By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

Just three words are needed on Jerry Warren’s hall of fame plaque to describe how he played basketball.

“He could rebound.”

Warren played the game with a determination that made him one of the area’s best in the 1970s when he played for the Danville Hawks.

“I was undersized and more of a blue-collar type player,” Warren said. “I had to earn everything I got and I was determined to get everything I could get. It took a lot of hard work, but I was used to hard work growing up on a farm.”

When Wayne Bowling became the Danville coach in 1963, the school’s gym became available to any player who wanted to work to improve his game. The best way for a player to gauge his improvement was to take on Bowling one-on-one. The coach had a reputation for giving no one any slack.

“I remember Jerry being there as a seventh grader,” Bowling said. “He was so uncoordinated that he couldn’t hit a layup, but he was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached.”

Eventually, Warren progressed to one-on-one games against his coach that would sometimes last for several hours.

“I can remember leaving that gym and we would both have blood on our arms from all the contact,” Bowling said.

Competing against Bowling was one thing. Beating him was another.

“I still have scars on my hands from those battles,” Warren said. “He gave no mercy. I’ll never forget the day I finally beat him. I was a sophomore. The next time I think he beat me 20-0.”

Warren had to be tough to survive against the competition in Morgan County in 1970-71 and 1971-72. He stood just 6-foot-1 and competed in a world that consisted of the like of Boonie Russell at Hartselle, Billy “Dog” Sandifer at Austin and Gary and Wilmon Winton at Cotaco.

They were all bigger and could jump higher, but Warren did more than hold his own. He averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds as a junior. As a senior he averaged 22 points and 13 rebounds. Danville won 51 games in those two seasons.

Russell starred on Hartselle’s 1971 Class 3A state championship team. Danville defeated Hartselle twice that season. In one of those wins, Warren had 36 points and 20 rebounds. He totaled 871 combined rebounds in his junior and senior seasons.

“I was an old-school rebounder,” Warren said. “First, you had to assess who was the biggest rebound threat. Then you eliminated him as a threat by blocking him out all night.

“Rebounding is an orchestration of movement. It’s as much mental as it is physical. I was blessed with strength and I didn’t mind taking an elbow to the side of the head. It was a lot of fun for me.”

Despite the big numbers and wins, Danville never got to celebrate a big championship in Warren’s last two seasons. Austin beat Danville, 70-58, in the finals of the Morgan County Tournament in 1972. Warren’s high school career ended with a 63-62 loss to Lexington in the district tournament.

After high school, Warren played one season at Calhoun. Coach Bob Shuttleworth tried to turn him into a guard, but that just wasn’t Warren. He moved on the UAH and joined a program that was in its infancy in the NAIA under Kayo Willis. It was a good match. Willis loved Warren’s style of play and posted him inside. He nicknamed him “Bull.”

“He said I played like a bull in a china shop,” Warren said. “To me that was a compliment. I wasn’t a star player, but I had some big games.”

In the first game of Warren’s senior season against Division I Samford, he scored 16 points and had 12 rebounds. Two nights later, he repeated the effort with 16 and 12 in a win over Jacksonville State.

Late that December, Warren caught an elbow that broke his nose. Rather than play on, he had surgery that cost him several games. When he finally returned, a pulled hamstring pretty much finished his season and college career. UAH won 28 games that season and advanced to the NAIA national tournament quarterfinals.

“The No. 1 thing basketball taught me was to never quit,” Warren said. “I didn’t win every game, but I can honestly say I don’t remember a game where I quit.”


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