JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For fans nationwide, it’s likely just another game on the schedule as the NBA moves toward the regular season. For fans of basketball in the River City area, it’s a chance to see a pair of talented young teams work out the kinks up close rather than through a television screen. But for Jacksonville University Head Coach Cliff Warren, the matchup on Wednesday night at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Orlando Magic represents something else completely. The ninth-year head coach of the JU men’s basketball program will have former players on both sides of the game – one, Anthony Morrow, in uniform for the Pelicans; the other, Prosper Karangwa, as a scout for the Magic.
Before he was Jacksonville’s all-time leader in coaching victories, Warren was an assistant at both Siena (1997-2000) and Georgia Tech (2000-2005) during some of the most prosperous days in those programs’ respective histories. Siena won 66 games in Warren’s time on the bench. After a 25-6 season that resulted in the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid in a decade in 1998-99, Karangwa joined the Saints at the Albany, N.Y.-based campus in 1999-2000. His freshman season would end with a 24-9 record and a berth in the NIT where Siena defeated UMass in a first round matchup, before the Saints had their run end in a 105-103 shootout to Penn State in the second round of the tournament.
Following that season, Head Coach Paul Hewitt made the jump to the ACC, landing at Georgia Tech and taking his young assistant Warren with him. But even though they shared just one season together, the relationship between Karangwa and Warren has continued to this day.
“Coach Warren is a great coach and person,” said Karangwa. “He was instrumental in my growth as a basketball player but also cared about my growth off the court, which is why we've stayed in contact over the past 13 years! He's about all the right things in life.”
After three seasons at Georgia Tech where the Yellow Jackets won between 15 and 17 games each year, the team made a leap in Warren’s fourth year as an assistant. Georgia Tech made noise early on in the year, racing out to the best start in school history at 12-0 and eventually going into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed with a 23-9 record. The Yellow Jackets then won five straight to reach the title game for the first time in school history before having a second half rally come up short to UConn in the National Championship.
One year later, Morrow joined the Tech program for his freshman season. A highly-touted guard from Charlotte, N.C., he immediately worked his way into the rotation of a team that returned most key contributors from a season before. Playing in 31 games his freshman season, Morrow was a super sub, providing instant offense in the backcourt. He averaged nearly six points a game in less than 13 minutes on the floor in his first year with the Yellow Jackets, as they returned to the tournament and reached the second round before falling to eventual Final Four participant Louisville.
Though Warren was given the reins to the Jacksonville program following that season, the bond between the two remained strong as Morrow grew into an All-ACC level talent. After four years with the program, Morrow ended with 1,400 career points and signed a free agent contract with the Golden State Warriors in 2008-09. In the years since, he has grown into one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA, hitting on over 42 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. This offseason, he signed a new contract with the Pelicans and looks to provide the ability to stretch the defense for a loaded backcourt that features Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday, plus second-year man Anthony Davis down low.
“Playing for Coach Warren was a great experience,” said Morrow. “He’s a great guy off the court and a great coach on the court. He was one of the first coaches I had who I felt comfortable just going and talking about life and things outside of basketball.”
Warren’s ties to the Pelicans don’t end there. While in his final year at Georgia Tech, he recruited a young man named Alade Aminu to join the Yellow Jackets. Aminu’s younger brother, Al-Farouq, would later star at Wake Forest and make his way into the league where he is now in his third season in New Orleans.
The Magic and Pelicans tip-off at 7 p.m. tonight from JVM.