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Ward signs with Johnson University

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By Chris Cannon

ccannon@lafollettepress.com

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Campbell County senior Niki Ward is living out a dream.

On Monday evening, the Lady Cougar point guard signed her intent to play with Johnson University in Knoxville.

“I don’t have the words for it,” Ward said of the day. “I’m excited. I was given many, many different signs that showed me that this is where I needed to be.”

Johnson University, formerly known as Johnson Bible College, is heralded as Knoxville’s Christian university since 1893. According to Ward, it was prayer that led her to her decision.

“When I went there for a visit, I fell in love with the place,” she said. “I prayed about it, and God showed me that it’s where I need to be.”

For coaches Doug Karnes and Clay Young, that was a welcome message.

The excitement Ward shows proves to Karnes that playing college ball is something Ward was looking forward to.

“It’s a major step,” the head coach said. “You can tell. Niki is so excited to come and play. We don’t offer any scholarship or anything like that, but when I told her that, it was no big deal. It was, ‘I get to play college ball.’ That’s what she’s excited about.”

Ward had a stellar senior campaign for Campbell County, bucketing 27 percent (300) of the Lady Cougars total points.

She led the team with 11.5 points-per-game, while pulling down 99 rebounds and 37 steals.

“I think, even as a freshman, that she’ll impact our team, simply because she can shoot the ball from outside,” Karnes said. “She’s got skills that (some) of the girls this year – they were playing because we needed the bodies. Next year, we’ll have enough that we won’t have to worry about needing bodies. We’ll have skill players. I’m looking forward to next year already.”

Ward knocked down 40 percent of her 3-point attempts, as she bucketed 33-of-88.

She also drove the lane, creating opportunities at the charity stripe, where she shot 78 percent.

“She’ll have the opportunity to impact our team immediately,” Karnes said. “It’s not like she’ll have to redshirt. She’ll be able to play next year.”

Campbell County head coach Ryan Browning knows Ward has a big future.

During her senior campaign, she was playing the point guard position.

According to Browning, Ward should be more of a two-guard or shooting guard.

“People can create, and she can stand there and extend that zone,” Browning said. “She can knock those 3-pointers down left and right. A lot of these kids don’t realize that in high school, we ask them to do a lot of things. In college, they can become more specialized, where they can stay wide, catch the ball and shoot the ball.”

Playing her senior season with numerous freshman and sophomores, it was a chance for Ward to inspire her teammates.

Her advice to her teammates was simple.

“Work hard and pray about it,” she said. “God will show you what you need to do.”

Browning felt much the same way.

“When you get in the gym and work hard – put your time in and get stronger – (it’s possible),” he said. “You just can’t do it in our gym. You can do all you want during practice, but you’ve got to do it outside of practice. Do more little things and get out and play. It’s a wonderful opportunity for those younger players to see.”

Ward will take her long ball abilities to Johnson University, where she should be put to good use.

With the skills to build his growing team, Ward could be just what Johnson is looking for to build its program on up.

Ward, however, said it’s just a chance to prove something.

“I’m going to show them that even if you come from a small town, you can still do big things.”