Charge it: Texas' hard-nosed Audrey Warren is 'the tough player that we need'
Over the course of a college basketball career, there are many firsts.
There's a first game. The first win. That first big shot.
Texas junior Audrey Warren remembers the first charge she took.
Four games into her freshman season, Texas was playing in a tournament in Florida. Then-UT assistant Tiffany Jackson had told the post players that Quinnipiac forward Paige Warfel "just runs down the middle of the floor looking for the ball." Warren later entered the game and quickly found herself staring down Warfel as the Bobcats looked for a basket in transition.
"I stood on the free throw line, and she ran over me," Warren recalled. "That was the first charge I took."
Through the first seven games of this season, Warren was responsible for 12 of the 25 charges Longhorns players had taken. She knows that taking a charge gives her team, well, a charge. She insists it involves finesse. On-court intelligence is an asset. Studying the tendencies of opponents helps.
But there's no doubt about it: Taking charges is a physical act. That feeds into Warren's on-court persona. Undersized when she's used as a forward, the 5-foot-9 Warren has "the mindset of I don't care how big you are, I don't care how tall you are, I'm not about to let you belittle me down there."
But physicality often has a price, and Warren has paid it. Her freshman season, she told the American-Statesman that she had already suffered four concussions. She was then sidelined for the first 11 games of her season because of another concussion. After she bumped heads with a male member of UT's scout team earlier this season, she entered the concussion protocol and missed four more games.
"I don't like the number, for sure," Warren said of the concussions. "I always said one more hit, one more concussion, I'm not going to do it anymore. Obviously, that did not last."
Warren said those words during an interview with the Statesman on Jan. 19. A day later, she collided with a TCU player who was setting a screen. Once again, she found herself in concussion protocol.
Texas coach Vic Schaefer has explained that there's a difference between suffering a concussion and entering the concussion protocol, and that Warren's head did not hit the floor in this case. Still, she was diagnosed with whiplash and sat out UT's next three games.
She returned to practice this week and logged 28 minutes in Wednesday's 69-58 win at Oklahoma. Afterward, Warren said she felt tired but good.
She scored 10 points and recorded five rebounds and two assists. Schaefer said Warren's fourth-quarter jumper that gave Texas a 63-54 lead was one of the game's key plays.
"Audrey adds a defensive force. She's dominant, she's relentless and just a tough player. The tough player that we need," said Charli Collier, UT's All-America candidate. "We all just feed off of her energy and the way that she plays offensively, defensively."
Warren has concerns about her long-term health. During this season's first stay in the concussion protocol, she spent a lot of time talking with her mother about a future that includes a career in education.
In the end, the 21-year-old has decided that she wants to live in the moment. That moment currently involves basketball. Continuing to play the sport is a risk she's willing to take.
"I just don't think she would be as happy as she is without basketball," Stacey Warren said. "At least finishing up what she started."
Warren has looked for ways to play safer. While receiving contact, she has learned to relax her body and fall without hitting her head. In practices, she's not allowed to take charges or dive on the floor. Practice players also know that setting backscreens on her is a no-no. When Warren is off the court, she participates in vestibular and preventative therapies.
Don't expect Warren to change her style of play, though. Being aggressive suits her. She doesn't see herself as someone who's going to just hang out on the perimeter and look for open 3-pointers. Neither do the Longhorns.
"Basketball's a physical game, and she's one of my smartest, toughest, hard-nosed kids, and that's what makes her who she is," Schaefer said. "I don't think you can change the game, and I don't think you can change the player. I think that's what makes her the effective player she is."
That aggressiveness has long been rooted in Warren's DNA. Stacey Warren recalled that when her daughter first tried out for an AAU team in the fifth grade, she struggled with the dribbling drills. Audrey still made the cut because of the way she played defense.
Warren eventually started playing against boys coached by her father, Cliff. Before moving to Fort Worth in high school, she won a state championship in Missouri. She was part of Texas' 2018 recruiting class, which ranked second nationally.
After averaging 4.3 points per game over her first two years, Warren has increased her production on offense this season. She is averaging 11.6 points, is pulling down 4.4 rebounds and has recorded at least two steals in five of her last six games.
Warren has played in 10 games this season. Texas is 8-2 in them. The Longhorns (13-4, 7-3 Big 12) will host No. 21 West Virginia (14-2, 8-2) on Saturday.
"I like to take it one game at a time because you never know, especially right now in the pandemic that we're in, you never know what could end up being canceled or postponed," Warren said. "Hoping that there's a tournament. I think we have a really good shot, especially with the way we're able to adapt and change so much. I think this team will be ready."