Fans at Haas Pavilion for Wednesday night's NIT opener between Cal and Ole Miss might think they recognize the point guard playing for the visitors from the Southeastern Conference.
"He's fast. He's really fast," Cal sophomore Brandon Smith said of Mississippi's Chris Warren. "And he's capable of putting the ball up at any time, a la Jerome (Randle) last year."
A 5-foot-10, 168-pound senior, Warren leads the Rebels (20-13) into their matchup with the Bears (17-14). He averages 19.0 points, has made 329 career 3-point baskets and needs just two points to reach 2,000 for his career.
"He's been real special to our program. He's a warrior," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Despite tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee 12 games into his sophomore season, Warren has put together 42 games of 20 points or more since arriving at the Oxford, Miss., school.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery agreed that Warren has some of the same qualities as Randle, the former Cal star and the 2010 Pac-10 Player of the Year.
"He reminds you a little bit of Jerome in that he's very quick, never met a shot he doesn't like, can get to the basket, got great range," Montgomery said.
The Rebels also feature 6-6 senior wing Zach Graham, who averages 14.5 points, and 6-9 sophomore Reginald Buckner, who has a school-record 95 blocked shots.
Smith said the Bears not only are happy to be playing in the NIT but also would like to stick around
"We want to do some damage in this tournament," he said. "We don't want to just waste our time. We're competitive."
Montgomery won the 1991 NIT title when he was at Stanford but said the event is much better since the NCAA took over and made sure the best teams were invited. The 32-team field includes 14 teams that won regular-season titles, then lost in their conference tournaments.
"There certainly are a number of teams in this thing that are better than teams in the NCAA," Montgomery said.