- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Syracuse's chances to challenge for the 2005 national title got a much-needed lift Thursday when junior Hakim Warrick decided to return for his senior season, Syracuse's staff told ESPN.com Thursday.
Warrick was weighing whether to declare for the NBA draft, where he was projected to be a mid-to-late first-round draft pick.
"I thought this would be the best decision for me,'' Warrick told ESPN.com Thursday. "I can come back and graduate and we've got a good shot at winning the national title again [after doing it in 2003].''
The Syracuse staff expected Warrick to choose the Orangemen over the NBA, but there was increasing pressure on him to leave early.
Warrick will enter the 2005 season as one of the Player of the Year contenders, as well as the pre-season favorite for Big East player of the year with Providence's Ryan Gomes -- if Gomes decides to return for his senior season.
Warrick said he looked at Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson for guidance, saying that the consensus 2004 national player of the year returned for his senior season and had a sensational year. He wants to do the same.
"A lot of people say seniors don't go high in the draft but it looks like Jameer will go high,'' Warrick said. "I feel I could come back and have a really good year and impress NBA people and then lead my team to another national championship.''
Warrick said he needs to be a better perimeter player. He said he played more inside last year since the team was younger, but now that the freshmen have matured inside he could be allowed to play more on the perimeter.
"He's gotten a lot better every year, but there's a lot of room for improvement,'' Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins said.
The 6-foot-8 Warrick averaged 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds as a freshman, 14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds as a sophomore and 19.8 points and 8.5 rebounds as a junior. Warrick blocked Kansas' Michael Lee's 3-point shot that would have tied the 2003 national title game in the final seconds.
"We'll have a great year and he wants to graduate and win another national title,'' Hopkins said. "It's great for him and it's great for our program.''
Warrick will anchor a team that also returns guards Gerry McNamara, Demetris Nichols and Louie McCroskey; and forwards Craig Forth, Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins. Only backup center Jeremy McNeil, who graduated, won't be back.
The Orangemen lost to Alabama in the Sweet 16.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.