A reunion six years in the making will take place today at Nationwide Arena.
Nick Ward and Javon Bess, who spent two seasons as high school teammates at Gahanna, will take the court to play in The Basketball Tournament as part of team Big X.
Although they’ve worked out and practiced together since, it will be their first game together since they combined for 33 points in a 55-49 loss to Upper Arlington in a Division I district championship game in 2014.
Not surprisingly, Ward and Bess are thrilled to team up once again.
"We trained together at 4 a.m. every day in high school," said Ward, a 6-foot-9 forward. "Playing with him is nothing that I’m not used to. It’ll be exciting to be on the same actual court with him, televised and everything."
Their last game was played in front of a Coliseum crowd that included Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who eventually signed both players to play for the Spartans. By the time Ward arrived in East Lansing, though, Bess, a 6-5 swingman, had already moved on after transferring to Saint Louis following his freshman season.
Bess eventually earned defensive player of the year honors in the Atlantic 10. After going undrafted in 2019, Bess spent last season playing in the NBA’s G-League, where he averaged 6.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 35 games for the Erie Bayhawks.
"My No. 1 thing is to guard the other team’s best player, no matter where I’m playing or who I’m playing against," Bess said. "I’m just a more experienced player right now. I’ve polished a lot of things."
Ward, too, spent last season playing in the G League after going undrafted. He left Michigan State with one year of eligibility remaining and averaged 13.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 34 games for the College Park Skyhawks.
"College is more structured," Ward said when comparing the two levels of play. "The NBA G League is more open. There’s more space, a different three-point line, different rules. Everything is different, which I had to get used to, but I liked it a lot."
Asked about the decision to leave Michigan State early, Ward said, "I feel like I made the right decision."
Ward and Bess aren’t the only local products on Big X. They will be joined by Khalil Iverson of Delaware, who played at Wisconsin, and Jamel Morris, who graduated from Gahanna in 2011 and played professionally in Croatia.
"He’s very crafty," Ward said of Morris. "He’s experienced. He’s a sure-fire scorer."
Since they last played together, Bess said it’s clear that Ward has become a more athletic player. That will allow them to do a few things that weren’t possible back in eighth grade, when they first played together.
"He’s always had good touch around the basket, good footwork," Bess said. "The biggest thing now is being able to come off a pick-and-roll and throw him a lob, knowing he’s going to go get it. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to."