Aaron Lemon-Warren (above, in 2019) had a breakout junior season that was cut short by a broken foot. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Christy Selagy (@ChrstySelagy)
Archbishop Ryan’s Aaron Lemon-Warren was in the middle of a standout season last year when it was abruptly cut short.
“I was feeling great,” Lemon-Warren said. “I mean, being with that team and everybody, we got into the groove. It just felt good being out there. Basketball was my love since seventh grade… I was one of the older guys [last season], so I was just getting my feet wet, getting more comfortable taking shots and being one of the leaders of the team. It came to me easier.”
And how easy was it coming for the 6-foot-5 wing? Through 16 games, Lemon-Warren averaged 24.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks. He made 71.4 percent of his 2-point shots and 48.4 percent of his 3-pointers, good for 65.2 percent from the field. He scored double figures in all 16 games, including five double-doubles and five games in which he dropped 30 or more points.
So, it was all coming pretty easily during Lemon-Warren's junior season.
“Last year he kind of stepped up into the role as a go-to guy for us on the offensive end,” Zeglinksi said. “[He also had the] versatility of being able to guard four positions on the court at all times and giving us that ability to switch and do different things on defense. The defensive end was huge for us last year. His efficiency was off the charts. He was really having one of the best years I've seen any high school player have in terms of efficiency and scoring the ball.”
Then, Lemon-Warren broke his foot during practice in late January. He was on the sidelines to cheer his team along to the PIAA Class 5A state quarterfinals, when their—and everyone’s—season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not ideal circumstances for someone with high-level Division I hopes; in the summer before his junior year, Lemon-Warren received offers from Bowling Green, Richmond, and Saint Louis. In an alternate timeline, one without the injury and pandemic, a breakout junior campaign followed by a strong AAU showing could have bolstered his recruitment significantly.
But, that's not what happened. The injury ended Lemon-Warren's season and the pandemic shut down any hope of a normal recovery or AAU ball. The offers slowed. Drexel offered him in May, but that was it.
Until Feb. 6, when he received an offer from Penn State. After being off the court for more than a year with almost no basketball activities in between, getting an offer from the Big Ten school was a big deal.
“I called my mom and told my mom and she was excited for me, too,” Lemon-Warren said. “I told the rest of my family members. They were all proud of me. It was a pretty good feeling.”
Lemon-Warren also recently started talking with the coaching staff at New Mexico, but doesn’t expect he’ll commit anywhere until the end of the season, once he’s weighed all his options. Like many seniors, he'd been hoping for a final AAU chance this spring, but the NCAA just announced that the recruiting dead period (no visits or live events) that's been going on since the pandemic started will continue through at least May 31.
The Nittany Lions' uncertain coaching situation will be a factor in that decision. Penn State is currently led by interim head coach Jim Ferry, and, for now, it's uncertain who will comprise the coaching staff next season. If Ferry and his staff stay, Lemon-Warren's offer sticks. If not, it'll be up to the new staff to decide who they want to recruit. Regardless, Zeglinski sees it as an important recognition in Lemon-Warren's recruitment.
“To his credit, he’s stayed focused,” Zeglinski said. “I think that [the Penn State offer] will … open some eyes up around the country of where his recruitment should be. He’s definitely been under recruited, but it only takes one school to love you.”
Of course, there are additional connotations to ‘under recruited.’ It’s been tough for high school seniors in general this season. One of the most obvious hitches is the shortened season; fewer games means fewer opportunities to grow on the court and amass film to send to college coaches.
The lack of live recruiting complicates things further. Add to that the NCAA’s waiver to give all 2020-21 players an extra year of eligibility, the blanket transfer waiver, and college coaches’ uncertainty of what their fall rosters could look like, and it’s a murky situation for everyone.
It’s even more difficult for Lemon-Warren, since he had been out of the game longer than other seniors. A season-ending injury is difficult for anyone, but when it comes amidst the monster season Lemon-Warren was having? It’s a tough blow.
Right around the time Lemon-Warren was getting his boot off, the pandemic began shutting everything down. He was still going to physical therapy, his doctors gave him rehab exercises to do outside of therapy, and he would walk around outside, but that was about it. Even once he was feeling comfortable with walking and running again, there weren't many chances to get back into basketball activities.
“Even still after everything opened up, I couldn’t really get in the gym like that,” Lemon-Warren said. “But my uncle had sent me a trainer and I started working out with him a couple days a week. I did that, running, getting to the track and everything, trying to stay in shape. But, for the most part, it was hard to get in any gym to work out. I would see other people in gyms and working out. It was crazy because I felt like everybody ... counted me out. That’s another reason why, this season, I’m aiming for everything. I’m coming for everybody, everything, anything. I want it.”
Ryan had its season opener postponed due to COVID protocols, and played its first game on Saturday, beating Landsdale Catholic, 67-42. It was Lemon-Warren’s first game in over a year, and, for him, it couldn’t have come any sooner.
“I expect him to pick up where he left off last year,” Zeglinski said. “He looks better than he did last year, at this point. That’s credit to him. He’s worked his butt off this fall and this summer to get to where he is.”
Through two games this season, picking up where he left off is exactly what he’s done. Lemon-Warren had 22 points in his return to the court on Saturday, and dropped 15 points in Ryan’s loss to Devon Prep on Monday.
With the injury and impacts from COVID, Lemon-Warren doesn’t want anyone to count him out. He earned Second Team All-Catholic League honors at the end of last season, but wasn’t satisfied with it. He wants more this season.
“A thousand points,” Lemon-Warren said. “I’m trying for MVP, leading scorer, everything. Anything I can get, I'm going for it. State titles, PCL titles, everything.”