Seniors salute super SAGU season
Duce Ward, James Ford recall growth
Two of Lions' all-time best wrap-up careers
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- The amazing basketball season that witnessed Southwestern Assemblies of God University climb to the NAIA national championship game on Tuesday, was the final appearance in the careers of two players.
Nathaniel Duce Ward and James Ford put the wraps on their senior year, each with starring roles on the best team in SAGU history. The Lions enjoyed a 33-5 record, exceeding the school's previous high in wins (27). The mark includes the years prior to the team joining the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) in 1998.
Ward, at 6-foot-5, had his career-best game in the quarterfinals on Saturday when he poured in 24 points. He finished second on the team in rebounds (Mike Nwelue), averaging 6.9 per contest.
Ford, a three-point sniper, finished with a 7.3 ppg average, and his 43 triples ranked third on the team. He was also one of four players on the team who made over 70% of their free throws.
Ford played four seasons for the Purple & Gold, totaling 891 career points. He scored 20+ on five occasions, including 28 in a 92-87 upset of no. 1 seed Dallas Baptist University at the 2010 NCCAA Central Regional. The guard netted double figures in 40 games during college and swished 133 treys.
Ward led the entire NAIA in rebounds, grabbing 12.3 per during his sophomore season. He also averaged 14.1 ppg that winter.
The amicable forward’s career best on the glass was 23 boards in a game at LSU-Shreveport (30-4 record); he also scored 18 points that February 7th night in 2011.
His role was redefined with the arrival of Head Coach Donnie Bostwick, though he remained a starter. Winning during his final two seasons made his altered job description all-the-sweeter.
In his three-year career he poured in 863 points and averaged 9.2 ppg and 8.7 rpg. He had 41 games where he reached double-digits in points, passing 20 four times.
The pair was recognized as co-captains this season, and, upon the team’s return from Kansas City’s national tournament on Wednesday, Bostwick called upon them to address the crowd.
Ward is from Waco (population 127,000), Texas, where he starred for the Class 3A Connally HS Cadets. After a year in Denton at the University of North Texas, he transferred to SAGU alongside close friend and teammate, Ronald Horne.
Horne scored 1,577 points in three years to rank second all-time in SAGU history.
Named after his late father, Nathaniel, who passed away three years ago, his family has called him “Duce” (for ‘the second,’ or Deuce), rather than “Junior.”
Ford hails from Victoria (pop. 62,000), just thirty miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and 120 miles southeast of San Antonio. He donned the navy and white for the Cougars of Faith Academy.
He answers to the nickname, “Truck,” based on his name and his stout physique.
The duo sat down in separate interviews while in Kansas City to answer four questions:
Q1) What comes to mind when comparing winning 10 games two years ago to winning 60 in the past two and advancing to the NAIA national championship game?
Duce: Started from the bottom, now we’re here. If you had told me then that we’d be here now, I’d would’ve said, “You’re crazy.”
Truck: What an opportunity we’ve had. When things like this happen, you have to do your best to take advantage. It may never happen again.
Q2) What has been your biggest joy from this season?
Duce: Dr. (David) Leatherberry, our chaplain. He has helped me to fight ‘worry.’ His faith and his personality have helped me to overcome.
Truck: Our attitude has changed and Dr. Leatherberry is a big reason why. He really likes us. Our team has really come closer to God. We’re consistently in one accord.
Q3) Why is it that a different player steps up every night to make the difference in the team winning?
Duce: It feels like we wait our turn. It also helps that most of us are unselfish.
Truck: Anybody in our line-up can take over a game. And if you’re “on,” you’re going to get the ball.
Q4) What has this year’s team theme, “Get in the Wheelbarrow,” taught you?
Duce: It’s about trusting who is driving the wheelbarrow. We can accomplish more if we all pitch in and do our part.
Truck: Get in! Everybody get in! We have to be in unity for us to be great.
Duce, who will graduate in December, is an Elementary Education major. He looks forward to making a difference in the lives of impressionable young people. He would also like to coach.
His mom, Valencia, has served in Waco’s (WAY-CO) Mental Health industry for years. He has two sisters, Ebony Jackson and Neebie Anderson.
Meanwhile, Truck plans to be a counselor, helping guide teens and kids. His parents, Walter, Sr. and Bonita (BO-nee-tah, means beautiful in Spanish) pastor New Wine Fellowship Ministries in Victoria. He has one sibling, Walter, Jr., who also attended SAGU.
Duce's last basket came with 6:53 to play in the national championship game against Georgetown College. Typically, it came on a follow-up after grabbing an offensive rebound. Truck's finale was a three-ball from the right corner in the first half, pulling SAGU to within 19-18.
They left the program much better than how they found it.
Key: PPG - Points Per Game. RPG - Rebounds Per Game.