Lance Ware (UK Athletics Photo)
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky freshman Lance Ware didn’t grow up loving basketball or even watching basketball. Instead, he had more interest in other sports growing up in New Jersey.
“I used to be on the swim team and I used to play baseball. That was earlier in my childhood. Then I stopped really doing anything. I used to play a lot of video games –- like, all of the time,” said Ware. “I never wanted to go outside. I was kind of just stuck in the house for hours at a time. I was playing video games with my friends all day.”
Ware didn’t avoid basketball and sometimes would actually go to the basketball court with friends if they invited him.
“I would be like, ‘All right, cool.’ I’m the tallest kid out there so I might be a little bit better than everybody else,” the 6-9 Ware said. “One day my dad and my dad’s friend, he took me to see my –- you can kind of say my mentor now -– Pervis Ellison.”
That’s a name Kentucky fans remember because Ellison was the NCAA Final Four most outstanding player as a freshman in 1986 after helping Louisville and coach Denny Crum win the national title. His NBA career was ruined by injuries before his retirement in 2000 but he still has 4,494 points and 3,170 rebounds in games he was able to play and also had almost 700 assists.
That first meeting with Ellison started a long relationship that continues today.
“I’ve kind of been working with him and in contact with him ever since to this day. That kind of what helped me get sparked and felt the love for the game,” Ware said.
Is Ellison now a Kentucky fan?
“I think he is a Kentucky fan. I hope so,” the Kentucky freshman said.
Ware knows Ellison’s advice would be to continue to work hard now that he’s at Kentucky. Ellison tells him to get in the gym all he can.
“I have really not taken a day off since seeing that guy. From eighth grade to 11th grade I would see him just about every day,” Ware said. “He would always tell me just to keep on going even when you don’t have to.”
Ware thinks he was in the seventh grade when he first met Ellison. He was already 6-3, 6-4.
“I was decent size but super uncoordinated,” Ware laughed and said. “Just a super tall kid really. I really wasn’t good.”
Ware stayed with basketball, though, because he could sense he was improving daily. He remembers not making any layups the first day and then maybe making four the next day.
“I just kept seeing myself get better. Then I was like, ‘Whoa. This is fun.’ It was kind of better than playing video games. It just kind of gave me an incentive to keep on going back.”
Ware is not a player likely to average 20 points per game. He’s much more likely to rebound, play defense or get on the floor for a loose ball. He prefers to pattern his game after NBA star Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. Green is a three-time NBA all-star and a starter on three NBA championship teams.
“His fans like him and others don’t. He will mix it up and grab rebounds,” Ware said. “You don’t have a lot of players that want to do that. Everybody wants to get 30, 40 or 50 points. It’s all about scoring. Not saying I don’t want to score but I don’t need the ball in my hands to score. Every time someone shoots it is like a pass to me.”
Ware says he has a “mid-post with a catch and face-up game” on offense depending on who is guarding him.
“I’m getting stronger, so I have a little bit of a back-down, back-to-the-basket game with jump hooks and all of that. But just trying to make one move and try to get by my defender and finish at the rim and if they sag off a little, I can definitely hit the jumper,” Ware said.
“Just try to be in a lot of pick-and-pop situations and pick-and-rolls and just going to the rim and stuff like that.”