By Charles Vanegas for On Point Basketball
For the first 12 years of his life, Warren Ward called London, Ont., home. Now he’s going back — as a member of the London Lightning of the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC).
The move reunites Ward with head coach Kyle Julius, who, like Ward, found himself briefly unemployed with the folding of the Mississauga Power (a result of the new Raptors 905 NBA D-League team).
The 25-year-old shooting guard/small forward averaged 18.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in 10 games with the Power in 2015, after spending the previous two seasons with TBB Trier in the Bundesliga (Germany’s top pro league, 2013-14) and Grand Avignon-Sorgues (France, 2014). Ward had offers from Spain and Eastern Europe, but elected to return home to be closer to family in Brampton.
While a torn Achilles suffered Feb. 15 cut his season short, Ward says that playing in the NBL — whose rosters are predominantly composed of ex-NCAA players — reignited a fire in him.
“It’s good basketball [in the NBLC.] I really enjoyed playing the game again. In France, I kind of lost that a little bit, but I really enjoyed what I was doing,” says Ward. “I know the team wasn’t winning as many games as we should have… but it was a fun time nonetheless.”
Moving to the Lightning (18-14 in 2014-15), Ward looks forward to having himself 100% healthy for the upcoming season. While recently given full clearance by doctors, he says the most important part of recovery is the mental aspect.
“You have to train your mind. Not to forget [the injury], but you have to treat it as if you’ve never been hurt before. Most people, they can’t do that. Once someone gets hurt, they have this fear that builds up, an anxiety,” he says. “I thought about stopping for a while, but that’s just not me.”
Ward has some experience coming back strong after a major injury. After tearing his ACL in his fourth year with the University of Ottawa, he returned for a fifth and final season (2012-13) to average 17.9 points (OUA:8th), 7.7 rebounds (T-6th) and 1.9 steals (T-3rd) while leading the team to OUA silver and CIS bronze medals.
He says his ultimate goal this season is “to bring a championship to London,” and hopes this season will help people get past the ugly ending to 2014-15 — when Game 7 of the NBL Finals was forfeited after the Halifax Rainmen left town following an altercation with the Windsor Express during practice, citing safety concerns.
“That’s something I’m not too fond of… I definitely didn’t agree with [the decision to end it like that], because Windsor got the championship undeservedly because the game wasn’t played,” he says, stressing that he doesn’t think a situation like that could happen again. “I doubt that would be a reoccurring thing because I don’t think anyone would want to play here if that’s the case.”
The league handed out over $90,000 in fines to the Rainmen organization, coaches and players, and in July the team announced it would fold due to bankruptcy. However, Ward looks at the league’s ability to introduce two new teams to replace the Rainmen and Power in time for 2015-16 as a sign the league is on the right path (under new ownership, Halifax gets new a team, while the Niagara River Lions will play in St. Catharines).
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” says Ward. “So despite what people say, or what the media says, it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, we’re going to go out there and play basketball.”
The NBLC season starts Dec. 26th.
By Charles Vanegas (Twitter: @charlesvanegas, Instagram: @charlesvanegas)
Photos by Charles Vanegas and the Mississauga Power(3rd photo)
Edited by Drew Ebanks