Friday, May 6, 2011

Catching up with former Gaucho hoopster BJ Ward

Gaucho Hoops (GH):  Thanks for taking this interview, BJ.  Let's start with your childhood.  Where did you grow up?

BJ Ward (BJW)I grew up in the city of Oxnard, a nice beach community about 50 minutes south of Santa Barbara.  Whenever I'm asked that question I can't help but have a smile on my face.  I have a lot of pride for the city of Oxnard.

GH:  Who and what were your biggest influences growing up?  What did you learn from them?

BJWMy biggest influences growing up were my parents, Olivia and Granville Ward, and my high school basketball coach, Lou Cvijanovich.  I would probably say I learned how to be a respectful, honest human being from them.  They are all still big influences in my life.

GH:   That's great to hear.  Describe your relationship with Nick Jones, your teammate and friend from Oxnard and UCSB.  Do you still stay in contact with him?

BJWI have played basketball with Nick since we were 12 years old.  He is currently playing professionally in Mexico and I see him when he comes back into the area.  The last time I saw him was about a year ago when our high school, Santa Clara, retired our jerseys at a ceremony there.  Nick was always a great teammate.  He had an intense work ethic that was contagious and very admirable.  He was not always the most vocal person, but was always looked at as a leader because of how he approached the game.  I will always have a strong bond with him because of our basketball experiences in high school and college. 

GH: What convinced you to attend UCSB, and play for the Gauchos?

BJWCoach [Bob] Williams was a huge factor.  I just felt comfortable with him and Coach Marty Wilson (who is now at Pepperdine).  I saw the vision Coach Williams had as a new coach and wanted to be a part of that.  In addition, the academic reputation UCSB had was a major factor.  And you couldn't ask for a more beautiful campus and a place to go to school. 

GH:  That is the truth:  UCSB is a great place to attend college.  BJ, why don't you give us a brief summary for our readers when you played at UCSB, and your role on the teams you played on.

BJWI played for the UCSB basketball team from 1999-2003.  My goal initially was to redshirt so I could get better prepared for the college game.  I hoped to put on some more weight and just develop my understanding of the college game as a PG.  However, I ended up having to play because of a lack of depth at the PG position early my freshman year.  My role over my career varied.  I started about 10 games in my time there, but contributed primarily off of the bench for the majority of my career.  My biggest contributions came during my sophomore and junior years.

GH:  Describe your transformation from an incoming freshman into a graduating senior.

BJWI think the biggest transformation had less to do with basketball and more to do with growing up and becoming an adult.  Basketball is a game of life and I learned a lot about life in my experiences playing basketball.  I would have loved to have played more in my time there.  But, I had a very enjoyable, rewarding experience there both on and off the court. 

GH: What did you get most out of UCSB?  What did you enjoy the most about being a Gaucho student-athlete?

BJWWell, I grew up a lot while at UCSB.  I grew into an adult.  Those years between 18-22 are pretty important years in ones life.  I learned how to be responsible, how to prioritize and how to balance my life.  The thing I enjoyed most about being a Gaucho student-athlete was the simple fact I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a Division 1 basketball player.  Also, I enjoyed the time I spent traveling with my teammates and seeing some new places.

GH: What was your biggest disappointment?  What did you learn from it?

BJWMy biggest disappointment was probably the fact I didn't play as much as I would have hoped.  As a result, my outlook on life, situations and circumstances is always to view them in a positive light.  There are certain things in life that will be out of your control, in a sense.  But, that never changed the way I approached practice or my attitude with my teammates.  I took away a LOT of positive things and experiences from my time there.

GH:  I do recall Coach Williams describing your unselfish approach as a teammate.  Speaking of Coach Williams, describe your relationship with him, as a player, and now as an alumnus.

BJWI have always had a good relationship with Coach.  From the moment he was in my house recruiting, to my time playing, to our relationship after basketball and UCSB, Coach has always showed that he cared about his players.  As a coach he is intense, but fair.  As a person he is extremely caring.  I think the fact that he is still involved in the lives of his past players and the fact we make it a point to support him is very telling.  Coach was there for me during a family tragedy I had gone through a year after I had left the program.  He made it a point to be there for me and I will never forget that.  That meant a lot to me and my family.

GH:  Wow, that's a side of Coach that most people don't know about.  It's good to hear he cares about his players even after their playing days are over.  You obviously still follow the Gauchos, as we met at the Big West Tournament in Anaheim last March.  How many Gaucho games over the course of the season do you normally attend?

