Fortson, Ward Will Put Friendship Aside

Varez Ward doesn't recall the first time he met Courtney Fortson all that vividly. The Texas freshman guard was 13 years old, bouncing a basketball at the local YMCA in Montgomery, Ala., when Fortson walked into the gym.

Even then, Arkansas' freshman point guard was small for his age.

"I remember him being real little, and he'd always want to play against the bigger guys at the YMCA," Ward said. "I liked his attitude. It was a lot like mine. From then on, we were real close."

Their relationship has grown ever since, on and off the basketball court, making tonight's contest between Arkansas and No. 7 Texas extra special for Fortson and Ward. For so many years, they succeeded together — Fortson as the point guard and Ward as the shooting guard for their teams, starting back in middle school.

But tonight, for the first time since seventh grade, Fortson and Ward find themselves in different colored uniforms.

"It's going to be a little weird, but it's going to be fun," Fortson said. "We love to compete. Maybe we'll even get to guard each other a little bit."

That each freshman has exceeded expectations hasn't surprised Arkansas coach John Pelphrey. While Ward, who averages 3.4 points off the Texas bench, has 3 inches and 10 pounds on Fortson, Pelphrey sees the same important characteristics in both players.

He can see why they meshed, why they each refer to the other as his "best friend."

"They were like a dynamic duo for a large portion of their lives," Pelphrey said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find two guys who know each other better and who are more alike. They are solely driven by competing and by winning."

All they did was win, it seemed.

Their teams at Jefferson Davis High in Montgomery won a state championship their junior season and lost in the state title game their senior season. Fortson and Ward paced their AAU team, Southeast Elite, to a 51-5 record their final season. And at The Patterson School, a prep school in Lenoir, N.C., Fortson and Ward helped their squad to a 34-2 mark.

"Watching them on the court was just crazy. It was amazing," said Chris Chaney, coach at The Patterson School. "They had great chemistry. You could tell they knew each other really well. There were so many times when Courtney would throw a pass, and you'd say, ‘Where is that going?' And then, Varez would come out of nowhere to dunk it."

The on-court bond Fortson and Ward formed certainly stretched into their personal lives, as well.

Ward said they talked about everything and gave one another valuable advice. Chaney and Southeast Elite coach Mark Komara said the two were inseparable on road trips. Fortson's mother, Lorraine, said "they were just like brothers."

Truthfully, Fortson and Ward always imagined they'd end up at the same college, playing in the same backcourt. Ward had a scholarship offer from Pelphrey but decided that going to Texas was the better move for him.

He didn't realize the Longhorns played tonight in Fayetteville until just before the season began.

"I can't wait, to be honest," Ward said. "We still talk on a daily basis almost, and it's going to be great to see him. Courtney's a great friend. But I can't wait to go there and hopefully beat them."

Courtney Fortson

Varez Ward

Today's Ticket

No. 7 Texas at Arkansas

When: 8:05 p.m.

Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville

TV: ESPN2 (Cox Ch. 24, CoxHD, Ch. 733)

Radio: KEZA-FM 107.9, KKEG-FM 92.1, KUOA-AM 1290, FM 105.3

Records: Texas Longhorns, 11-2; Arkansas Razorbacks, 11-1

Coaches: Texas, Rick Barnes (11th season); Arkansas, John Pelphrey (second season)

Series: Arkansas leads 84-65

Last Meeting: Texas beat Arkansas 80-76 on Dec. 20, 2006, in Austin, Texas

Courtney Fortson

Team: Arkansas

Position: Point guard

Class: Freshman

Height: 5-foot-11

Weight: 180 pounds

Hometown: Montgomery, Ala.

High School: Jefferson Davis High

Prep School: The Patterson School (Lenoir, N.C.)

Varez Ward

Team: Texas

Position: Shooting guard

Class: Freshman

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 190 pounds

Hometown: Montgomery, Ala.

High School: Jefferson Davis High

Prep School: The Patterson School (Lenoir, N.C.)

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