Hayden Ward, a Montauker, whose basketball talent was called into question by his peers when he first arrived at East Hampton High School, has been named as the State University of New York Athletic Conference’s player of the year.
“Good for him,” said Ed Petrie, Ward’s coach here (who was not among the doubters) when given the news. “Hayden has improved every year — he’s come a long way. He’s worked hard, which is what you hope for all your players. He’s always had a great attitude and a great work ethic. And,” Petrie said with emphasis, “he wanted to get better — that’s the key.”
There are 10 SUNYAC teams, the State University at Oswego, where Ward has played the past four years, being one of them. Last year, the 6-foot-6 power forward, who finished his career as Oswego’s second-leading all-time rebounder and ninth-highest scorer, led the Lakers to their first conference championship since 1965, and to their second straight appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division III tournament.
This season, the team, the conference’s fourth seed, did not fare quite as well, losing to the eventual SUNYAC champion, Cortland, in a semifinal, which put it out of the running for a return trip to the N.C.A.A.s.
“We could have won the whole thing again this year, but we lost a couple of games that we should have won, including that one to Cortland in the semis,” Ward said during a telephone conversation Sunday evening. “We had a good season, though. We finished at 19-8.”
The quiet-spoken redhead said he’d averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds per game this year, winding up his career with 1,393 points and 892 rebounds. He had 13 double-double performances, including a career-high 33 points and 18 rebounds in the “senior day” game with Oneonta.
His father, John, with whom he plays slow-pitch softball on Uihlein’s team, had been a baseball player, and thus it was as a baseball player that Ward arrived at East Hampton High. Petrie, he said, had helped him greatly with his shooting. That he is a 35 to 40-percent shooter from beyond the arc testifies to the effectiveness of that work. The rebounding came more easily, as he is a fighter.
At East Hampton, Ward anchored two county-champion and state Final Four teams.
He acknowledged that he had a strong will.
That he was able to play all four years in college — spending four to five hours a day on the court — while doing well academically is further testimony to his determination.
Asked what his post-graduation plans were — Ward is majoring in business administration and minoring in coaching — he said he’d like to play professionally overseas if possible. He would talk to his coach (Jason Leone) about that soon, he said.
He would do well to talk also to Howard Wood, given that Wood, now East Hampton High’s girls basketball coach, played for a decade in Spain’s top professional leagues.
“One more thing,” he said in parting, “our class’s 83 wins were the most in Oswego’s history.”