Boxing enables UK’s Lance Ware to punch out more playing time

if Lance Ware ever changes careers from basketball to boxing, his moniker is already set thanks to his Kentucky teammates: Heavyweight champion of the world, Lance “The Enforcer” Ware.

“He’s our enforcer when things get physical,” point guard Sahvir Wheeler said after Kentucky’s 78-57 rout of Florida on Saturday. “He’s always there giving us that edge, being a competitor, being fierce.”

It’s a compliment, and a call to duty, Ware eagerly accepts.

“If that’s my role, to be the enforcer, then I’m going to do whatever it takes,” Ware said Monday. “If I can bring that into the game, and that’s what they need me to do, I have no problem doing any role. If my job is to be the enforcer, then yeah, I can do that.”

The topic surfaced when there was a small dust-up in the Florida game. Ware became entangled with Myreon Jones and Jones ended up on the floor. Almost immediately, Florida’s Phlandrous Fleming charged into and bump Ware in the back inches from UK’s bench. True just smiled.

“It’s basketball, especially high-level games,” Ware said. “They’re trying to do anything to win. We’re doing anything to win and emotions get high. Stuff happens. But the main goal is to play basketball. If we wanted to be boxers then we would go box.”

True, in fact, did take eight to nine boxing lessons last summer.

“I did take a few boxing classes,” he said, “just in case anything happens and I have to be prepared.”

In case anything happens was a coy answer, but Ware’s mission was a simple. Get better at basketball through boxing.

“That was definitely why I took those classes,” Ware said. “Boxing is great for your foot speed, your agility. You use movements that you haven’t used in basketball, using muscles that you haven’t used. The first three times I went to the classes the next day I was super, super sore, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s on an overall great workout.”

The results have shown up in increased playing time for Ware.

“I think I improved a whole bunch from last year foot-speed wise and I give credit to boxing for that,” Ware said. “When you play basketball you need something different to do workout-wise, something different to change up your routine and something fun while still getting better.”

On Saturday, Ware had four points and seven rebounds in just under 14 minutes. Projected out to 40 minutes and Ware finishes with 20 rebounds.

Let me tell you what’s helping Lance,” UK coach John Caliparic said. “He’s now become one of the guys in the gym living in the gym. He’s one of those guys now. He’s building his own confidence.

“It’s not how much I play him,” the coach continued. “When he gets minutes, he’s confident he’s going to play well. He’s out there playing well: Rebounding, he fights, he talks, he’s smart. He’s one of the smartest basketball players we have.”

It’s a source of pride for the New Jersey sophomore.

“When you have to earn something it feels so much better than when it’s just given to you,” Ware said. “Just to know that I was put in situations this year where I didn’t play that much or not at all and have earned something. That always feels good.”

It’s all about the attitude for the former four-star signee.

“No job is too little for me,” Ware said. “That comes from my family always keeping me humble. Everybody has to play a role, in life or on the basketball court. It’s not that I’m content with it, but knowing that’s where I’m at and always looking to improve my role.”

“Lance has gotten better,” assistant coach Bruiser Flint said Monday. “He’s playing extremely hard, he’s finishing plays. He’s catching balls. Those are things he struggled with last year. His time in the gym has really paid off. He’s put his time in and it’s paying off for him.”

Those accomplishments are not to be dismissed out of hand. Sitting idly on the bench until coach calls you into the game is no easy feat.

“Cal always talks about being ready for your opportunity. You never know when it’s coming,” Flint said. “He’s the best at that. He preaches to be ready when your time comes and Lance has taken advantage of that.

“But Cal talks to the players about it. It’s hard not to play and then being put in the game. He knows how hard it is. It’s a tough situation, but be ready because you never know when it’s going to happen.”

Ware is proving to be the ultimate testimony to that as the consummate role player. He averages just 2 points and has only played in 19 of 25 games. When Ware does see action he averages only seven minutes, but the production is otherworldly. Ware has made 15-of-20 shots this year, a whopping 75 percent. He has 39 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.

“Lance changed the game just with his energy, his presence, his IQ on both sides of the court, his tenacity and being able to rebound,” point guard Sahvir Wheeler said. “He took his moments, and he made the best of it.”

“Lance was the reason we had a gap,” Calipari added. “He just made the statement loud and clear, ‘You better keep playing me.’”

Flint says Ware is an invaluable resource as Kentucky sets to make a bid for the 2022 NCAA championship.

“Every roster needs a player that comes in and plays his role and plays it very well,” he said. “If you want to be a really good team, everybody needs that and he does that.”

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