April 23, 2012
If Mathias Ward does what he intends -- play in his third NCAA tournament next March -- he will make Montana men's basketball history. It would be fitting for the player who is already setting new academic standards.
Consider: A year from now, Ward, who will be a fifth-year senior for the Griz next winter, will leave the University with an undergraduate degree and a pair of master's degrees.
Three NCAA tournaments, which would be a first for a Griz basketball player, and three degrees in one career? Forget the Montana annals and start researching the NCAA record books.
Three months before Ward was born, in 1990, the Washington legislature adopted the Learning by Choice Law. It was not written or voted for with him in mind, but it is doubtful many have reaped the benefits of the progressive legislation that Ward has.
One of the components of the Learning by Choice Law is Running Start, which allows qualified high school juniors in Washington to begin taking courses that double as both high school and college credit and accelerate the process through the education system.
Ward, who recently was named one of Montana's 33 student-athletes on the Winter Academic All-Big Sky Conference team (complete list below), qualified and took two years of classes at Tacoma Community College.
When he enrolled at Montana in the fall of 2008 he already had 60 credits on his transcript.
Ward, of Gig Harbor, Wash., earned his finance degree last spring after his third year at Montana, will add an MBA next month and a master's in accounting next May, all accomplished with an enviable GPA and a reliable mid-range jump shot.
"With two graduate degrees, I think it will differentiate me from other college graduates," Ward said. "There are so many people out there saturating the job market that I think anything you can do to get above and beyond will set you apart.
"Plus I'll have the basketball background, and there are a lot of good characteristics that I can take from that like teamwork, hard work and balancing your sport and your studies."
Ward's story sounds seamless. It wasn't. He redshirted his first year at Montana, and without basketball, the rest of his priorities slipped.
"I really wasn't used to the level of freedom I had," Ward said. "Plus I wasn't playing as well as I wanted to, and I kind of let that affect my grades. I stopped trying hard in the classroom, and I shouldn't have allowed that to happen."
Wards parents, Brian and Stephanie, had always stressed the importance of academics in their household. With Ward gone wayward, Stephanie stepped in and got her son back on the right track.
"My mom kind of kicked me in the butt a little bit," Ward says. "I got it figured out, and now I'm doing well in both school and basketball."
Griz basketball coach Wayne Tinkle, when asked about Ward's first year, smoothes the rough edges of Ward's version of the story with a laugh and an explanation.
"Struggling to Mathias means something different than it does to you and me. Trust me on that."
Then he added, "That's part of the maturation process. He wasn't playing for the first time in a while, and he dropped his guard a little bit.
"But he refocused his studies as his role on the team started to expand, and he's become a great representative of our program and the University."
With an MBA in hand, Ward had the option of toeing the waters of the business world in May, but he'll instead return and join fellow senior-to-be Will Cherry on a team that should be one of the Big Sky Conference favorites next winter.
"I looked into moving on, but I came here to play out my eligibility, and I wanted to honor the commitment I made to the coaches," Ward said.
"And if we can make the tournament again, that would be three times in my career, and that would be really special."
Montana's 2011-12 Winter Academic All-Big Sky Conference selections
Women's basketball: Katie Baker (Jr., health and hum an performance); Kellie Cole (Fr., education); Kenzie De Boer (Jr., communication studies); Maggie Rickman (Fr., general studies); Alyssa Smith (Jr., health and human performance); Jordan Sullivan (So., business administration); Tianna Ware (Sr., communication studies)
Women's indoor track and field: Gwenn Abbott (Jr., health and human performance); Caitlin Caraway (So., health and human performance); Amelia Carpenter (Fr., health and human performance); Keli Dennehy (Fr., business administration); Nicole Ennen (Sr., psychology); Kellee Glaus (So., biology); Ani Haas (Fr., health and human performance); Melissa Jenkins (Jr., biology); Courtney Kosovich (Sr., health and human performance); Allie Parks (Fr., environmental studies); Brittany Schroeder (Jr., health and human performance); Hannah Swift (Fr., business administration); Autumn Taniguchi (Fr., sociology); Madison Worst (Fr., general studies)
Men's indoor track and field: Chase Anderson (So., chemistry); Jordan Collison (So., health and human performance); Dylan Hambright (Fr., business administration); Nick Lichtenstadter (Fr., forestry); Mark Messmer (Fr., health and human performance); Tyler Riggs (Fr., education); Alex White (So., health and human performance); Sam Willis (Fr., pre-journalism)
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