Glenbard West gets 1st test, passes thanks to Warden
Glenbard West senior guard Paxton Warden picked a good time to have his coming-out party.
On a team with four Division I senior recruits, Warden is the lone uncommitted starter. At 6-foot-4, Warden can get overlooked on a team full of talented players. Besides that, Warden's also the shortest senior starter on the Hilltoppers.
But Warden saved one of the best games of his career for the brightest stage on Sunday afternoon.
In front of a packed and electric crowd, Warden buried four of his five 3-point attempts to finish with 20 points to lead Glenbard West to a thrilling 57-54 victory over Glenbrook South in the Hoops Classic Shootout at Ridgewood High School.
Warden admitted his big performance should aid his recruiting.
"It's definitely motivation seeing all my fellow teammates (committing)," Warden said. "They're great players and deserve whatever offers they've been getting. I'm not trying to be selfish but I feel like I'm trying to prove a point."
Gonzaga recruit Braden Huff, who finished with 17 points, six rebounds and three steals, said Warden is an unsung hero for the Hilltoppers.
"Paxton is great, and whenever we need him in a big game, he's always there and ready to rise to the occasion," Huff said. "It might be a surprise to some other people, but to our team, we all kind of saw it coming and expected that out of him. This team, our biggest strength is we're well-balanced…We have five or six guys who can put up double-digits. We have shown that throughout the season, and we showed that tonight. That was big that we showed anybody can be a threat on the offensive end."
Sitting behind the basket in a make-shift two-row area, Scott Burgess, the senior scouting director for Prep Hoops Illinois, noted that Warden is a hidden gem of a player for a smaller college.
"Those other four Division I recruits of the "Fab Five" on Glenbard West, but then you have Paxton who is still trying to get that look," Burgess said. "He's a versatile Division III wing who can pass it and shoot it. He's versatile. He plays within a system. He's tough. He can do the little things well."
The third game of the four-game shootout pitted two of the top Class 4A teams in the state, both undefeated and yet to be tested this season. That all changed on Sunday, when Glenbrook South senior guard Cooper Noard, a Cornell recruit, missed a long 3-pointer with three seconds left in regulation to end a wild and thrilling game which could serve as a potential preview for a state game in Champaign in March. The Hilltoppers (6-0) built a 33-14 lead in the second quarter, but Glenbrook South (6-1) charged back behind the shooting of Noard.
On a court with six Division I recruits, Warden was one of the brightest stars. He sparked a 20-0 Glenbard West run in the first half with 10 points. He grabbed five rebounds and his toughness on defense was a key in the victory.
Warden said it was one of his best shooting games of his career.
"I feel it came from the energy and the crowd and the bench bringing all the hype, but once I saw that first one come in, I gained a lot of confidence and just kept it going from there," Warden said.
Although Warden was draining shot after shot from beyond the arc, his biggest basket came on a tip-in with 2:27 seconds left to extend the lead to 56-52. Warden said the capacity crowd and energy in the gym was a factor in the game. Huff made one of two free throws with 8.5 seconds left.
"Last year we had no fans in the crowd, so compared to this year we've had a lot of fans showing up," Warden said. "I love the energy."
Huff said it was a great early season test. Noard put on a shooting clinic, hitting seven long-range 3-pointers for 21 points. Glenbrook South senior forward Nick Martinelli, an Elon recruit, tallied 16 points and five rebounds.
"We knew they were a really good team," Huff said. "It was a really good team, even after that run, we knew they weren't going to go way. It was a great game…Playing in a game was good for us. We definitely took a lot of punches in the gut. Last year we weren't used to that. This year, it was good for us to get that under our belt and get used to that. Next time I hopefully can knock down the second (free throw)."