Warren Ward Taking Unique Route to NBA
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It didn’t take long for Warren Ward to earn the respect of fellow NBA hopefuls once he started training at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas. After a few sessions of drills and a handful of pick-up games, Ward’s peers realized that he is incredibly talented and capable of taking over games. On a number of occasions, he looked like the best player on the court during pick-up games, which is impressive considering he’s playing with prospects who are expected to be picked in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Ward, who was born in Ontario and starred at the University of Ottawa, has been working out with members of this year’s draft class, but the 23-year-old shooting guard won’t hear his name called by NBA Commissioner David Stern on June 27. It’s not because he isn’t talented enough to be selected; it’s because he’s not draft eligible, something he discovered after arriving in Las Vegas to train. He played five years at Ottawa, which is common in Canada, but players are automatically eligible after their fourth season of college basketball. That means he could’ve been selected during the 2012 NBA Draft, but he had no idea that he was even in the pool of potential draftees.
“As soon as you’re done with four years of school, you automatically get put in the draft and I didn’t know that,” Ward said. “In Canada, you can do five years and that’s what I did. So while this was my last year of school and technically I just graduated, your name is automatically put in there after four years.”
That means Ward is an undrafted free agent, so he can sign with any NBA team this offseason. The former Canadian star has already received interest from a number of teams including the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks among others. He’ll likely work out for these teams in the coming weeks. He also has several teams ready to offer him a spot on their summer league team. He has a large chip on his shoulder and he’s determined to prove he belongs in the NBA. However, he is also extremely down to earth and knows his role.
“I know that I can play,” Ward said. “I have workouts with a few teams and, if all goes as planned, I think I’ll be on a summer league team. From what I’ve been told, it’s pretty much a done deal. It looks like I will be. I don’t know which one yet and it really doesn’t matter to me, any one is fine. I’ll just continue to play. I don’t need to be some known superstar. For me, I have nothing to lose. I feel free when I’m playing and that’s the best way for me to play. There are no expectations for me. I’m not a No. 1 pick or any of that good stuff. It’s really simple and easy for me. My goal is to go out there every single day and play at a high level. If I do that, I’ll get to where I want to go, whether that’s in the NBA or Europe or wherever. I’ll be a professional and that’s been my goal since I was 16 years old. I’m going to do that.”
Ward, a 6’6 shooting guard, could have gone to a major Division I program in America. Schools such as Indiana and Memphis expressed interest in Ward, but he decided to stay in Canada, where he averaged 17.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his final season at Ottawa. While many Canadians have moved to the United States to play for more competitive AAU, high school and college teams, he’s one of the few who stayed in the country to attend college and then be considered for the NBA. He’s proud of his roots and the fact that he became arguably the best player in the country. Ward hopes that he can be successful at the next level so that he can prove Canadian players can play professional basketball and open doors for others who take the same route that he did.
“I’m only one of three Canadian [college players] to ever even be considered for the NBA, and I’m the only one who played all five years,” Ward said. “It’s very humbling just to be here. Now, getting all of this media attention and what not, it’s flattering. My story is being told by a lot of different people. I never thought I’d be written about online or in USA TODAY or in SLAM magazine or any of this. I’m truly blessed to be where I am and I just thank God for the opportunities. I think that’s what success is. Success comes from opportunity. This is my opportunity and I think I deserve it because of all the work I put in behind closed doors. I was in the gym when nobody else was in there and in the weight room when nobody else was in there. I just continued to work. I just sell my sweat. I don’t sell no words. I just have one goal and that’s to be a pro, and no matter where I go, I’ll always sell my sweat and not my words.”
This whole process has been an emotional roller coaster for Ward. When he arrived at Impact Basketball, he was actually on the verge of signing with an overseas team in France. However, once he started playing well against draft prospects, he set his sights on the NBA, only to receive the bad news that he wasn’t draft eligible. While that was a disappointing turn of events, he quickly realized the silver lining. Unlike all of the draft prospects who have no control over where they land, he’ll have the chance to pick his team. He can accept a roster spot on a summer league squad that is thin at shooting guard, which ensures that he’ll get plenty of minutes and the opportunity to prove himself.
“It’s kind of better for me to be a free agent,” Ward said. “I’m not getting put through the combine in Chicago and all of that stuff, but that’s okay. I’m still not respected, in terms of being a high-level Division I player, but that’s okay with me too. I just have to continue to work and keep playing and then everything will take care of itself.”
Ward grew up watching Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady and tried to model his game after the two superstars. However, when asked to compare himself to an NBA player, he says that he sees himself as a Paul George or Rudy Gay type since he does a little bit of everything on the floor. Soon, he hopes to be playing against those players and it’s a realistic goal for Ward, especially now that he has shown he can hold his own against NBA prospects in Las Vegas. Not only does that let interested NBA teams know that he can handle top-notch competition, it also confirms what Ward believed about his game all along – that he could hang with anyone on the court.
“It’s validating,” Ward said. “Everyone thinks that they could play everywhere, but when you actually do get to play against top competition and you get to see that you’re just as good, if not better, it’s validating and it makes everything that much better. That’s what has happened here. I gained the respect of these guys in a week and that’s good, I’m real thrilled about that. It means that all of the hard work that I’ve put in on my own is paying off.”
“I just wanted to come out here and showcase myself,” Ward added. “Yes, I’m from Canada, but we can play basketball over there, just like anyone else in the world. I think I’m as good as anybody, anyone in this year’s draft, and I’m not scared of anybody. I’m just glad to be here and be competing with these guys. … I’m playing against guys who are supposed to be in the NBA next year and I think I’m just as good, if not better. For the next month or so, that’s what I’m here to showcase.”
Ward is glad that he decided to work out at Impact Basketball rather than immediately accepting the overseas offer he had on the table.
“To be honest with you, my intention wasn’t to go to the NBA,” Ward said. “Before I came here, I had a contract offer in France and I was really considering it. But they told me to come out here [to Impact Basketball] and I agreed. Now, I’m here and it’s been great. Since I’ve been out here, my stock has risen in the NBA and around the world. It’s been nothing but a positive experience. Every single day, I get to put on my hard hat and do what I love to do. I feel as though I’m getting better since I’m playing against top competition every day. It’s top notch. I’m being put through drills that are helping me become a better pro. It does change the way you train, just like the motto says. It has definitely changed my perception of training, that’s for sure.”
It has also changed Ward’s future. Had he not traveled to Las Vegas to train, he may have never made it onto the NBA’s radar and his professional basketball career would have been completely different. After being overlooked for years, Canada’s best kept secret is finally getting the opportunity to show what he can do on basketball’s biggest stage and, so far, the results have been outstanding.