BJWI have made it a point to attend at least 1 game a year, sometimes 2.

GH:  What are you up to these days?  Where do you live, and what do you do for a living?

BJWOne of the greatest things I took away from UCSB was my wife, Hailey.  She was actually the first girl I met there.  We met at a gymnast party before school even started our freshman year.  We have been married for almost 4 years now. We live in Agoura Hills with our 2 dogs and are expecting our first child.  My wife works as an attorney and I own a real estate company in Ventura.  I have been in the real estate business from the moment I graduated until today and I love it!  I own and operate Comfort Real Estate Services in Ventura.

GH:  Great story, BJ:  love at first sight!  How has UCSB the school prepared you for life after college?  What did you learn off the court, as well as on the court?

BJWYou have to take the experience, although on a small scale, and look back on it. Although you are in a bubble as a college student this is where you learn how to be an adult.  You learn about relationships, how to balance your finances, how to pay bills, how to lease an apartment, etc.  You have to balance time, be responsible enough to get up and go to class.  You have to learn to cook.  Although I was close to home and, generally, you have your parents there for you, there are things you have to deal with independently.  This is what college is about and I took a lot from my experiences there.  I didn't know how to wash clothes until I went to college...  :)  That is just an example. 

GH:  Did being a Gaucho player prepare you also?  How so?

BJWLife as a student athlete brings with it added responsibility.  So, all I just talked about in the previous question is magnified a bit when you throw in the fact you have practices, traveling, games, weights, etc.  It's a lot.

GH:  No doubt.  What do you miss most about living in Isla Vista?  What were your favorite eating establishments?

BJWJust like I have a great sense of pride for the city of Oxnard, I have a similar pride about Isla Vista and the 4 years I spent there.  I.V. was awesome!  I had a blast living there and being in that bubble for 4 years.  I have some timeless memories from my years spent there.  It was an amazing experience.  The thing I miss most about I.V. would be the people you're surrounded by.  Everyone is in the same frame of mind, people are happy, riding bikes around, great parties...  My favorite eating establishments were Giovannis, Freebirds and DeJavu. 

GH:   Yep, I still have great memories of IV, also.  Besides Nick, who from the team do you still stay in touch with?

BJWI still stay in touch with a good amount of the guys.  Jacoby Atako and I are very close.  I am the best man in his wedding next week in Hawaii.  Branduinn Fullove and I also talk often.  We were traveling roommates for 3 years.  I visit Adama Ndiaye every once in a while in Orange County.  I still talk to, and hang out with Chrismen Oliver and Casey Cook.  I keep in touch with Mike Vuk, Bray and Josh Davis. 

GH:  Tell Jacoby congratulations, on behalf of Gaucholoco Nation!  What are your favorite moments about being a Gaucho?

BJWMy favorite moments being a Gaucho were beating some of the larger Division 1 programs.

GH: What are you most proud of during your career as a Gaucho player?

BJWI am proud of the fact I was able to fulfill 2 dreams I had for myself and as a basketball player.  One was to play Division 1 basketball, which I had the opportunity to do there.  Secondly, it was getting to the NCAA tournament.  That can never be taken away from us.  There are not a lot of mid-major basketball players and programs that can say they have gone to the tourney, but I can, we can.

GH: What are your future plans, personally and professionally? 

BJWAs I write this I am in Sacramento spending time at the Capitol lobbying Assemblymen and Legislators on issues that concern the real estate industry and our state housing market.  I am very dedicated to my job.  My plan is to grow the company to a manageable size for an independent operation and to develop the team of consultants employed with my office to be as productive and happy in their careers as possible.  Personally, my goals are just to enjoy life and my family.  Hailey and I are looking forward to our first baby and I am sure that will change our lives a bit.  But, that is a challenge we are ready for.  I just want to be a good dad and husband, a good son, brother and uncle and just enjoy life....  Every moment! 

GH:  Congratulations to you and your wife on your first Gaucho baby!  Any last thoughts you can offer to Gaucho fans?

BJWI just wanted to thank all the Gaucho fans for their support of the program.  Coach Williams is doing a great job there getting the team to the tourney the last 2 years.  Whenever I go to games it's always nice when fans, boosters and people around the program come up and say hello.  That means a lot to me and my teammates!  I enjoyed my time in SB and the time I spent as a student athlete there. Great memories...  Go Gauchos!

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