Player Spotlight: How Kel’el Ware willed Indiana to victory, while raising his NBA Draft stock in the process

Kel'el Ware gave Hoosier fans and NBA Draft experts alike, a performance to remember,

Wisconsin v Indiana
Wisconsin v Indiana / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

Kel’el Ware has been a great player for Indiana basketball all season, but Tuesday night was different. The seven-foot center from North Little Rock, Arkansas, was sensational, scoring 27 points with 11 rebounds.

Ware shot 11-for-12 from the field, his most efficient game of the season, while also going four-of-four from the free-throw line. This, going perfect from the free throw line, was a focal point for Ware, as he missed several free throws in his last two games. “It’s a mental thing.” IU head coach Mike Woodson said, regarding the missed free throws, that it was apparent Ware was mentally in the zone on Tuesday.

This locked-in mentality was apparent at the free throw line and when he was posting up on the block and on the perimeter. As mentioned, he only missed one shot all game while making several tough hook shots down low and a jump shot outside. A particular shot that changed the game for the better was with just one minute remaining when he hit a hook shot over Steven Crowl, who fouled him in the process. This gave the Hoosiers a two-point lead after the and-one free throw, and IU never looked back, winning 74-70.

Ware was spectacular not only on the offensive end but on the defensive end as well, as he blocked five shots without getting a single foul or goaltend called on him. This is an incredibly impressive stat, showing Ware’s progress on the defensive side of the ball. Ware has had issues getting into foul trouble and committing goaltending violations. He did neither against the Badgers. Staying out of foul trouble, coupled with his five blocks, made for an impressive defensive game for Ware. 

This outstanding performance on both ends of the floor led to an IU win, their first in four games, and one that the Hoosiers desperately needed. Woodson has spoken time and time again how frustrated he has been with his performance, but after this game he said “this is Indiana basketball at its best” when speaking on how much this win means to his team. While winning this game may not mean much in terms of NCAA Tournament potential, it certainly means a lot to the program and its fans. 

Ware's Performance Impressed Scouts as Well:

Besides the win, Ware’s performance was enormous for his NBA Draft stock. Ware is currently projected as a late first-rounder or early second-rounderDepending on the mock draft, still a second-rounder. Regardless of the previous projections, his performance over Wisconsin improved his stock.

Besides the obvious great stats, like the 27 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists, his efficiency and outside shooting are traits that NBA scouts are looking for. Ware particularly shined in these two categories against the Badgers, with only one missed shot and several outside jumpers finding the bottom of the net, including a contested three. 

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All this should result in scouts looking at Ware more favorably, especially if he keeps it up. Despite all the hype surrounding Ware after the game, he said that “this was a team win” and that “it wasn’t all about [him].”

This type of humility is what makes a great player and an even better teammate, which factors into NBA Draft analysis and would only help Ware’s chances of being a top pick. Despite Ware saying this, Woodson mentioned that “he was fantastic tonight. We needed every bit of it to win this game,” showing that while Ware may say it was a team effort, his coaches noted how much he contributed to the win. 

The fire alarms that rang during the second half of the game were a fitting metaphor for Ware's performance. Although there was no fire, Ware could have been said to be on fire himself. This is because he provided a performance that not only sent home the Hoosier faithful a W but also increased his draft stock in a significant way.