MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Oklahoma fans can breathe one sigh of relief. Guard Willie Warren told The Transcript Saturday afternoon he plans to return to school next season.
“I’m pretty set on coming back,” Warren said.
The freshman guard, who’s averaged 14.5 points a game this season, was the Big 12 Conference’s Freshman of the Year and made several freshman All-American teams this season, had previously said he might leave if OU was able to advance to the Final Four and win a national championship.
He could accomplish at least one goal with a victory today over North Carolina.
Warren’s stock for the NBA draft isn’t well-known. Some media outlets have listed him as a first-round pick, others haven’t.
Warren, however, believes it would help him to play another year and at least one as the focal point of OU’s offense, which he was when Blake Griffin missed two games earlier this season with a concussion.
The conventional wisdom is that Griffin will make himself eligible for the NBA draft following OU’s season, making Warren the No. 1 scoring option for next season.
“I definitely want to come back and play another year and play a year without Blake to see how good I really am,” Warren said.
If it involves college basketball, there’s always some way to make it Duke vs. North Carolina.
OU’s Blake Griffin even joked Saturday if the Sooners lost today, OU coach Jeff Capel, a Duke graduate, would revoke the players’ scholarships.
Capel, who is also a North Carolina native, has a vast knowledge of Tar Heel lore and admitted growing up a fan of the program before playing for its bitter rival.
“I have a lot of respect for them,” Capel said. “They’re incredible. They’re the best team we will have played all year long, and I haven’t even played them yet.”
But he does know of at least one Tar Heel alum who will be pulling for the Sooners today. Capel’s younger brother, Jason, was a four-year starter at North Carolina and will be sitting behind the Sooner bench today.
The coach said he has no doubts where his brother’s allegiance lies.
“He’s going to have on a red shirt tomorrow,” Capel declared. “It will be a red OU shirt, and he’ll be cheering for us, which he should. I know a lot of Carolina people may not like that, but he was my brother before he was a Tar Heel. And he’ll always be my little brother. He’ll be cheering hard for us tomorrow.”
Capel chose between Duke and North Carolina when he was a senior in high school in 1992. But current North Carolina coach Roy Williams wanted to recruit him to play at Kansas.
“My dad told me he wanted to recruit me and wanted to be involved,” Capel said. “My father told him who it was down to, it was down to Duke and North Carolina. My dad told me coach Williams said he wouldn’t recruit me then because of Carolina.”
Tony Crocker said he had no problem sleeping after Friday night’s 28-point performance in the Sooners’ victory over Syracuse. He’s been trying to think about the same things he did before the game against the Orange.
“You always visualize, daydream about making big shots in big,” he said. “Yeah, I’ve done that.”
Griffin’s been watching
North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough said he rarely watches college basketball, so he isn’t really schooled on the season OU’s Blake Griffin’s been having.
“I’ve seen some highlights of him. He’s a pretty impressive player,” he said.
Griffin, on the other hand, is a fan of college basketball and said he’s been watching the Tar Heels and Hansbrough the last four years.
“I’ve seen him play a lot since his freshman year,” Griffin said. “I’ve seen him play a lot of games every season.”
All of North Carolina’s starters played on last year’s team, which reached the Final Four before bowing out to Kansas in the semifinals. To them a regional final is old hat.
None of OU’s players have been past the NCAA Tournament’s second round, but no one is nervous about the stage.
“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life,” Warren said. “There’s probably a little bit more fans than I’ve been used to, but you just go out and do everything you’ve been doing your whole life.”
The toughest loss
Losing in the regional finals is the most agonizing loss in college basketball. North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who is 6-2 in Elite Eight games, said coming that close to the Final Four and losing is unbearable.
“When you lose at this stage, what somebody does is they reach in and they jerk your heart out and they shake right in front of your face,” he said. “It can’t get any worse.”
North Carolina forward Deon Thompson spoke to the media Saturday wearing a T-shirt from last year’s Final Four.
“Just what I picked up today. Just ironic, I guess,” he said when asked if he was making some sort of statement.