Bradley's Warren rises above obstacles

Andrew Warren wasn’t supposed to be the guy for Bradley this season.

The original plan was for him to be one of a few guys. The Braves were to be a three-player wrecking ball of Warren, Sam Maniscalco and Taylor Brown. The trio had accounted for half of nearly ever statistical category the previous season, and the expectations were for them to step it up a notch and put the Braves into the NCAA tournament realm this season.

But that plan was shattered when Brown and Maniscalco were shut down for the season in November. Brown was sidelined for precautionary medical reasons following preseason cardiac testing, and Maniscalco was suffering from continuous ankle problems.

Within a month’s time, Warren went from having two wing men and thinking NCAA tournament to having Bradley’s fate placed squarely on his shoulders and just hoping to keep the Braves afloat.

This isn’t some fairytale. Bradley hasn’t come near reaching what everyone thought was possible when Warren, Maniscalco and Brown were healthy. The Braves finished in last place in the Missouri Valley, and their season could very well end in the opening round of the conference tournament on Thursday.

This is a story, though, of one player going to great lengths on and off the court keep Bradley competitive and make sure a team of young players continued to work hard and never dropped their heads in shame.

“I think it really put a tremendous amount of responsibility for our basketball team on his shoulders to attempt to carry us,” Bradley coach Jim Les said. “In many respects, we were a one-man band. To his credit, he did not get frustrated. I think he showed some great leadership. What he’s been able to do throughout this year, I think is remarkable.”

Statistically, it’s easy to measure what Warren has accomplished. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard averaged 19 points, which is top 50 in the country, 5.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.7 steals. He was named first-team all-conference for his play.

It’s no surprise all of those numbers are career-highs. He was trying to perform as three players in one.

“I knew I would have to do more on both ends of the court,” Warren said. “Taylor gives us great rebounding, makes huge plays and defends with his length and size. Sammy, he makes plays, distributes the ball and makes a lot of hustle plays.

“I knew someone throughout the game had to step up and make plays. I tried to rebound more, create steals, create turnovers. I think I was able to do that.”

Opponents designed their game plans to stop Warren, and most of them still failed. In his four years of college ball, Warren developed from being solely a shooter to a complete scorer. His points came each and every way this season.

Against Utah, he had 27 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. He had 30 points and 10 rebounds against Northern Iowa. He had 25 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four rebounds against Illinois State.

“We don’t hide the fact on the offensive end our offense is going to go through him, and he’s going to get touches,” Les said. “The numbers he has put up despite all the attention he’s got from opposing defenses is remarkable. He’d drawn their best defender or they’d run two or three guys at him, and he’d stay locked in.”

Remaining locked in was what Warren did, but it was also the message he preached to his teammates. With the losses building up throughout the season, Warren knew it was on him to keep his teammates focused.

“I always embrace challenges,” Warren said. “That’s just the type of person I am. I didn’t back down from that. I was looking at it as a positive. I was looking at it as something to improve me as a leader.

“I knew my responsibility to be an upperclassmen. If I don’t play hard, the younger guys won’t play hard. By showing up to workouts and playing hard, they would follow my lead and do the right things.”

As if the game was looking to reward Warren for all he’s gone through this season, he was given one of the most unforgettable senior nights in Bradley history.

Before a crowd of 9,720 fans at Carver Arena in Peoria, Warren had career-highs of 33 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in a 90-64 blowout win over Drake. He shot 14 of 22 from the field and 5 of 10 from 3-pointers and had four steals and no turnovers.

It was exactly what Les had hoped it would be.

“On my way to the game on senior night, I thought, ‘These guys deserve to have a great night, a great senior night,’” Les said. “Almost 10,000 people came out to send those guys out in the right way, and they played the right way. It couldn’t be scripted any better.”

As Warren walked off Bradley’s court for the final time after the game, he stopped and kissed the floor.

“It was indescribable, man,” Warren said. “There’s not too many ways I can describe it. Everything went the way a senior would want. It was amazing. It was truly a blessing. It’s something I’ll never forget and cherish the rest of my life.

“Fans who have been coming to games, 20, 30, 40 years came up to me after the game and they said they enjoyed watching me play more than anyone they’ve seen. That felt really good. There have been some great players to come through there.”