Jarius Ward’s emergence as a star player on Lima Senior’s boys basketball team this season should come as a surprise to no one for two reasons.
Even as the sixth man and sometime starter on last year’s Spartans state runner-up team, his talent was obvious.
And secondly, he always has been a player who improved his game in a relatively short time.
Ward, a 6-2 senior guard who averaged 23.3 points and 8.5 rebounds a game this season for Lima Senior, is The Lima News Boys Dream Team Player of the Year.
He also was second-team Division I All-Ohio and shared Player of the Year honors in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
But basketball wasn’t even his favorite sport until he got to junior high school.
“I was a football player. I wasn’t any good at basketball until maybe around the seventh grade,” Ward said. “Football was my main sport and then I just fell in love with basketball and dropped football.”
If the idea that an all-state player, who was the focus of opposing defenses night after night this season, struggled at times with basketball early in his career seems hard to believe, Ward offers some evidence.
“One time when I was around 13 I was in an AAU tournament and I shot a free throw over the backboard and everyone was making fun of me. I kind of used that as motivation,” he said.
Lima Senior boys basketball coach Quincey Simpson coached Ward in pee-wee football and describes him as “the best running back in the league when he was younger.”
“He wasn’t as good at basketball as he was at football but you could see that the skill would eventually catch up with his motor,” Simpson said.
Ward, who went over 1,000 points in his career this season, played at Reynoldsburg High School as a freshman before transferring to Lima Senior.
His sophomore season didn’t turn out quite as he had hoped when he suffered a broken bone in his leg in the offseason.
“That was tough for him. He came back home to play with the guys he grew up with and then to get hit with that during an open gym was tough to swallow. He came back and played around 12 games but he didn’t play healthy all year. There was always a little limp,” Simpson said.
As a junior, Ward averaged 10.5 points a game on Lima Senior’s Division I state runner-up team led by seniors like Ohio’s Mr Basketball, Xavier Simpson, Rico Stafford, Ruben Flowers III, Jaylin Thomas and Marquevious Wilson.
“Honestly, I kind of liked my role last year,” Ward said. “I knew what I was capable of doing and they knew what I could do. I kind of knew my time was going to come, so I didn’t really think about it.
“This year I played a bigger role than I did last year just because we didn’t have as many bodies as we had last year. So, obviously, I had to step up and play a bigger role than last year,” he said.
Simpson said, “The people in this building and on this team – no one is surprised. We’ve seen it.”
Ward said his strengths are “my leadership and my motor.”
Hard work should probably be added to the list.
“I try to work hard at anything I do,” he said. “I put in a lot more work this year. I was trying to do a lot more stuff on my own outside the gym – even if it was just running around the block or doing push-ups or sit-ups at night.”
Ward says he is still uncertain about what the future will bring but it will definitely include playing basketball.
“I’m just waiting out the process. I’m going to continue to play basketball somewhere,” he said.
The members of the Boys Dream Team are: Derek Jay (St. Marys), Drew Johnson (Pandora-Gilboa), Jakoby Lane-Harvey (Perry), Jay Kaufman (Ottawa-Glandorf), Tim Kreeger (Delphos St. John’s), Orion Monford (Perry) Dakota Prichard (Spencerville), Jace Stockwell (Delphos Jefferson), Daniel Unruh (Elida), Jarius Ward (Lima Senior).
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.