Jerod Ward carved out a basketball career for himself that anyone would be proud of — McDonald’s All-American, No. 1 recruit in the country out of high school, standout career at the University of Michigan and a 14-year professional career that included stops in some of the top leagues overseas as well as briefly in the NBA, among many other notable accomplishments.
That list is impressive enough as it is. But when you factor in that Ward attained much of that success despite battling serious injuries throughout his playing career, it’s even more remarkable. In fact, Ward has had seven knee surgeries and managed to bounce back and continue playing after each one.
“The injuries really made me do a lot of soul-searching,” Ward said. “It was hard (after the injuries), the thought of not being able to do something I had always done (play basketball). It really taught me how to take a negative situation and make it a positive.”
Not only did Ward work hard to rehabilitate after his injuries, but he also became very active in learning about his injuries, what caused them and the best ways to recover from them.
“I became very interested in the medical aspects of my injuries,” Ward said. “I would ask so many questions and just wanted to know every detail from doctors.”
Now, Ward shares that knowledge, along with his experiences as a high-level college and professional player, with other athletes through his basketball training company, JW Pro Ball. Ward works with both male and female players of all ages and skillsets, ranging from young players just starting out to professional athletes. Ward just looks for one main thing in the players he works with: passion.
“I work with anyone who is excited about, interested in or loves the game,” Ward said. “With the younger kids, it’s important to really help them build their own love and enjoyment of the game. Then as they get older, you bring them along, teach them more and more difficult concepts about what it takes to make it as a college or professional player. I try to make connections and impart my life experiences, I don’t just want to run drills and be a drill sergeant all the time with them.”
Part of Ward’s inspiration stems from his own adversity he dealt with as a player dealing with severe injuries. Rehab from injuries is often a lengthy process, it can isolate athletes from their teammates and, even if they have a full physical recovery, some suffer from depression or have other mental barriers that result from the injury and are hard to overcome. Ward enjoys being a support system and sounding board for athletes in that situation, someone who can help them through the process.
“Many young athletes who get injured, they might not have someone who has been through that,” Ward said. “It’s really important to have someone there for you, letting you know that it will be OK and helping keep your confidence up. Physically, it’s important to get 100 percent healthy, but it’s also important to be healthy mentally too before you can come back.”
One player who Ward recently worked with, Flint native and Cleveland State grad J’Nathan Bullock, saw immediate results from the experience. Bullock was named the MVP of his league in Iceland and led his team to a championship. Like Ward has been at times earlier in his career, Bullock was a bit down due to an injury. Ward actually noticed Bullock playing in a pickup game, was drawn to Bullock’s desire and approached him about helping him.
“With J’Nathan, I just saw a you guy who had so much passion, he just needed a little direction and help,” Ward said. “He was down about his knee injury, and we just had some great conversations. He was eager to learn and work, and the success he’s had really speaks for itself. My hat’s off to him.”
Bullock also credits Ward for the advice he gave and the training he provided. In a comment Bullock left on this site (one of several comments you can read from people who have worked with Ward and vouch for his methods, incidentally), he wrote: “Jerod deserves a lot of credit, he helped me get back to the game I love. Not to mention he approached me. What a down to earth guy! thanks! the comments say it best, some college will get a hard working guy.”
Ward, who just retired as a professional player, does have aspirations to coach at the college or pro level soon. Although he only recently retired from playing, he has actually been running his business on a part-time basis during his offseason for a number of years, so he’s far from inexperienced as a coach and player development trainer.
“I started JW Pro Ball shortly after I started playing professionally, so I’ve been doing this for about 12 years,” Ward said. “I would definitely like to coach college or pro basketball, but I still always plan to work with and train kids as well.”
Ward also benefits from having a large network of basketball resources at his disposal. He firmly believes in the importance of developing and maintaining relationships with other coaches, players and other professionals who work in basketball.
“Everywhere I’ve played, I really tried to leave a mark,” Ward said. “I always wanted to present myself as a hard-worker, as someone who treated people professionally, and it has helped me develop great relationships and friendships with people in America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East … all over the world.”
Ward draws on that wealth of experience when he works with players. He’s based in Michigan, but has also trained professional players all over the U.S. and even overseas. Still, part of the reward of continuing to work with kids for Ward is seeing them achieve their own initial successes.
“It’s amazing,” Ward said. “Growing up, I remember how it felt when I had been struggling with something and then it just suddenly clicked for me after I’d work at it. I get so much joy out of seeing that moment with kids now, when they get it, when the work they’ve put into it starts to pay off for them.”
That work ethic was instilled in Ward at a young age, when he was growing up in Mississippi. Ward’s physical profile — he was always tall for his age and grew to 6-foot-9 — certainly got him noticed, but he made himself into the top high school prospect in the country because he always worked on his game.
“My father kind of sat me down and helped me start to realize at a young age that I could go somewhere in sports,” Ward said. “Basketball seemed the most logical because I was always the tallest in my class, and I just threw myself into it. I just dedicated myself to the game.”
The fact that the work he put into his own career paid off for him gives Ward instant credibility with people he works with when he’s giving them advice about what it takes to get to the pro or college level.
“They can actually see in the flesh someone who had success as a result of working hard and being professional,” Ward said. “I dedicated myself to the game and as a result, I had a 14-year career playing pro ball.”
For information about JW Pro Ball, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org