On Feb. 26, The State University of New York Athletic Conference named Oswego State men’s basketball senior forward Hayden Ward as their player of the year.
Ward finished the season averaging 18.2 points per game to go along with his conference leading 10.1 rebounds per game. He was also the only player in the conference to average a double-double.
Head coach Jason Leone credits Ward’s incredible work ethic as the reason for his success.
“He’s a great tribute to how hard you have to work to get an award like this,” Leone said. “Anytime you have someone achieve that high a level, it’s a reflection of their effort.”
Ward was able to take his game to new heights this season, increasing both his point totals and rebounding totals from last season (15.7 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game in 2011-12.) Part of this success can be attributed to Ward’s increased presence in the paint. Last year’s graduation of former teammate Chad Burridge created an opportunity for Ward.
“Last year with Burridge, he spent a lot of time near the three-point line,” Leone said. “This year he was able to spend more time under the basket. His minutes were up, and he was in better shape, which allowed him to play more effective minutes.”
Ward credits another aspect of his game for helping him improve on last year’s stats.
“I know this season I really worked on my driving ability,” Ward said. “I’ve always been a good shooter and rebounder, but I worked on driving hard to basket, and finishing while taking contact.”
While Burridge’s graduation opened up opportunities for Ward, there is no doubt that it also came with challenges. Ward saw a significant increase in double and triple teams from opposing defenses this season, as he was now tasked with being Oswego State’s main offensive weapon.
“He prepared hard for the attention he knew he was going to get from opposing defenses,” Leone said. “Before, it wasn’t all on Hayden, and then he became the focal point. I think he did a great job handling that pressure.”
While certainly conscious of his role on the team, Ward was still excited to talk about his teammates and how they helped earn him SUNYAC player of the year.
“This year was special in the fact we had a lot of younger guys,” Ward said. “It was new to me being the older guy. Having a different role on the team, figuring out the strengths of the freshmen and how they could help the team.”
Ward’s increased leadership role did not go overlooked by his coach.
“He showed why it’s important to be a good teammate and a good leader,” Leone said. “He took it upon himself to perform every night, but his play never got in the way of our team concept.”
Leone went on to say that he was proud of Ward and that he thought Ward was very deserving of SUNYAC player of the year honors.
Ward himself was taken back by the accolade, and he appreciates its meaning.
“I was a little surprised, especially since we got knocked out of the tournament,” Ward said. “There are a lot of good players in the conference, so this was pretty special.”