Charlie Ward’s path to NBA stardom with the Knicks was unlike any other in the history of the sport. A Heisman Trophy Winner at Florida State University, New York selected him with the 26th overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft.

Now that his playing days are over, it’s only fitting that Ward has come full circle, returning to football as head coach for the Westbury Christian School in Texas.

“It’s a blessing to have an opportunity to impact young kids like this and I am cherishing the opportunity,” said the always modest and low-key Ward. “What we do on the field is nothing compared to the impact we have off of it.”

Ward spent four-seasons playing basketball at Florida State, but he made national headlines as a star QB for the Seminoles. However, rather than hitting the gridiron, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound native of Georgia hit the hardwood instead. Ward spent 10 of his 11-year NBA career as a member of the Knicks, averaging 6.5 points, 4.2 assists and 1.2 steals over 580 regular season games. He ranks third in franchise history in three-pointers made (598), fifth in steals (744) and seventh in assists (2,451).

More important than any statistic is the tangible impact he had as a leader over his decade wearing the orange-and-blue. A tough, gritty defender with a high basketball IQ, Ward's Knicks made the playoffs during his first eight seasons on Broadway, highlighted by an NBA Finals appearance in 1999.

“That was a special time and a real bright spot during my time in New York,” he said, smiling while reflecting on the team’s magical run. “Unfortunately we came up short, but the bond I have with my teammates is very strong and something that will never go away. I don’t see them that often, but when I do see guys like Allan (Houston) it is special. He is a brother to me.”

After brief stints with the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, Ward retired and immediately became an assistant under former head coach Jeff Van Gundy in Houston. A natural floor general on the court, he used those instincts in what he says helped mold his coaching philosophy.

“In the NBA I learned what it meant to be a leader… to pick up my teammates and rally them around a cause and a goal. Coaching isn’t much different.”

As a result, Ward quickly was considered an up and coming coaching prodigy among the NBA ranks. So why then, after two seasons, did he give it all up?

“I wanted to spend more time with my family and the opportunity to mold young people’s minds was very enticing,” he said.
That opportunity proved to be at one of the last places you’d expect to find a former NBA star – at the tiny Westbury Christian School in Houston, which is a school that boasts only a few hundred students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Despite being retired from the professional ranks, Ward has worked tirelessly, taking his job very seriously. He spent his first year in 2008 as an assistant for both the basketball and the football squads before dedicating himself solely to football as the team’s head coach.

“It’s not about the sport, it is about the impact we have on the young people’s minds,” he said when asked why he made the switch back to football. “When an opportunity comes along like the one I have been afforded, it is a blessing and something I cherish. It isn’t about the results on the field; it is about what kind of young men they are becoming.”

While Ward is a strong part of the Knicks past, he also shares a certain bond with a member of the team’s future in Toney Douglas, another Florida State point guard born and bred in Georgia.

“He just happens to be one of those guys that play hard-nosed,” Ward said while watching Douglas in action. “He has to find his niche here and learn his role. Playing defense and making hustle plays and tough plays is something we all should do, and if he can do consistently what he’s been doing, he will find a place on the roster.”

Those are strong words spoken like a true coach – even if that coach now happens to be back in football.


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