Glenbard West's Warden headed to Illinois
Paxton Warden, if all goes according to plan, will be playing for a state title in Champaign in March.
He already has a return engagement booked.
Glenbard West's 6-foot-4 senior guard, a three-year varsity player for the unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Hilltoppers, on Wednesday announced his commitment to Illinois as a preferred walk-on.
Warden, who had NAIA offers from St. Xavier University and Governors State, made his decision three days before Glenbard West's highly-anticipated game with Whitney Young at Saturday's "When Sides Collide" Shootout at Benet.
"I just think it's a huge relief for sure going into these very important games and the stress of these games without worrying about stats. It's more about team than me," Warden said. "It's a good fit for me. The coaching staff can make me work harder with the possibility of working my way into the rotation."
Warden is the fourth of five Glenbard West starters to firm up their college commitments. Braden Huff committed to Gonzaga over the summer, Caden Pierce is headed to Princeton and Ryan Renfro to Army. Bobby Durkin, originally committed to Army, reopened his recruitment this week.
Warden in 18 games is averaging 11.9 points, third on the Hilltoppers (20-0), is shooting 45% from 3-point range, with 4.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 steals.
Glenbard West coach Jason Opoka said that Illinois appreciated Warden's style of play going back to last summer, when the Illini were recruiting Huff.
"The way that he competed at a high level, his unselfishness, his character. It checked all the boxes for both sides," Opoka said. "First and foremost, his IQ and his defensive intensity will help every day in practice. He'll bring a spark to practice and motivate them to push each other to play to their maximum potential. He's getting an opportunity to grind and compete at the highest level."
Opoka said that several Division III schools were interested in Warden, and there were opportunities to walk on at other schools. At the same time, he noted that 6-foot-4 combo guards are generally the last to be recruited. The fifth-year transfer portal has only complicated the recruiting process for this year's seniors.
About two weeks ago Warden received a call from Zach Hamer, assistant to the head coach at Illinois. The Illini were interested in how he played and felt he could be a good player to challenge starters in practice and possibly get in the rotation by his sophomore and junior year.
With respect to the schools who had offered him, Warden said that Illinois was an opportunity that he could not pass up, athletically and academically. He currently holds a 4.6 GPA. Warden said that Huff also spoke highly of a strength and conditioning staff at Illinois that helped build Ayo Dosunmu into an NBA guard.
"Those other schools had very good coaching staffs and I love the way they play, but it's that much better of an experience at a high-level school. It would be tough to miss out on that experience," Warden said. "Plus it's such a good educational school out of college, great for connections."
Warden considered the opportunity to play for a Big Ten program and potentially in the NCAA Tournament "crazy, really humbling."
"It's so surreal to think about. I never thought this would happen," he said. "It will be a great experience and I'm excited about the next four years."