Last week the '93 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback was playing point guard for the Jacksonville Hooters of the United States Basketball League. The man University of Miami football coach Dennis Erickson has called "the greatest college quarterback I have ever seen" was running the floor to give NBA scouts a better look at him as he honed his game.
Which raises the question: If a guy can lead his school to its first national football title by completing 70% of his passes and not be picked in the NFL draft, what chance does that same guy, who is six feet even and didn't make the all-conference basketball team, have of being drafted by the NBA?
Surprisingly, a good one.
"He may be the third-best point guard in the draft," says Seattle SuperSonic scout Yvan Kelly, who was watching Charlie Ward in Jacksonville last week and was duly impressed with his team defense, his high assist-to-turnover ratio and, above all, his leadership. "Questions? His one-on-one defensive ability and his jump shot. But he has all of the intangibles and is a wonderful athlete."
Ward averaged 17.0 points, 9.0 assists and 5.3 steals in helping the Hooters to three wins during his four-game stint last week. Compare that with the 10.5 points, 4.9 assists and 2.8 steals a game he had for Florida State in the 16 games he played following the Orange Bowl this year, and you have to agree with Ward when he says, "I'm doing things better now."
This week he heads for Europe to tour with a college all-star team, and then he goes to a predraft camp in Chicago. And on June 29 he hopes to become not only the first Heisman Trophy winner to be selected by the NBA in its two-round draft but also the first college football player to be drafted by both the NBA and major league baseball (the Milwaukee Brewers selected him in 1993). He could also be the first player from the USBL, a spring-summer minor league, to be picked in the NBA draft's first round since Muggsy Bogues in 1987. So how is it that all seven rounds and 222 selections of the recent NFL draft occurred without Ward's name coming up?
Says San Diego Charger director of player personnel Billy Devaney, "Most kids lie and tell you they're only interested in the NFL. I admire Charlie's honesty. He admitted he had NBA aspirations. That may have cost him a spot in the draft."
There had also been some questions about Ward's height and arm strength, but the central issue, it seems, was his intentions. "The NFL wanted Charlie to make a commitment to football," said Ward's agent, Eugene Parker, after the draft, "but Charlie always said that if a team didn't take him until after the first round, it wouldn't be able to sign him."
Considering Ward's warning that he had to be picked in the first round or not at all, his mother, Willard, wasn't surprised that he went undrafted. "We were told during December's Heisman dinner that Charlie was probably a third-to fifth-round pick," she says. "The big surprise in our house on draft day was the 30th wedding anniversary party our kids threw us."
So as Charlie celebrated his parents' marriage, he became a Ward of the court: football orphan, basketball prospect. While scouts swirl around him, he maintains an inner peace. "If I'm in the NBA or not, God has a plan for me," he says. "What's important is I have my college degree."