Auburn’s Ward adapts game after injury at Texas
Auburn’s Varez Ward can’t take to the air quite like he used
The onetime Texas starter is still trying to regain strength and
explosiveness more than two years after rupturing his right
quadriceps tendon while dunking during pregame warmups.
Ward said he had lost 9 inches off a 38-inch vertical leap as of
last summer. Still, he has become a key player for the struggling
Tigers and shown flashes of his old abilities with a recent hot
”I’ve been working hard on my game, so I don’t really rely on
being able to jump over defenders like I used to,” said Ward, who
figures he’s regained some of his hops the past few months. ”It
made me sick a little bit. It’ll help me in the long run because it
won’t let me rely so much on my athletic ability.”
Ward still drives to the basket, but now he aims at drawing
fouls, hitting layups or passing back out to teammates more often
He was going up for a windmill dunk in the layup line on Nov.
24, 2009, for the third-ranked Longhorns when he felt a pop in his
”Honestly I don’t even know how I came down,” said Ward, who
had started the first three games for Texas. ”It was just a freak
The injury required surgery and forced him to watch as the
Longhorns rose to their first No. 1 ranking less than two months
The Big 12 granted him a medical hardship waiver and the
Montgomery native decided to transfer closer to home to be near his
ailing mother Sharon – who he said has had two heart operations but
is now doing well – after Auburn hired former UTEP coach Tony
Ward sat out last season and has two years of eligibility
”He’s a fantastic player,” said Barbee, who recruited him out
of high school. ”His game has always been based around his ability
to beat people. He was always athletic enough that he could finish
when he beat people.
”Now, he’s struggling to do that because he’s lost some of his
explosiveness in terms of vertically getting up on top of the rim.
But he’s still smart enough to know how to get in there,” Barbee
said. ”What he’s been doing has been getting fouled, creating
angles to get fouled, and then he’s really been shooting his free
Ward struggled to convert drives in Tuesday night’s loss to
Alabama, scoring just three points. It ended a three-game run when
he made 27 of 32 free throws and averaged 17.7 points, nearly
double his season average (9.3).
Ward capped that hot streak by scoring a career-high 24 points
and dishing out five assists in 29 minutes at Mississippi
”It’s what we were looking for all year long,” Barbee said,
”and I guess better late than never.”
The turnaround came after Ward took a knee to his injured leg in
the opening minute of the game against Arkansas. He didn’t play
again, and Barbee gave him a few days off to recuperate, a rarity
during the heart of the Southeastern Conference schedule but
”It’s definitely strange that it’s brought some life to me,”
Ward said. ”Those couple of days have helped me rejuvenate my
Ward, who leads the Tigers (13-11) in assists, splits time at
point guard with Josh Wallace and has come off the bench the last
He said his leg doesn’t hurt these days, but the pain flared up
at times early in the season. He has spent 2 or 3 hours daily in
the training room getting treatment, a big improvement from lengthy
sessions that started at 6 a.m. during a medical redshirt year last
He showed flashes early in his Texas career. Ward scored 16
points on 7 of 8 shooting against Duke in the second round of the
NCAA tournament as a freshman.
He was averaging 6.7 points, 2.3 steals and 2.3 assists in the
first three games the following season when he was injured.
Barbee said doctors believe the strength will eventually return
to Ward’s right leg.
In the meantime, he has learned to adapt to his new
”Early in the year, I was thinking drive and shoot a floater,
shoot pullups,” he said. ”Now, I’m trying to play back above the
rim, trying to get fouled, draw contact. Early in the year, I was
thinking about my leg a lot because I didn’t want to get hurt
again. That was always on my mind.
”Now, it’s past me and it’s not mental any more. I just go out
there and play.”