Ward's return will boost Longhorns

May, 18, 2010
05/18/10
5:27
PM ET
RESEDA, Calif. -- Damion James still can't figure out how Texas went from No. 1 in the country to barely making the NCAA tournament.

But he can say this: Varez Ward's season-ending quad injury changed the Longhorns more than any other issue.

Ward, the starting point guard for the first three games, suffered a bizarre injury during warm-ups before the CBE Classic championship game against Pitt on Nov. 24 in Kansas City.

"I was right there when he was warming up and he was getting ready to take off for a dunk,'' James said. "He just fell. I didn't know what happened. It was crazy.''

Ward averaged 6.7 points, three rebounds and 23 minutes a game. He wasn't known as a true point guard but was expected to be one of the team's top defenders.

Ward was granted a medical hardship waiver by the NCAA and will be a redshirt sophomore for the 2010-11 season. Ward had surgery Dec. 1.

"People don't know how much of an impact player he was for our team, how much of a leader,'' said James, who was going through a pre-draft workout with Notre Dame's Luke Harangody on Tuesday at the 360 Athletic Club in advance of heading to Chicago for the NBA's pre-draft combine this week.

"Maybe it didn't show, but with the freshmen struggling early it was overshadowed,'' James said. "We needed him. He was our extra lift.''

Ward was the first of two point guards to go down for the Longhorns. Dogus Balbay suffered a season-ending ACL injury Feb. 20 at Texas Tech. Inconsistent offensive play by Balbay, J'Covan Brown and Jai Lucas, as well as turnovers and missed opportunities, were a common problem for the Longhorns. All four point guards return for Texas as well as rising star forward Jordan Hamilton and forward Gary Johnson.

UT also adds two highly touted newcomers in forward Tristan Thompson and point guard Cory Joseph, who will command immediate attention.

In addition to James, the Longhorns also lost senior contributors Dexter Pittman inside, Justin Mason on the perimeter and freshman guard Avery Bradley, who like James is projected to go in the first round of the NBA draft.

James said the 2010-11 Longhorns will be defined by Ward.

"They'll have a good season with Jordan and Gary, but Varez was our best on-ball defender. He can pass the ball. He's a true point guard. He can get dudes the ball when they need it. He makes smart decisions. We had too many crucial turnovers.

"He's going to be the face of that team next year,'' James said of Ward. "No doubt. I know -- I hang around those guys. He works hard all the time and this is his time to shine and make a name for himself.''

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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