To Bulldogs basketball player D'Mahgio Warren, being a leader is second nature.
When D’Mahgio Warren started playing basketball at age 12, he didn’t like the sport. A friend of his handed him a flyer to try out for the Flagler Fury youth basketball team, and he thought he’d give it a shot.
“I was pretty big, pretty slow and pretty fat,” said D’Mahgio, now 18.
But despite being from a football-first family, he stuck with basketball. And with every rebound, dribble and score, the desire to improve welled inside of him.
“I just began to fall in love with it,” he said.
He was frighteningly quick for his 5-foot-8-inch, 150-pound frame. With his massive hands, he controlled the ball with ease. When most forwards and centers would clumsily dribble in place, D’Mahgio would whip the ball around like a yo-yo as he weaved his way through opposing defenses.
But coaches took one look at his frame and came to a conclusion: D’Mahgio could only be a big man — playing guard wasn’t in the cards.
He was commanded to stay down low in the post, to play with his back to the basket. When he would rip down a rebound, however, his first instinct was to attack, to put pressure on the defense — and the rim. But his coaches barked at him every time he would attempt a dribble move.
“D’Mahgio’s a better person than most people could ever be. ... He loves his family. He loves his teammates. He loves the game. He wants a big future.”
GARY MCDANIEL, FPC’s boys basketball coach
Gary McDaniel, who’s currently in his eighth year as the head coach of Flagler Palm Coast’s boys basketball team, first heard of D’Mahgio when D’Mahgio played for the Fury.
McDaniel used to receive phone calls from disappointed coaches venting their frustrations about a forward who refused to conform to the idea of what a big man was supposed to play like.
“He won’t listen. He just wants to dribble the ball!” McDaniel recalled coaches complaining to him.
Most of D’Mahgio’s coaches, despite his talent, didn’t think he’d be ready for his high school team.
McDaniel thought differently, however.
Although he refrained from basketball activities for much of his eighth-grade year due to a fractured tibia, D’Mahgio was ready to try out for FPC’s basketball team as a freshman.
He made the team, holding his own as a 14-year-old against the Bulldogs’ varsity players.
Even then, McDaniel knew what he had in D’Mahgio was special. Instead of restricting him to the post, he let him loose. “You’re a guard,” he told D’Mahgio. “You’re a guard in a big man’s body.”
D’Mahgio’s been a combination of a guard and a forward since his freshman year, and each year he’s improved.
He helped the Bulldogs win a district championship in 2016-17 as a sophomore. And after averaging 16.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game a season ago, D’Mahgio is currently averaging 22.3 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists in his final high school season.
In the Bulldogs’ 70-60 win over rival Spruce Creek on Dec. 11, he pounded the Hawks for 31 points and 12 boards.
When most opposing teams see a kid his size — 6 feet 3 inches and 240 pounds — move that quickly with the ball, they’re not sure whether to defend him with a guard or with a forward.
When they use a guard, he bullies them down low. When they use a forward, he blows past them off the dribble.
“No one really has a defensive scheme to stop me,” he said.
His play has gained the interest of college coaches, too.
McDaniel took D’Mahgio on a recruiting trip to Ohio in October. They visited three schools: two NAIAs and a Division III program.
He was offered a scholarship by Miami University Hamilton in Cincinnati.
McDaniel expects D’Mahgio to be a late signee as a result of his size and skill set.
“People don’t think he’s quick enough or has enough endurance to play at the next level,” McDaniel said. “Watching him on film does not quite show his ability. He’s got the grades. He’s got the character. The rest is just going to fall in line. Someone is going to eventually realize that they missed out on a really good player.”
He added: “I see those as stepping stones to bigger things. I think things are going to open up. This is going to be a story that turns out really well.”
Regardless, the 2018-19 season is still not over. The Bulldogs play their first game of the new year on Jan. 11 against Sandalwood. The last game of the regular season is on Feb. 7 against crosstown rival Matanzas. Then, the postseason.
“D’Mahgio is the key to us getting where we need to go,” McDaniel said. “Other guys are going to have to do their jobs, but as D’Mahgio goes, the team goes.”
D’Mahgio has been a leader for the Bulldogs for the past two seasons. He’s charged with scoring, rebounding, defending, facilitating — the list goes on.
“Everything I put on his shoulders, he carries it,” McDaniel said.
He’s used to the weight. It’s even heavier at home.
D’Mahgio is the eldest of nine siblings whose ages range from 2 to 16. His dad has been in and out of jail much of his life. He’s currently in jail and is supposed to serve time until 2022. D’Mahgio’s mother, Felicia Warren, who is balancing a job and studying to get her nursing degree, does all she can to keep the family afloat.
D’Mahgio has been forced to take on the role of a father figure to his siblings.
It’s been incredibly frustrating at times. Instead of hanging out with friends, he’s usually at home taking care of his family.
“But then I remember my mom’s doing all she can to help us,” he said. “Then all the frustration just goes right out the window. I really appreciate how much she does for us.”
D’Mahgio has been in this role since he was 13. It’s forged him into the man he is today and, ultimately, the man he’s going to become.
He no longer views his situation as a responsibility. He sees it as a blessing.
“It made me focus more on school and on life because when I have kids — which is a long time from now — I want to make sure that they don’t have to go through what I went through,” he said. “I want them to have the best and be the best they can be. It’s taught me to be more responsible and more focused on my goals in life.”