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AP

John Clay: Lance Ware wants to be an answer man for this Kentucky basketball team

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LONDON, Ky. — Last season, Lance Ware pestered teammate Keion Brooks with so many questions it got to be a running joke.

"Last year, I was asking Keion a lot of questions," Ware said Wednesday. "We would always make fun of me because I was asking questions. 'Yo, Keion, what are we about to do? What's happening here?' Keion always answered my questions, so I'm kind of giving back the same love Keion gave me."

After all, in 2020-21, Brooks was the lone Kentucky basketball returnee who had played any significant minutes the previous season. The 6-foot-7 forward from Fort Wayne, Ind., is back for his junior campaign, but this time around Brooks has some help in the institutional knowledge department thanks to the return of Dontaie Allen, Jacob Toppin and, yes, Ware, a 6-9 sophomore forward from Camden, N.J.

"It's different being at Kentucky," Ware said. "The (transfers) might have been at school for two, three, four years but at their school it wasn't like this. So having me, Jacob, Dontaie and obviously Keion help guide and give advice is big."

That lack of experience was surely a factor in John Calipari's team free fall to a 9-16 record in 2020-21. There were other factors, however, an important one being that the coronavirus pandemic kept Ware and his teammates from the total experience of being a basketball Wildcat playing for a basketball-crazed fan base.

Part of the process is the interaction between players and young UK fans the players have been experiencing at Calipari's satellite camps throughout the state, including Wednesday's stop at North Laurel High School in London.

"It's been super fun because we didn't get a chance to do this last year," Ware said. "My personality, I like being around people. I like having people enjoy their time with me. Being able to see the love, there's no better feeling."

The camps have also contained a bonding benefit for a team that welcomes seven newcomers, including freshmen Daimion Collins, TyTy Washington and Bryce Hopkins, along with transfers CJ Fredrick (Iowa), Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia), Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) and Kellan Grady (Davidson).

"Last year, when Cal was saying we were missing out on a whole bunch, I really didn't understand until I got here," Ware said Wednesday at North Laurel. "I can obviously see what he's talking about because we're together. We're taking these drives two hours, an hour and a half up to these schools. Being able to hang out with each other is great."

A four-star prospect ranked 39th in the class of 2020 by 247Sports, Ware played in 21 games last season, starting three. Though he averaged just two points and three rebounds in 12 minutes per contest, he exhibited contagious energy and a willingness to work to improve.

So what can we expect for his sophomore season?

"You can expect a lot," Ware said. "You can expect a leader. Keep the same stuff obviously I was doing last year. Playing hard. But the big thing I'm working on is learning from my mistakes, watching film of last year. As a freshman, I made some freshman mistakes, silly mistakes. Fix all that and be able to stay on the court and make an impact."

And has Ware seen the impact of the newcomers — point guards Washington and Wheeler, perimeter shooters Grady and Frederick, as well as the inside muscle of a Tshiebwe?

"Absolutely," he said. "Guys can really shoot the ball. And it's not just make a shot, but consistently shoot the ball. Bigger than shooting the ball, I just see a lot of guys out there who know how to play basketball. That's huge. If you can shoot the ball but you don't know how to run an offense or don't understand the game, it's not that effective. But I see guys that know how to play the game, and can shoot and can score and pass. That's what I'm most impressed about."

And if they have questions? Ask Lance.

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