Two-sport phenom Lauren Ware will play basketball instead of volleyball in her freshman season at Arizona after the coronavirus crisis scrapped her original plan of playing volleyball in the fall and joining the basketball program thereafter.
I sat down with the 6-foot-5 post to discuss why she chose basketball and to get know a little bit more about her as she begins her Wildcat career.
Here’s a Q&A. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
Ryan Kelapire: What went into your decision to play basketball over volleyball this year?
Lauren Ware: “It was a very tough decision for me because coming in here obviously we didn’t expect this whole COVID situation to be happening, so this wasn’t really something I thought about too much. But just coming in here, I [reported] with volleyball, so I was already pretty close with the girls, which made it a little tougher for me. But just some of the factors, I was recruited by Adia (Barnes) first, so that relationship, and then just also the fact that I will never be able to play a preseason with basketball. I plan on playing volleyball next fall, so I won’t get that non-conference season with [basketball] for a while, so I think this was just a good start for me to be able to start with them and kind of get the foundation down with the plays and everything and the chemistry and stuff like that. I think this will be better for me in the long run.”
RK: What was it like having to tell (volleyball coach) Dave Rubio that you weren’t going to be with his team this year?
LW: “It was tough. We had a Zoom call when we decided. It was a Zoom call with me and then my parents and then Dave and Adia. And I mean, we had already kind of talked about it beforehand once the Pac-12 made the decision to postpone the season. [Dave] actually kind of came up with the idea of saying whoever you choose to play with, you’re going to train with right now during this time, and then you’ll come with us (volleyball) if we play after basketball is over with.”
RK: What is your relationship with Adia like?
LW: “We are really close. She recruited me for a long time. I’ve known her for a while and she’s just a great person, a great coach, and she really cares about her players. So I’m just happy to be able to play for her. When they were recruiting me, obviously they weren’t the best team, so just seeing their growth, I know Adia focuses a lot on player development, but she’s also a good team coach and I know that she’s gonna make everyone better.”
RK: What has it been like watching this program improve so much over the last few years?
LW: “Yeah, it’s been crazy. I just remember when Adia talked to me sophomore year. My freshman year they like had barely won any games, so I was a little iffy on it. But as they started to get better, and their girls started to get better in there...just seeing their team improve has been awesome. I’m so excited because I know this year is going to be even better.”
RK: Yeah, does the fact that the basketball team has a chance to make the Final Four have an impact on your decision?
LW: “I wouldn’t say that coming to a team that had already been high in the rankings was really a big thing for me, but it’s kind of like icing on the cake. Coming into a team that’s in the running to win a national championship is awesome because that’s obviously a goal that every basketball player wants to get to. So it just makes it a lot better just knowing that what Adia is doing here is really working.”
RK: How has your recovery been from your ACL tear? That happened last July, right?
LW: “Yep, it’s been a little over a year now since I tore my ACL. I’m 100 percent cleared and recovered and it’s been feeling really good in workouts.”
RK: What kind of workouts have you been able to do as a team so far?
LW: “We just got cleared to do on skill stuff in the gym, so we’re able to shoot and stuff like that. Very limited but at least we get to be in the gym. And then we’re allowed to do weights, but we’re not in the weight room, so we just do body weight and free weight stuff. Hopefully next week we’ll transition into the weight room.”
RK: Since you’re coming off an injury and you’re from North Dakota where some people might say the competition isn’t so good, how much do you feel like you have to prove yourself this year?
LW: “I don’t think I have to prove myself to anybody just because I know what I’m capable of. That’s just something that I always think of. I mean, obviously coming from North Dakota, there’s not many big names you hear from from there, but I know what I’m capable of and I played against plenty of the top girls in the country before, so I don’t really think I need to prove myself anybody. I’m just gonna go out there and do it.”
RK: What is it like coming to Arizona from North Dakota? Obviously that’s really far away.
LW: “The distance wasn’t really a factor for me, just my relationship with Adia and Dave (Rubio) was a really good relationship, especially those two working together. With me wanting to play both, I knew I needed coaches that we’re going to be able to work together and they’re the perfect duo for that. I felt really at home here and they have a really good family culture here, which is another big thing for me.”
RK: How would you describe yourself as a basketball player? What are your strengths?
LW: “I’m a pretty good defensive player. I can guard pretty much anywhere. I’m pretty agile and mobile, I like to run the floor a lot. I have a pretty good jumper too. I can shoot pretty well from free-throw line extended. I’m aggressive. I talk a lot.”
RK: Is there a part of your game that you think you need to work on that would really help you improve as a player?
LW: “I would say just post defense. That’s just something that everyone needs to work on, especially coming into the Pac-12 and being against bigger girls because obviously there’s gonna be girls the same height as me. And then 3-point shooting.”
RK: What do you think about the idea that playing two sports prevents you from reaching your potential in them?
LW: “Yeah, that’s something I hear a lot. But I would just say that for me, just the fact that I have the potential to be really good in both sports is something that I want to try. I didn’t want to come in here being uncertain and not trying it. I just didn’t want to regret my decision. So obviously it kind of sucks this first year that I won’t be able to make a decision if I would rather play one or the other, but that’s OK. I’m just gonna put it off and I’ll play both next year and kind of see how that goes. But I think just starting off with basketball first is just going to help me a lot, just to see how much I can improve.”
RK: At the same time, how has playing volleyball helped you in basketball?
LW: “Yeah, it definitely helps me a lot. Volleyball just in general helps a lot with your footwork and your hands. That’s another thing—I have pretty good hands, just catching the ball on the move. So I’d say volleyball and basketball...they’re like hand in hand.”
RK: What do you see your role being with basketball this year? The team has a talented frontcourt with a lot of experience.
LW: “I would just say coming in, especially just in practice, bringing energy. That’s something I really take pride in is—just coming to practice every day and just being that drive of energy and being positive. And then on the court, somebody who’s going to communicate a lot. I like to talk a lot. Especially being a post, that’s something about our job that is really important—to talk on the floor because we see everything.”
RK: What’s been the favorite moment of your athletic career so far?
LW: “That’s tough. I would just say any of my state championships in high school. And then last year I played in EYBL. That was my first year playing EYBL because that wasn’t a thing in North Dakota. I had to travel to Minnesota to play, which is kind of weird, but I had a really good time. I loved my team and it was really fun because I got to play against some of the best girls in the country,”
RK: Is the fact the pro basketball is more prevalent than pro volleyball in the United States weigh into your decision to play basketball at all?
LW: “I’ve been thinking about that, just that if I wanted to play volleyball (professionally), I’d obviously have to go overseas. But at the end of the day, I think it just comes down to how I feel, and whenever I decide if I want to play one of the other, that’s just what I’ll do.”
RK: The NCAA ruled that all fall athletes will be given a free year of eligibility. So is there a possibility that you’ll finish your basketball career and then come back for another year of volleyball?
LW: “I’m redshirting (in volleyball) this year, so I’ll have another year of eligibility basically no matter what. So once I’m done with my four years of basketball, then I’ll have an extra year of volleyball left.”
RK: What kind of things can you do to stay connected with the volleyball team even though you won’t be playing for them this year?
LW: “Me and the volleyball girls are really close. We hang out a lot, so obviously they’re gonna come support me and I’m going to try to come support them whenever we don’t have a game. And both teams are actually really close too, they both know each other really well, so I can’t really see our relationship getting really far apart. We’re still going to be close even though I’ll be playing with basketball this season.”