Over the course of the summer basketball travel schedule, there were few high school players that garnered more buzz than New Jersey power forward Lance Ware.
The 6-foot-9, 215-pound prospect didn’t exactly explode onto the recruiting scene. He had been a well-known player for years, hovering in the 40s and 50s of the class of 2020 rankings since his sophomore season.
Going into this summer, however, something clicked.
In June, he wowed college coaches and recruiting analysts while playing in summer games with his high school team. In July — after another impressive showing in Nike’s Peach Jam finals — Ware received a coveted scholarship offer from Kentucky.
On Monday, the first day of the fall recruiting period, John Calipari traveled to New Jersey for another meeting with the 18-year-old recruit. On Thursday afternoon, Ware ended his recruitment with a commitment to the Kentucky Wildcats.
“He’s a player that has come into his own the past three or four months,” Ware’s Nike league coach, Andy Borman, told the Herald-Leader. “And the unique thing about him is that it’s not like he came out of nowhere. He’s been a known commodity for a long time, but I think it’s a difference between potential and production. … In June and July, it’s just like the light went off. He literally was just putting game after game, back to back to back together.
“So I think what Kentucky’s getting is a kid that really has an idea of who he is and a really good idea of who he can be. He’s not afraid of the challenge, and obviously you can’t be if you’re going to a school like Kentucky.”
Ware entered the summer as the No. 53 overall player in the Rivals.com rankings for the 2020 class. He’s now No. 31 on that list after his string of consistently great performances over the summer.
Playing for Borman’s New York Renaissance program, Ware averaged 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game at the Peach Jam finals in July. His totals in all of those categories were higher than his regular-season stats in April and May, and he achieved that production while playing next to Jonathan Kuminga, one of the top five recruits in all of high school basketball, regardless of class.
Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans saw the same thing Borman did: a player who always had the potential — and had typically performed at high levels — raising his game even further by consistently showing his best qualities.
“He’s 6-9, he can run, he’s mobile, he’s agile, and he’s really skilled,” Evans told the Herald-Leader. “I don’t know how many big men Cal has had in his mold — when it comes to just being so skilled with the basketball from 15 feet and in. He can play in the low post, the short corner area, the high post, even the three-point line. He can pass, he can shoot, he can dribble a little bit, too. I think it was a matter of, he showed toughness. He showed consistent production. And, with this dearth for productive, solid, quality big men in 2020, Lance definitely fits the mold as one of the few — a really, really good basketball player.”
Ware, who will be able to officially sign with the Cats in November and chose UK over fellow finalists Miami, Michigan, Ohio State and Providence, is the first frontcourt player in the 2020 class to commit to Kentucky, which could lose all three of its current post players — EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards and Nate Sestina — following this season.
Though Ware is ranked a tad lower than the typical Calipari recruit and likely won’t be projected as a one-and-done NBA Draft pick, Evans is expecting him to be an instant-impact player for the Wildcats.
“I’ve seen the kid put up some big numbers against some of the best guys out there,” he said. “I know his stats weren’t great in (Nike) EYBL, but I’ve seen him in high school ball and AAU ball and camp settings where he’s dominant. And, as we both know, the minutes are going to be there. EJ is going to be gone. Nick Richards is going to be gone. Nate Sestina is going to be gone. So, the primary three big men are all going to be gone, and I don’t know who else they’re going to get that is that much better than Lance Ware that he doesn’t play 15 to 20 minutes a game as a freshman.”
Borman gave the credit for Ware’s breakout summer to his new high school coach, former NBA player and longtime assistant coach Rick Brunson, who spent time with Ware between Nike league sessions and will have him for his senior season at Camden High School this winter.
“The light comes on at different times for different kids. Especially for big kids,” he said. “I wish I could take credit for it, but I think it was Coach Brunson having time with the kid. And then I think the most important thing was Lance’s acceptance — and not just acceptance, he embraced it. You talk about rim-running, rim-protecting, you talk about finishing — those things went up two levels.
“He went from being a kid who probably needed to make the right choice to a kid that could go anywhere. And, obviously, making the decision to go to a school like Kentucky — that just shows me that he’s trying to get better. And he’s only embracing the challenge more.”