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Kentucky’s Lance Ware gets confidence boost from Brazil trip

Lance Ware’s trip to Brazil last month apparently was more challenging to his dietary tolerance than his basketball prowess.

“I asked the translator guy, do you have a Chick-fil-A or a Chipotle?” he said Friday. “He said, huh? What is that? I was, like, I guess not.”

Ware recalled liking drinking apple soda on the trip. Eating turkey heart was, uh, memorable.

“It was a weird taste,” he said. “But it was decent. It was, like, salty. Put it like that.”

As for basketball, Ware could have been dubbed Braveheart. UK said he averaged 30 points and 8.3 rebounds in three games in Brazil.

“It helped my confidence a lot,” he said of the trip sponsored by a Christian sports ministry called Sports Reach. “It wasn’t easy. You think people in the US play hard. But it’s a whole different level of playing hard over there. I thought I played hard. But the people we were playing against were adults. … They played super hard (and) super physical.”

Ware said that during the trip he aimed to improve his shooting from three-point and mid-range distances. He also wanted to work on a jump hook.

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Kentucky’s Lance Ware (55) defends against Tennessee’s John Fulkerson during a game in Rupp Arena on Jan. 15. Alex Slitz Herald-Leader file photo

To average 30 points — which Ware disputed — for a player who scored 42 points all of last season raised a question: What should someone think of such a startling contrast?

“Whatever you want to think of it,” he said. “That’s up to you.

“You know, I’m going to, obviously, try to bring some of that back. Can’t bring it all back because on every team you have a role. And I’m going to do what’s my role and do the best I can.

“I had fun. It showed me I’m capable of some stuff. I just need to believe more in myself.”

When asked if self-confidence has been an issue in the two UK seasons in which he’s averaged less than two points and 10 minutes, Ware said, “I would say it’s been an issue.”

Playing behind Oscar Tshiebwe, the consensus national player of the year, would limit anyone’s playing time. Ware’s average of 6.2 minutes per game last season was less than every Kentucky player except walk-ons Zan Payne, Brennan Canada and Kareem Watkins. They each averaged 4.1 minutes.

When was the last time I played so few minutes? “Before college?” I have asked. “Never.”

Tshiebwe averaged 32 minutes per game. Only Kellan Grady logged more (33.0).

“I know Oscar,” Ware said. “He wants what’s best for the team. And that’s what makes him so special. He’s such a team player. … You just love Oscar. He wants the best for everybody.”

With more than 1,700 players having entered the NCAA transfer portal this year, it might seem logical that Ware considered going to another college program this offseason.

“Not really,” he said before amending that response. “For a second or two, but not really. It wasn’t something that played heavy on my mind.”

Ware said he spoke to coaches and family members about how to handle his basketball future.

“You always have people who want you to do something else,” he said. “I had to kind of make that decision for myself.”

Of course, with Keion Brooks having transferred, might Kentucky consider going big with Ware playing alongside Tshiebwe? Both players could rebound, bring toughness, run the floor and shoot 15-footers, Ware said before adding that such a lineup would have to be tested in practice.

As for his future playing time, Ware said, “the main thing is to gain weight while keeping my agility and speed.”

He said he had been working on that with the UK’s new strength coach.

Ware spoke optimistically about Kentucky playing exhibition games in the Bahamas in August providing a setting to show improvement.

“It’s going to help me a lot,” he said, “being able to go out there and show skill early in the preseason.”

More than once, Ware put his desire for more playing time in the context of earning more minutes being more important than being given those added minutes.

“Fighting for more minutes might be some of the toughest things I ever did so far,” he said. “I can carry that lesson to give it to my kids (and) give it to anyone.”

Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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