Coming in as a consensus four-star prospect and ranked as high as No. 36 in the nation, Kentucky freshman forward Lance Ware isn’t going to blow anybody away with his athleticism or his shooting. He’s not the strongest player on the floor, nor is he the most skilled.
What the 6-foot-9, 223-pound forward out of Camden, N.J. does bring to the table, though, is something UK head coach John Calipari begs for from his players year after year: drive, effort, and motor.
“One thing that you need to know about Lance is that he is a worker,” Ware’s former high school head coach Rick Brunson told KSR back in January. “He’s a junkyard dog, does all of the dirty things for you. He’s going to sets screens, rebound, do the dirty work for you.”
No, Ware isn’t going to dominate the box score with points or dazzle you with highlight plays, but you will never have to question his passion or will to win.
“If you expect him to come in and average 20 points per game, you’ve got the wrong person,” Brunson said. “Lance is going to rebound for you, protect the rim, run the floor, and work extremely hard. He runs like a deer, protects the rim, rebounds, and he’s extremely coachable. One of the most coachable kids I’ve ever been around. He’s going to be coachable and show up for [John Calipari] every day. He’s never going to take a day off, and he’s going to bring a great attitude as he does it.”
It’s a mindset and reputation Ware has embraced and plans to show off in his freshman campaign at Kentucky.
He may not make the biggest dent in the scoring column – he averaged 11.8 points per game as a senior at Camden High School – but he’s always going to find a way to help his team win on both ends of the floor.
“I’ve seen a lot of success in other people who are known for their defense, [Golden State Warriors forward] Draymond Green is a perfect example,” Ware told KSR. “He does all the little things. His fans like him, but other fans don’t like him. He’s going to mix stuff up, grab rebounds.”
Ware understands that it’s not necessarily the most sought-after role in a world full of players with score-first mindsets, but it’s one that he thoroughly enjoys and believes he can make a major impact with in Lexington.
“Not a lot of kids want to do that anymore, everybody wants to go get 30 points, 50 points, it’s all about scoring,” Ware said. “Not saying I don’t want to score because nobody wants to run around all day and not score at all, but I don’t need the ball in my hands to score. I can tell somebody to shoot the ball, and that’s like a pass to me. Cal says that all the time, “Just think that every time one of these guys shoots the ball, they’re passing it to you.” I just have that knack for the ball, take pride in that. A lot of people don’t.”
The 6-foot-9 forward also feels he can be a catalyst for team energy and positive shifts of momentum, another winning attribute he boasts.
“That’s definitely true [being known as a guy who is always going to bring energy],” Ware said. “I try to mix things up, attack the glass, play with a lot of energy. Sometimes that’s half the battle, trying to get your team going. If someone doesn’t have the energy, if they see me working hard and chasing loose rebounds, doing all the little stuff, it rubs off on the team in a positive way. That’s just what I do.”
“He’s definitely a tough guy, he loves to compete,” Kentucky forward Jacob Toppin said of Ware. “He’s definitely going to be a big factor for our team because he brings the energy that not most people bring and he’s definitely going to help this team a lot.”
And that’s not to say Ware isn’t working on expanding his offensive game and pushing to make a greater scoring impact – an all-around effort is certainly appreciated and necessary to improve as a player long term – he just doesn’t need it to make an immediate impact during his time on the floor.
“[I have a] mid-post, catch and face-up game, it all depends on who’s guarding me,” the four-star freshman said. “I’m getting stronger, so I’ve got a little bit of a back down, back to the basket game. Jump hooks and all of that. Just try to make one move and get past my defender, finish at the rim. If they sag off a little bit, I can definitely hit the jumper. Just trying to be in a lot of pick and pop situations, pick and roll, get going toward the rim.”
More specifically, Ware is spending additional time in the gym with UK associate to the head coach Tony Barbee working on his jump shot, something he is growing more confident in each day.
“I feel comfortable with my pick and pop game, I’m confident enough to shoot it,” Ware said. “I spent a lot of time with Tony Barbee just trying to get my shot where it needs to be, something I’m constantly improving every night. I put in the work and build confidence in it.”
No matter the shooting improvement and growth as a scorer, Ware’s biggest day-one impact will come elsewhere.
“He’s an unbelievable rebounder; what I call a tracker. He can go get balls,” UK assistant head coach Bruiser Flint said. “(If) the balls don’t come near him, he can go get balls out of his area. I think he’s taken to that. I think because of that, he’s becoming a much better player.”
“I think he’s a multiple effort kid. I think he’s really embraced that and that has become a part of his identity,” NY Renaissance Executive Director and head coach Andy Borman – Ware’s coach on the Nike EYBL circuit – told KSR back in February. “He’s going to go after the first rebound, second rebound, and the third rebound. He’s going to go to the rim to finish, and if he doesn’t, he’s going to get the offensive rebound and go again. He’s just a multiple effort guy, he doesn’t give up on possessions, doesn’t give up on opportunities. He doesn’t give up on his teammates, he’s just a fighter. That’s part of the reason, very rarely does someone step on campus and blow the doors off. There’s always a transition. I just think he’s going to be embraced because of his drive, his effort, and his motor.”
“I’m not a box score guy, but he’s a kid that you’re never going to see a zero in his box score in every category. You just won’t,” Borman continued. “He’s going to rebound, he’s going to block shots, he’s going to assist, he’s going to score. You know, he’s going to put numbers in every single area of the box score because of his effort. Because he plays so damn hard, he’s willing to play and go until exhaustion. You’re never going to get a zero, you’re just not.”