The last thing a basketball player wants to do is stay grounded — at least during a game.
All the highlights are shown from above the rim. Things are better up there. Dunks are emotional and thrilling. And they get you noticed.
But once that notice comes, the ones who succeed the most are usually the ones with their feet firmly planted on the ground off the court.
When coaches start asking you to put on their uniform, when your highlights show up on YouTube, when recruiting services dissect your game, it can all fall apart.
Add to the equation that the person dealing with this is also looking forward to one day getting his driver’s license, and things can go wrong quickly.
As Kevin Ware’s game became more and more highlight-filled, those issues came up. But through his junior year in high school, the Rockdale Bulldogs’ guard remains grounded.
Ware went from a 6-foo-2 junior high school player, to one of the Atlanta AAU scene’s top guards. He is now one of the top high school players in Georgia and one of the top recruits in all of the country.
The Bulldogs’ starting guard is averaging 16 points, six rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals during his junior year.
In a 66-54 win over Heritage on Tuesday, Ware scored 22, which is a season high set one other time against Winter Haven on Dec. 22.
As a sophomore who started roughly 80 percent of the time, Ware averaged 12 points a game.
All this has come to this point with another season awaiting the area’s top player.
“I saw stuff on the internet and a lot of people come up to me during games saying they want me to play for them,” Ware said. “I didn’t know how to handle at time.”
Ware’s family had plenty of advice on how to handle the pressure and attention. And up to this point, he has kept himself grounded among all the hype.
“I would just tell my mom (about all the attention), and she would tell me just to avoid it,” Ware said.
Ware started playing basketball for fun when he was six years old but started thinking seriously about it a couple years later.
Ware’s attention spiked when his uncle, Marlon Capers, began a career in professional basketball overseas.
The Clayton State product was playing ball in Europe when his game was televised for Ware to see. The then-nine year old basketball player started taking serious notice in his uncle and the sport.
From there Ware started playing for his school and AAU teams, such as the Atlanta Celtics.
His eighth-grade year is when the attention started to find Ware.
He became a highly sought after player by AAU coaches wanting him to jump to their team. From that point the internet got a hold of his talent, and scouting reports and YouTube clips can be still be found on line.
But if you ask Ware which internet clip or blog is his favorite, he probably won’t know which one you’re asking about.
“I really don’t pay no mind to all the internet stuff,” Ware said. “My parents don’t really like me reading that stuff.”
At Rockdale the attention started to come from college coaches. He started getting letters, visits and serious attention from schools such as Georgetown, Florida, Kansas, Cincinnati and Tennessee.
The guidance from his family continued with his uncle stepping in this time.
Ware reached out to his uncle, who also dealt with both the excitement and attention of being a basketball star.
“He just tells me to stay focused, and don’t get caught up in the girls and the hype,” Ware said. “He told me I didn’t really do anything yet. Just stay focused.”
Ware has been focused enough to be selected as part of the USA Basketball Development team and other honors for top prep basketball players.
In October he also verbally committed to Tennessee.
“I liked both the coach and the environment,” Ware said. “They are good people out there. There’s more than just basketball with the coach, he takes consideration into grades too. He wants you to do more than just basketball.”
Ware said he would like to pursue journalism outside of trying to make it into the NBA.
On the court Tennessee offered Ware a similar style of play, where he feels his skills will best pay off.
“I think I excel in fast pace game more,” Ware said, “because I see a lot things more better going faster.”
Ware’s high school team uses a fast-paced offense, forcing other teams to work at a higher tempo. The pace has led to a 20-1 season and a No. 1 ranking in AAAA heading into Friday’s match up with Salem.
Ware hopes for a similar record his senior year in high school and more success with the Volunteers but still seems to have his feet on the ground.
“You should just give it your best, because you never know what may happen one day,” Ware said.