Connect with us


Kel’el Ware set tone for Indiana basketball defense while displaying highly intriguing skillset in opening win



Indiana basketball center Kel'el Ware
Indiana basketball center Kel'el Ware turned in a career best game in numerous categories in his first regular season game for the Hoosiers. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — When Indiana basketball lost Trayce Jackson-Davis this offseason, a large hole was going to be missing with Mike Woodson’s defense. Jackson-Davis’ ability to mask a lot of Indiana’s deficiencies at times on the back end was sometimes taken for granted. But, with him no longer in the lineup, questions arose as to who would be that guy.

In Indiana’s season-opening 69-63 win over Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon transfer center Kel’el Ware answered the call. He not only set the tone defensively for Indiana basketball, but he also showcased his tremendous skillset that has him mocked as a first round selection in the 2024 NBA Draft.

While it’s been widely discussed this offseason, the motor and energy of Ware wasn’t in question during two exhibition games and that carried over to Tuesday’s win.

Some of the talk through two exhibition games was how he got better as the game went on, sometimes starting a bit slow. On Tuesday, he had two blocks in the first four minutes and asserted himself as a legit backline defender right from the tip. His length also impacted numerous additional attempts at the rim and even forced some offensive players out of the lane without an attempt due to his size.

He took that early start and built on it, turning in a career performance. He had his first career double-double and set a career high in assists and minutes.

“Well, he played a lot of minutes tonight, but he plugged the hole up for us and got a few blocks, rebounded the ball for us. I don’t need him to do much more. Just continue to do that,” Woodson said about Ware postgame. “When he’s around the bucket I expect him to finish and make his damn free throws. That’s what it’s all about.”

Ware’s performance was also very efficient, scoring 13 points on 2-of-5 from the field, 1-of-3 on 3s and 8-of-12 from the free throw line. He also had 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 36 minutes.

Indiana Basketball: Five Takeaways from IU’s opening win against FGCU

Early in the night, Ware did most of his damage at the foul line. His length, size and energy gave Indiana a few second-chance opportunities off of offensive rebounds. He also showed his ability to get to his spot on the block on hold it and even in some pick and roll action.

In the second half, it was his playmaking. He has three-straight assists on three consecutive possessions. One was a swing pass through the lane to a wide open Mackenzie Mgbako on the wing for a long two. The next was high-low action with Malik Reneau, with Ware at the elbow. He had a terrific touch pass over the defender for an easy layup. The third was when he was posted up on the block. It was a give-and-go with Trey Galloway after the double-team collapsed on Ware. He had a nice pocket pass through the defenders to the cutting Galloway.

That’s one aspect of Ware’s game that you haven’t seen much off thus far. It showed glimpse of what Trayce Jackson-Davis was able to do last season. While he’s not the passing big that Jackson-Davis was, if he sniffs that level of playmaking, it opens up so much for him and this Indiana basketball offense.

“Every night it’s just going to be a night that not even just me, but the whole team just come out and play hard and just going to have to try our best to win the game and show the fans what this team is capable of,” Ware said postgame. ” … it’s a 40-minute game, so no matter what it is, if I can just get a block at one point or even just get a rebound and run at the end and get a fast break (it gets me going).”

Ware has now put up 20 points and 11 rebounds and one block against Marian, 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks against UIndy and then Tuesday’s performance.

“I mean, he’s a skilled guy, but we’ve got to get him now where — because it’s getting ready to start for real now, and he’s going to be playing much bigger guys, more talented bigs,” Woodson said about Ware heading into Tuesday’s opener. “I’m just curious to see where he’s going to be once we start that journey.”

He stepped up to that challenge. Now, it’s about building on it for Indiana basketball.

SEE ALSO: Three-guard lineup gives Indiana basketball life during second-half spurt in win over FGCU

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated, part of the Full Ride Network, on Twitter @Indiana_FRN, Facebook and YouTubeto stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. You can also listen to the Talking’ Bout the Hoosiers podcast on Spotify.

Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.