For two years, Karrington Ward was playing in the MAC.
Odds have been stacked against the conference in recent history. Since 2004, only Richaun Holmes out of Bowling Green has been drafted to the NBA.
But two years later, Ward hopes to defeat the odds to represent the conference in professional basketball. The athletic small forward’s eyes are set on the ultimate goal: a spot on an NBA roster.
On October 29, Ward was selected by the Oklahoma City Blue, an affiliate of the Thunder, in the fourth round of the NBA Developmental League draft. A season ago, the Bakersfield Jam (now Northern Arizona Suns) selected him in the second round of the annual draft. NBA scouts are commonplace at D-League games, in an association where every player owns a similar goal to Ward’s.
“It’s a blessing,” Ward said on his draft selection. “You don’t know what’s happening next when you leave college. You don’t know if you’re going to play basketball or not. You don’t know if people are watching you. But it’s definitely a blessing because it gives me a chance to further my career.”
At Eastern Michigan (2013-15), Ward was an All-MAC Third Team selection, averaging 12.5 points per game in his two-year college career. He led his Eagles in rebounding in both years and scoring in 2013-14. During the timespan, Eastern Michigan owned a 43-29 record, appearing in two postseason tournaments.
“The conference is pretty tough,” Ward said. “With Eastern Michigan, our coach tried to get us prepared by stacking us against higher teams. When I was there, we played against Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke, Purdue, and a bunch of big time schools. Making the transition is a little bit easier because our conference is pretty tough.”
He continued with the sport following his final days in Ypsilanti, earning a workout with the Detroit Pistons in 2015.
“When I worked out for Detroit, I was in pretty good shape,” Ward said. “I was coming out of college. I was still in the groove. Now I’m making the adjustment because I’m playing against NBA talent every day.”
On Sunday, his Oklahoma City Blue earned their first victory of the season, defeating the Austin Spurs, soundly, 118-95. His opponent featured six players who have logged NBA playing time. Ward earned one minute at the end, quickly establishing himself with his aggressive defense. Within seconds of running out from the scorer’s table, Ward jumped high to contest a shot, tipping the ball away from the basket.
“Coach keeps telling me I’ve got to build trust with him, so I’m trying to make the most out of every minute and make him believe in me to play me more,” Ward said.
In his team’s opener, Ward recorded three points in five minutes. As the season progresses, he may see more opportunities on the court, especially in an environment when the roster fluctuates week-to-week.
The former Eastern Michigan standout understands the difficulty of making it to the NBA. With an opportunity in the D-League, he hopes the experience will allow him to obtain the recognition to rise to his ultimate goal.
“I just want to keep working, keep striving, and keep listening to the older guys and vets, and keep listening to the coaches,” Ward said. “That’s the big majority of how you get better.”