Canada calling as Ipswich sportsman shoots higher
HAVING made the right decision to return home, Canada-bound Cooper Ward can't wait to head overseas again.
The Ipswich Force basketballer is doing just that on Sunday after playing his final Queensland State League (QSL) match on Saturday night.
The Ipswich born and bred teenager was only months into a college scholarship with Cape Breton in Nova Scotia when COVID caused widespread concerns across the sporting world.
The former St Edmund's College graduate decided to come home in March to avoid any health issues. He is glad he did.
As his Canadian teammates were left without matches, Ward was able to suit up for Force in this year's inaugural QSL series.
"I've loved that,'' the power forward/small forward said.
"Our team is quite young but we're playing well . . . more strides going into the finals now.
"My mates in Canada haven't been able to play anything but I've been able to play and keep up my fitness.
"The QSL for me, I think we are doing so much better than what we thought.''
Apart from valuable game time and working with the Force senior team, he has benefited from learning alongside Australian Boomers and Brisbane Bullets recruit Nathan Sobey.
"It helps having Nathan Sobey on the team but he's there helping guys,'' Ward, 19, said.
"I correspond with him. I'm probably one of the ones that talks to him more on the team.
"I've just been picking his brain, asking things that he did. He went to America and how he plays professionally.''
Ward has another ally in the Force team - captain Jason Ralph who has also lived and played in the American College system.
"It's good to like have someone who has done that lifestyle,'' Ward said, appreciating the support of a good Ipswich friend.
"To be able to ask him questions about what I don't much about or what life was like (away from home).''
Saturday night's match against competition leaders RedCity Roar at Cleveland is the first of Ipswich's weekend double-header schedule before the finals.
Ipswich also plays the Gold Coast Rollers at Carrara on Sunday afternoon.
Ward will join his Force teammates on Saturday night before spending some final family time the next day before venturing to Canada.
It will be his third overseas trek having also spent five and a half months at an American Academy in Atlanta. That was from January to May in 2019.
The six foot six basketballer accepted the Canadian opportunity in August, eager to improve his game and attract attention.
He did that, being named Rookie of the Year in his Canadian conference and making the All-Rookie first team.
"I was over the moon with how I played,'' he said, happy with his all-round game averaging nine points, six rebounds and two assists a game.
"I can always play better but for a first year and being the youngest on the team, I feel like I did pretty well.''
Ward was 18 during his first Canadian stint.
Apart from pursuing higher level goals overseas, he enjoys the massive overseas experience being a young man.
"I told Chris (head coach Chris Riches) I want to get back over there as soon as I can,'' he said.
"Just the lifestyle.
"Every since I've been young, everyone who plays basketball has dreams of playing college whether it be Canada, America.
"It doesn't matter where and I just want to get back over there and just keep practising, getting better every day, doing what I love.''
In Canada, he will continue his Bachelor of Arts and Community studies, majoring in sports activity leadership and also developing his public speaking.
He has chatted to his Canadian teammates every day while in Ipswich.
"I'll finish in Canada. I have four years left,'' Ward said.
"After that I might come back to play.
"If someone wants to pick me for the NBL I'll play there, or we'll see what happens overseas.''
Having worked regularly with head coach Riches, he is appreciative of being part of the Ipswich Force program since a youngster.