Lance Ware is the right kind of anomaly in modern college basketball

Published 4:00 pm Monday, June 20, 2022

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In today’s college basketball world, Lance Ware is unique.

No, it’s not what he has done on the court. He’s been a backup player for two years at Kentucky on one team that did not make the NCAA Tournament and another one that lost in the first round of NCAA play.

But what makes Ware unique is his staying power. He played 12.1 minutes per game as a freshman when he averaged 2.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Last season his playing time dropped to 6.3 minutes per game — the lowest of any UK scholarship player — and he averaged 1.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.

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Ware backed up transfer Oscar Tshiebwe, the consensus national player of the year. Knowing Tshiebwe stayed at UK for another season, most players would have likely transferred looking for a spot with easier access to more playing time.

Not Ware. He stayed at UK to fight for playing time, a trait that not every college athlete today has and one I know the late Mike Pratt admired.

“I don’t want anything given to me,” Ware said during a recent press conference. “Stuff like this builds character and it’s stuff you can take on the rest of your life, basketball or not.

“Fighting for minutes might be one of the toughest things I’ve ever done so far and I can carry those lessons, give it to my kids, give it to anybody.”

Say amen college basketball fans. What a refreshing attitude for any player to have, but especially a player who knows he is behind the returning national player of the year.

It’s great for him to hear UK coach John Calipari says he wants him on the court more next season like he did on BBN Tonight and hopes he can add 15 to 20 pounds to become an even more physical player. But if Tshiebwe is not in foul trouble and it is a relatively close game, Tshiebwe is going to be playing and Ware watching.

Ware went to Brazil on a 10-day basketball/outreach trip Sport Reach and had multiple 30-point games. Ware admits the trip helped his confidence.

“It wasn’t easy. You think people in the US play hard. It’s a whole different level of playing hard over there,” Ware said. “I thought I played hard.”

It’s easy to believe that because one constant with Ware in his two years at UK has been his intensity and effort. Even in limited playing time, he’s never lacked energy.

“The people we were playing against, the adults and teams we were playing against, they played super hard and it helped a lot. Super physical,” Ware said about the Brazil trip. “I was just working on my game, honestly. Trying to shoot 3’s, midrange, face-up game, working on my jump hook.

“I used it to focus on myself and enhance myself. Put the things I’ve been working on into a game.”

Ware is not naive. He knows UK has two forwards — Jacob Toppin and Daimion Collins — that Calipari wants to play more this year. He knows his offensive skills need improving and that just adding weight is not enough to get on the court more.

“When I gain some weight, I’ll be able to rebound better, be more physical against other bigs. But the main thing is to gain weight while keeping my agility and speed,” Ware said.