Lance Ware has told the story countless times, but sometimes it still doesn’t seem real. He’s sitting at a table in his house with his parents, and across from him is Kentucky coach and college basketball legend John Calipari — warm and honest and in the midst of a conversation that Ware described as filled with sound life advice and words of wisdom.

It was a bold gesture.

But that was the personal touch Ware was looking for during a hectic recruiting process.

“It’s a family atmosphere [at Kentucky] — something that makes me feel at home,” said Ware who chose to join Calipari at Kentucky over offers from schools including Ohio State, Michigan and Miami. “Even though I’m in Kentucky, I still want to feel like I’m at home.”

Calipari and assistant coach Kenny Payne made a visit to Ware’s home in September as part of an all-out push to win over the heavily recruited 6-foot-9 forward for Camden.

One of the reasons the visit felt so surreal is because it occurred just five years since Ware started playing organized basketball.

Camden Catholic forward Leonardo Oberti (50) defends against Camden forward Lance Ware (0) on Saturday.
LOU RABITO / Staff
Camden Catholic forward Leonardo Oberti (50) defends against Camden forward Lance Ware (0) on Saturday.

Despite being around 6-5 in seventh grade, Ware described himself as an “average” seventh grader, focused more on video games than physical activity.

But when he finally picked up a basketball, and discovered a mentor in local legend Pervis Ellison, it wasn’t hard to see his potential.

Since then, his rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Thanks to stellar showings on the AAU circuit, Ware is currently one of the top-ranked players in the country in his class. Rivals lists him as the No. 4 power forward recruit in his national class.

“It’s about staying focused, don’t lapse. You have to be able to stay focused and not get sidetracked by any of the accolades or anything like that. You just have to put the work in work every single day,” said Ware, a dominant rim protector averaging 10 points per game for a Camden team that is easily the top team in South Jersey and should be a serious contender for this year’s Tournament of Champions. “People told me I wasn’t going to be nothing. Like anything, there’s always going to be naysayers and doubters. But you have to stick with your family and believe that you can do it.

“It starts with yourself. Nobody else can tell you what you can or can’t do.”

While it’s hard for anyone to doubt Ware’s ability today he said when he started playing basketball just before eighth grade, he wasn’t exactly a natural.

“It took me a minute,” he said. “And eventually it just clicked. I realized, ‘Wow, this is fun, and I’m getting good.’

“But seeing that growth — from scoring zero points to five points to 10 points to 13 points and 10 rebounds — knowing that I’m getting better. That’s what kept me going.”

Flanked by his parents, Stephen Ware and Monique Ware, Lance Ware announced he will attend Kentucky on Sept. 12, 2019. He had narrowed his choice to Kentucky and Michigan.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Flanked by his parents, Stephen Ware and Monique Ware, Lance Ware announced he will attend Kentucky on Sept. 12, 2019. He had narrowed his choice to Kentucky and Michigan.

Camden, of course, has myriad ties to Calipari and the Kentucky program.

Perhaps most notably, Dajuan Wagner and Arthur Barclay both played for Calipari at Memphis after legendary careers with the Panthers.

Wagner’s son, D.J., is a freshman for Camden, and Barclay serves as an assistant on the team.

Still, Ware said the decision was ultimately his and Kentucky was the program with which he felt most comfortable.

“When you have the right people in your corner — my parents, Pervis — who know the game, that helps [with the recruiting process],” Ware said. “But at the end of the day, it has to be your decision.”