That’s A Wrap: Kel’el Ware

  • 04/18/2024 7:36 am in

Welcome to “That’s A Wrap,” our player-by-player recap of the 2023-24 Indiana Hoosiers. Today: Kel’el Ware.

Ware (30 games): 15.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocked shots, 1.5 assists and 58.6 FG% in 32.2 minutes per game.

Previously: Gabe Cupps, Mackenzie Mgbako, Malik Reneau

The Kel’el Ware narrative following his freshman season at Oregon was full of negatives.

The five-star recruit from North Little Rock, Arkansas played 35 games for Dana Altman and the Ducks as a freshman and the results didn’t live up to the hype.

The 7-footer averaged 6.6 points on just 45.7 percent shooting from the field in 15.8 minutes per game.

In late January of Ware’s freshman season, Altman reduced his role and said he was “disappointed” in his effort. Hoping to be a one-and-done, Ware found himself in the transfer portal after just one season in Eugene.

After identifying Indiana as a spot where he could start immediately and develop as a sophomore, Ware committed to Mike Woodson and the Hoosiers following a visit last April.

Ware took only a short time to show on the court that he was capable of far more than he showed at Oregon.

The former McDonald’s All-American scored in double figures in Indiana’s first 11 games. He hit a game-winning shot in the team’s first road win at Michigan on Dec. 5. He quickly showed himself as one of the best rebounders in the Big Ten.

The narrative from Oregon was quickly forgotten.

“I don’t even know why we’re even rehashing it, revisiting it because it’s behind him,” Woodson said in early December of Ware’s time at Oregon. “We recruited him because we thought he could help us win basketball games and that we could, as a staff, put him in the best position possible to be successful to help us.”

As the season wore on, it became clear Ware was Indiana’s best and most productive player.

He scored 22 or more points in six of IU’s final 13 games. He was one of just two Big Ten players –national player of the year Zach Edey was the other – to average at least 15 points and nine rebounds.

In conference play, Ware’s play went to another level. He averaged a double-double with 16.9 points and 10.6 rebounds against league foes. He also finished second in the league in double-doubles (15) and second in field goal percentage at 58.6.

He also showed his ability to space the floor, shooting 17-for-40 (42.5 percent) on 3s for the season and 12-for-24 (50 percent) in conference games.

By season’s end, Ware had worked his way into the NBA draft conversation as a likely first-round pick. Shortly after Indiana’s season-ending loss against Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament, he declared for the draft and didn’t leave open the door for a return for his junior season.

While Indiana’s season didn’t meet expectations, Ware was a clear bright spot and the latest example of Woodson and the IU staff’s ability to push frontcourt talent into a favorable position for the next level.

Bottom line: Just 19 years old, Ware’s best days are ahead of him. He’s a near consensus first-round pick in NBA mock drafts as his size and shooting ability combined with his agility are rare for a seven-footer. He will have to continue to get stronger, but he put on weight between his freshman and sophomore seasons and should continue to grow into his frame. The development of Trayce Jackson-Davis and Ware continues to bear fruit for IU as the Hoosiers recently added another elite big man, Oumar Ballo, to the roster for next season from the transfer portal.

Quotable: “I think when we brought him on board we didn’t know what we were going to get. Really didn’t. We knew he was very skilled and the word was that he didn’t work hard. I thought after the first month of us getting after him a little bit that kind of picked up and it was nice carryover into the season.” – Woodson on Ware after IU’s 74-70 win against Wisconsin in late February.

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