It’s a question Kyler Warren has heard 1,000 times.
On Tuesday in a back hallway of the Atascadero High School gym, I made it 1,001.
“Why don’t you play football?”
The question inevitably arises because at an imposing 6-foot-8 — and around 270 pounds — the junior sure looks like he would be right at home clearing the way for Greyhounds running backs as part of the football team’s offensive line.
“Everybody asks. It’s so annoying,” Warren said with a laugh. “I wanted to play football, but I didn’t want to get hurt or risk injury. But I always think about it.”
Warren is a basketball player — and a pretty good one at that. As the biggest player in the PAC 8, Warren is the leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker for an Atascadero team that is 5-1 (12-5 overall) and tied for first place with Mission Prep. He is averaging 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game.
Warren has had to be patient to get where he is today.
As a sophomore, he joined the varsity team and figured he would be a starter right away. He was already big at 6-foot-7 and could post up or shoot from outside. But Warren started on the bench.
“I played the sixth-man role, and it kind of frustrated me,” said Warren, who averaged nearly seven points and five rebounds per game last season. “But I also learned to know my role. I watched the games and understood how to play defense and looked up to the upperclassmen. This year, I feel more comfortable.”
Atascadero head coach Fred Price said that comfort has translated into confidence and production.
“His footwork is better; he’s quicker,” Price said. “I think he believes in himself so much more. He just goes and plays now. And he’s playing out of his mind.”
Warren has been difficult for many teams to handle in the paint this season. But he has also shown an ability to shoot and considers himself to be a power forward who can stretch the floor with a pick-and-pop from deep if needed.
“I learned my shot from my friends,” Warren said. “They would always say, ‘You can’t post up, you’re too big.’ So I had to learn to shoot.”
Warren hit a 3-point shot in the Greyhounds’ biggest win of the season, a 74-63 road victory over then top-ranked St. Joseph last week. He had a season-high 21 points and 11 rebounds to help Atascadero rally from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter.
Outside of the points and rebounds, it was Warren’s defense that helped Atascadero win against St. Joseph and other PAC 8 schools this season.
“We are at our best when we push the ball, and it starts with defense and rebounding,” Price said.
A perfect sequence for the team looks something like this: Warren blocks a shot, senior Elijah Cooks grabs it and pushes up the court. Cooks then either goes up for the slam or finds Warren or senior Marco Rojas for a three or layup.
Cooks, Rojas and Warren — who combine for 67 percent of the team’s offense — are a big reason why Atascadero is one of the most exciting teams to watch in the PAC 8 and in first place heading into Friday’s road game against Arroyo Grande.
Warren said he and the team will need to stay focused on one game at a time and not look too far ahead to rematches with Mission Prep and St. Joesph, the other two teams with the best chances to win a PAC 8 title.
And while Warren, who also plays water polo, continues to focus on basketball, that won’t stop his teacher and Atascacdero head football coach Vic Cooper from dropping football hints.
“Every day he’s like, ‘play football,’ ” Warren said. “But basketball is my passion. I love it.”