It seems like every year basketball recruiting speeds up a little bit more. Most of the top prospects start receiving offers during their Freshman or Sophomore seasons, with some even holding scholarships before they ever play a high school game. Coach Calipari and the Kentucky staff generally aren’t quite as aggressive with the early offers, unless you count the Bronny James offer that was given at the time of his birth, but still UK starts to zero in on their top targets after the June 15th date following their Sophomore year when the staff is allowed to begin direct contact. When it comes to the recruitment of Lance Ware, he burst on to the scene a little bit later.
Ware received his first scholarship offer after his Sophomore season, from Seton Hall, and wouldn’t be offered by Kentucky until July 26th of 2019, the summer leading into his Senior year. That offer came after Ware put on a show at the Peach Jam where he averaged 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks while playing with the NY Renaissance. He averaged 10.2 points and 5.8 rebounds during the EYBL regular season. A high 4-Star recruit, Ware finished up as the #37 player in the 247 Composite rankings.
So far, I have broken down Keion Brooks, Davion Mintz, Olivier Sarr, Isaiah Jackson, and Devin Askew. Brooks is the lone returner who contributed last year and a Sophomore season leap a la P.J. Washington or Immanuel Quickley would be exactly what a team with so many new faces needs. Mintz and Sarr each provide an important veteran presence to a team with very little experience. Jackson and Askew, while not as heralded as B.J. Boston and Terrence Clark, both will play very important roles providing depth in the front court and back court respectively. Lance Ware is a tougher one to figure out though when it comes to his role on the team. He definitely has the athleticism to play some right away and his motor alone will probably earn him some minutes. I think he will be the backup 4-man and could even play the 5 in smaller lineups because of his rebounding ability.
Effort and Sacrifice
One of the first things that stands out when watching film on Lance Ware is how hard he plays. Especially when evaluating the top talents in high school basketball it isn’t always the case that you turn on the film and notice a kid’s motor. After watching two full games of his I can safely say that he plays hard. A 6’9” 215 pound Power Forward out of Camden H.S. in New Jersey, Ware has learned how to excel in his role while playing with high level talent. While playing along side 2021 Penn State commit TaQuan Woodley and top 2023 prospect DeJuan Wagner Jr., Ware led Camden to a 29-1 record and a South Jersey, Group 2 title before their season was halted in the New Jersey State semi-finals due to the coronavirus. Despite averaging just 11.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game Ware earned Player of the Year honors in the state thanks to his part in leading his team to so much success.
At Camden, Ware played for former Temple standout, and NBA veteran Rick Brunson. In a post-season article with NJ.com, Brunson raved about his star player’s commitment to winning “he sacrificed his ability to score 25 points a game for the betterment of the team.” Brunson went on to say “we don’t go 29-1 without Lance sacrificing some things.” His ability to fit into a role and excel in that given role will be his ticket to success early on in his career as a Wildcat. He is an elite rebounder and has shown he can protect the rim at a high level as well. He runs the floor hard and throws down some big time dunks in transition. These are the qualities he will need to rely on as he continues to develop the rest of his skills, along with packing on some additional muscle.
After watching Camden play full games against Timber Creek and Roman Catholic I came away thinking that Lance Ware needs some work before he is a real contributor for Kentucky. I am on the record saying that I do expect a big improvement from Keion Brooks this season, and my love for Olivier Sarr is well documented, but I wasn’t able to talk myself into Ware as much as even Isaiah Jackson or Devin Askew. Now, I am not going to sit here and be overly negative because there is honestly no reason to be. He has several qualities, which we will breakdown, that will allow him to contribute some. However, I want to call it like I see it. I think Lance Ware has some work to do before he is someone we can rely on consistency for the ‘Cats. Luckily, I’m not sure it is absolutely necessary for Ware to bring much more than some rim-running, rebounding, and rim protection. If he accepts that role and plays as hard as I expect he will, then I think things will work out for him still this season.
Rebounding and Rim Protection
Right from the beginning of that highlight package you see the skills that make Ware a 4-star recruit. He is very bouncy with excellent timing when going up to block shots. He has a quick enough jump that he doesn’t need to leave his feet until he actually sees the ball released which keeps him from going for shot fakes and getting out of position. In the very next clip you see him finish a play in transition with a big dunk after running the floor. Ware is very athletic and, I’ll say it again, plays with a non-stop motor which allows him to get ahead of the defense for some easy finishes. His leaping ability makes him a very good rebounder on both ends of the floor as well. Defensively he can rebound outside of his area and has a knack rebounding the ball at its highest point. On the offensive end, he works to get position as soon as the ball goes up and keeps working even after the initial box out. Ware is a guy who, even in limited minutes, should be able to get one or two offensive rebounds every time he is in the game.
When he is away from the basket he has enough skill to be able to function as well. Now, I don’t think this is something that Coach Calipari will be comfortable letting him showcase right away, but he handles the ball well enough to make some good passes to cutters and can knock down 12-15 foot jumpers. He has even shown off a little turnaround jumper in the post that he can hit too. However, his go to move, and the one he needs to execute this coming season, is the simple left-handed hook shot over his right shoulder. Ware plays with good pace with his back to the basket and keeps his eyes up to survey the defense. I don’t think he will ever be a prolific scorer for Kentucky, he only averaged 11.8 points per game as a Senior in high school, but he does have some tools to be a very good role player down the road.
Post Moves and Finishing
One of the things that starts to really stand out, especially for a young player, while watching this second group of clips is how he doesn’t put the ball on the floor as soon as he catches it. This is a bad habit for young guards typically, but it translates to the post as well. You’ve now seen him finish several dunks in transition without having to the put the ball on the floor at all. Also, when he catches the ball on the block, he takes a second to let a cutter go through the lane, see if a double-team is coming, read the defenses eyes, and then starts into his move. If he can consistently make that left handed hook shot then he will play meaningful minutes this season.
The most promising part of Lance Ware’s game is that he is used to being a role player to some extent. It is a little unfair to call the New Jersey Player of the Year a role player, but he played with other high-major Division I talent and definitely sacrificed for the greater good, as his Coach Rick Brunson alluded too. He has some skill development that needs to take place, Coach Kenny Payne has that covered, and he will need to be best friends with with the Strength & Conditioning staff so he plays a little heavier than 215 pounds. However, as a Freshman I don’t think the expectations will be all that high for Ware. He needs to provide some front court depth by coming in and playing super hard, rebounding the ball, protecting the rim a bit, and then be ready to finish a couple of dunks. Anything beyond that he can continue working on and add to his game more down the road.
I went back and forth about Ware as I was evaluating him throughout the week. On one hand he lacks some skill in the post, isn’t strong enough yet, and never dominated at the high school level. However, on the other hand, he is an excellent athlete, plays extremely hard, and can rebound the ball at a high level. He is accustomed to playing with other great players and sacrificing for the team. I just don’t know what he will be yet at Kentucky. I could see him simply not being ready this season and never really contributing because things are too physical around the basket and the game speeds up for him too much. I could also see his motor translating in a way that Coach Cal can’t keep him off the court and he averages something like 5 points and 5 rebounds in 10-15 minutes off the bench in the front court behind Keion Brooks, Olivier Sarr, and Isaiah Jackson. The opportunities will be there for Ware to play a real role. How he develops and plays to his strengths will decide just how effective he becomes.