and you know coming around that Final Four time that it’s going to be talked about.

NF: How many times have you seen the replay of the block?

HW:Man, I can’t even … so many times. I’ve seen the picture so many times. I’ve signed so many autographs on the picture. The funny thing is I saw it from a different angle. I saw it from the Kansas angle because they were facing the other way. It was a great picture. A great time. Something [where] I’ll sit back maybe 20-30 years from now and watch with my grandkids. And they won’t believe that I did that. So, you’ll always have that and that’s something that you can be proud of.

NF: What was the bigger adrenaline rush for you? The block on Lee in the championship game or the dunk on Royal Ivey in the national semifinal against Texas?

HW: I think definitely the block because of what it meant -- sealing a national championship. Just all the emotion of all the heartache and just erasing … the crazy thing is the Keith Smart shot [from the 1987 NCAA title game] was similar and in the same corner and the same place I think as well. I think that block right there erased a lot of bad memories, and [we] finally got that national title that I think Coach really deserved for a lot of years.

NF:Was Coach Boeheim more relieved or happy at the end of that game?

HW: I think it was a little bit of both. I think he did a really good job of not putting any pressure on us, being a young team. Everyone knew it. Everyone could sense how bad he wanted it. He really didn’t put that pressure on us. I think we put the pressure on ourselves to go out and get it for him. I think it was both.

I know he was happy, but I know he was relieved as well because there was a lot of talk coming in, neither [Boeheim or then-Kansas coach Roy Williams] had won one at the time. They were saying one of them was going to finally get there. I was just real happy for him. I know he felt like he got that monkey off his back, so it was good.

NF: What did you guys do to celebrate right after the game?

HW:In the locker room, everyone was just … it was just unreal. We were so young. Pretty much all freshmen and sophomores, with the exception of Kueth [Duany] being the only senior. We were too young to go out. We tried to walk down on Bourbon Street, but it was too crazy. We had to get off of there. We just hung out with each other, went back [to the hotel].

I think the craziest thing was coming back to Syracuse. They had a snowstorm in April. We come back and we see all the fans out there waiting for us. And the parade and everything like that, so it was just great to be able to celebrate with my teammates, staff, all the fans and the city.

NF: During your senior year [2005], you were actually on the team that got upset by Vermont in the first round. Now that Syracuse is playing them again this Friday during the first round, is it weird for you to think about that game?

HW: Yeah, it’s weird. I definitely want some payback. I’m definitely going to give Coach Hop a call and make sure that they get some payback for us. I don’t think there’s too many people that can say that have done that -- won a national championship and got upset in the first round like that. It was a tough time for that being my senior year, to go out that way, that made it even tougher for me.

I think that’s also the beauty of March Madness and the tournament. Any given game, shots are falling, somebody gets hot, you’re not playing well, you can lose. I think that’s why March Madness and the Tournament is so special.

NF: How would you assess Syracuse’s chances this year?

HW:I think they have a good shot. One thing about the tournament, you play a lot of games back to back and you don’t get a chance to go over as much and adjust and things like that. To have a versatile team, a team that can do a lot of things, half court and up and down … playing in the Big East you see a lot of different matchups. You play a lot of different types of teams and great talent. I definitely think they’re well prepared. They definitely have the talent this year and the team chemistry has been great.

NF: If they make it to Indianapolis you’re going, right?

HW: Yeah, I’m definitely going if they get there. Especially with it being so close. I already checked the schedule and saw that we won’t be on the road. I’m definitely going to try and check the game out, and I’ll be in attendance.

NF: If he wins championship number two, do you think he’ll actually smile?

HW: No, he smiled after the first one … when we won the first one it felt like we won it for everyone. We felt like everyone got that ring. Seeing Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly, Billy Owens those guys. Being at Syracuse and having one coach pretty much, all the players I think we’re closer than most colleges because of that. Because we had one coach. And everyone’s played under the same coach A close group. Everybody comes back. It will be special [if Syracuse wins its second title].