His future still in motion, Nick Ward’s search for some competition led him to South High School on a steamy Sunday afternoon in July.
There, he became the latest in a long line of central Ohio stars to take the stage for the Kingdom Summer League for a game of semi-organized basketball. Fresh off an appearance in the NBA Summer League, the Gahanna graduate and three-year starter at Michigan State doesn’t know exactly what looms ahead for his playing career.
Why was he there?
“Just a love for this city, and (organizer Tihon Johnson) is my guy,” he said. “I want to support the city and give back any way I can. This is my first year really playing in it. It was cool. It was a great atmosphere. Competition’s always good. It’s very competitive.”Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
Ward arrived just after tipoff for the second game and missed the first few minutes while loosening up. The in-game announcer wasted no time announcing his presence, dubbing him “Nick at Night” whenever he touched the ball, and Ward put on a show during a second-quarter stretch.
He finished with 11 points, all scored during the second quarter and most of them consecutively. The left-handed big man threw down a follow-up dunk off a missed shot and even converted a coast-to-coast possession with a layup, but his appearance was cut short with about two minutes remaining in the third when he tweaked his right ankle going after a rebound. He sat out the remainder of the game as a precaution.
“It felt good,” he said. “I like scoring in bunches. Just a little ankle tweak. It’ll be fine.”
Ward left Michigan State after his junior season to pursue a professional career but was not selected in the NBA draft. He played for Atlanta in the summer league and performed well, capping his time with a 16-point, 13-rebound performance.
“It was quite an experience,” he said. “The speed of the game is much different from college. It is so much different and it was a good learning experience.”
The team in question is unknown, but Ward said his next step will be with an NBA team for camp.
“I’ve got to earn my spot, and that’s just fine with me,” he said. “I’ve got a couple options. I’m going to camp somewhere, though. I wouldn’t say it’s nerve-wracking. It’s very exciting, because I’ve got a lot of options right now. It’ll be fine either way it goes.”
Asked if he would be willing to play overseas this season, Ward said, “Whatever it takes to get to my dream. It really doesn’t matter.”
Even after his early departure, Michigan State is widely expected to earn a Big Ten title and contend for a national championship. Multiple way-too-early preseason college basketball polls list the Spartans as the No. 1 team in the nation, and retaining Ward likely would only have increased their chances of winning a title.
It was a tough decision, Ward said, but one he had to make for himself.
“You want to start your life, start your career and do what you can do to provide for your family,” he said. “I commend guys who do that, because it’s not easy to do. There’s always peer pressure from the fans, even teammates. There’s a lot of peer pressure about what you should do with your life but you have to do what’s best for you.
“It was very hard. I loved my team and I loved my coaches so it was a pretty tough decision, but at the end of the day you’ve got to do what’s best for you.”