UAF offers fresh start for Ward (Basketball)

August 15, 2011

After leaving Southwest Baptist University earlier this summer, Jesse Ward of North Pole was looking for a fresh start.

He found it with UAF and new head coach Mick Durham.

The 6-foot-5 all-state guard has signed with the Nanooks and will begin his freshman season this fall.

“I’m ready to get started,” Ward told me.

Ward, 18, averaged 17 points, 4 boards and 5 assists as a senior at North Pole and earned Class 4A First Team All-State honors.

He had originally committed to Southwest Baptist of Missouri during the early signing period in November, then went to school in late July and changed his mind.

“The program wasn’t what I thought it was,” he said.

With Ward back on the market many schools made offers, including UAA and a handful of JCs. In the end, though, he stayed close to home.

His decision was part financial [he is getting a scholarship], part personal [he grew up right down the road] and part personnel [he will play for a coach who has NCAA D1 experience].

Durham has the second most coaching victories after 16 seasons at Montana State University.

Ward wasn’t interested in going to UAF when he was in high school, but now he’s onboard after the once prominent program changed coaches and appears to be changing course under Durham.

“Back in the day when Brad Oleson and all those guys were playing I was like, ‘I want to be on a team like that,’ ” Ward said, who hails from the same hometown as Oleson.

He wants to be like his childhood hero and lift the Nanooks out of the doldrums.

In a sense he’s taking the same path, but at the same time he wants to blaze his own trail and make people remember his name.

“That’s also really exciting,” Ward said. “It’s a brand new start.”