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More than Hoop Dreams: Spurgeon College player prepping for the next level

Jude Warren directs the play while Spurgeon College head coach Billy Livezey, standing, gives orders. Photo courtesy of Spurgeon College

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) – There was a time in his life when basketball was the only thing that made sense to Jude Warren. It was his anchor. It was what kept him from going in the wrong direction.

A salvation experience before his junior year in high school replaced basketball with a love for Jesus. That led to a renewed focus in life. His love for the sport didn’t wane, but with a new outlook Warren went on to a record-breaking career for Spurgeon College and a National Player of the Year award this season.

It also led to his studies as an M.Div. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There, he prepares for pastoral ministry and seeks to convince people that life isn’t a game.

Self-inflicted wounds

Warren finished with 26 points and 8 rebounds in the March 16 game for third place in the NCCAA tournament. Photo courtesy of Spurgeon College

“I would get angry at people for small things,” Warren said of his younger life. “There was a lot of damage I would cause that hurt relationships with family and friends.”

The only person he didn’t seem to get mad at was his brother Nicholas, seven and a half years older and a fellow basketball junkie. He was also the strongest example of a Christian at the time for Warren.

“I admired him a lot,” he said. “Watching him play basketball made me want to do it too, to impress him.”

Both had their time as guards for the Circle High School Thunderbirds in Towanda, Kan., but the similarities stopped there. Nicholas was a Steve Nash-type who focused on assists as much as points. Jude idolized Jordan, Kobe and Tracy McGrady, valuing scoring above all.

Basketball was bonding, but also intense.

Eight-year-old Jude got his first win of any kind against his brother in an NBA2K game with a Yao Ming half-court shot. It happened for real on the court when he was a junior in high school. When Nicholas turned 30, though, he served notice on Jude and his team in a Circle High alumni game by dropping 50 points.

The road to Kansas City

After high school Warren went on to play at nearby Butler Community College. It wasn’t the best atmosphere for him spiritually. Plus, he was frustrated by a lack of playing time. The experience almost did the unthinkable and pushed him away from basketball.

His pastor at First Baptist Towanda, David Gibbs, became a source of support that steered him back in more ways than one.

“I really leaned into him and we developed a relationship that led to me leading our youth group,” Warren said. “Through that I grew a desire to lead in ministry to the point that I was going to leave basketball.”

Gibbs advised him to go to seminary. The one where he’d graduated – Midwestern – would be a great place to start. But first, Warren needed an undergraduate degree. It just so happened that Midwestern had a school, Spurgeon College, to fulfill that need.

And wouldn’tyaknowit, Spurgeon also had a basketball team.


The Knights needed help, though. Warren experienced consecutive three-win seasons before Billy Livezey arrived as head coach in May 2022.

Having been a part of drastic turnarounds at other schools as an assistant, Livezey brought a play-the-right-way, team-first culture in his first head coaching job. It worked, with Spurgeon going 14-8 – the most wins in school history – and rising to 7th in the national power rankings.

This season, the Knights’ high-octane offense propelled them to their first playoff win and a run to the semifinals of the NCCAA tournament. Warren finished with 26 points and six assists in the 93-85 win over Campbellsville University for third place.

For the season, Warren averaged 26 points a game with a high of 48 against Kansas Christian College on Feb. 22. He also had three triple-doubles and was three steals short of a quadruple-double in the season-opener against Central Christian.

Livezey’s devotion to preparation became apparent to Warren days into the former’s leadership. In the summer after Livezey was hired, Warren happened to drive by the head coach’s office at 2 a.m. and saw a light on.

It became a common sight. As college students like Warren are prone to get late-night desires for a snack, he would constantly see his head coach in his office.

And then there were the practices. When a new coach arrives to a program where Ws have been scarce, the first thing on his mind is to find out who is willing to pay the price that change requires.

“I was definitely tested,” said Warren. “But I’m very lucky and thankful that we have a coach who is a man of God and extended grace to me. It was a grind and extremely hard, but it’s the standard.

“It’s not easy to be a winner.”

Discipline and grace

Those standards of winning extend beyond the court. Basketball is a lot, but even for the 30-year-old Livezey, it isn’t everything.

“I love these guys,” he told BP. “God’s discipline comes from a place of love. When I look at our players, I see myself and places where I’ve fallen short. But my heavenly Father loves me and has shown me grace.

“I want them to take lessons like that when they become a husband, father, maybe even a coach.”

Warren’s student life at Spurgeon has opened up his calling to pastoral ministry.

“I came here with no knowledge of theology and a small understanding of Scripture,” he said. “The students and staff are amazing. You build relationships in the classroom but also over lunch.”

Livezey’s star player loves the sport, but the coach also knows that’s not all.

“No one cares about Spurgeon basketball more than Jude,” he said. “He thinks it’s the No. 1 place to play as a Christian man. You can tell by his passion when he plays and when he speaks.

“But he’s also passionate about Christ. He cares about making war against sin every day. I’ve seen Jesus really sanctify his life, and that’s the most important part.”