University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino joked around with members of the media at a recent news conference.
"I know I keep telling you guys how good of a player he is," Pitino said about sophomore Kevin Ware with a chuckle.
Now, Ware is proving his coach correct.
The 6-foot-2 Ware, who didn't arrive in Louisville until the second semester last season because of eligibility issues, is one of the Cardinals' most improved players this season heading into Saturday's game at Memphis.
"He's really doing a nice job," Pitino said. "He's getting better and better."
A former top-75 prospect out of high school in Georgia, Ware has 17 points in the past two games and had eight points and seven rebounds against Missouri Kansas City last weekend. He's averaging 4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 16.4 minutes for the eighth-ranked Cardinals (8-1).
"I've been working hard and the coaches and my teammates have confidence in me," Ware said. "That's big for me. I just have to keep working."
Pitino said it was "almost unfair" what Ware had to go through last season. Ware initially signed with Tennessee only to seek his release after the school fired coach Bruce Pearl. He was free to look around and committed to Central Florida but changed his mind after learning the NCAA was investigating the school.
Ware then picked U of L over Georgia but his appeal for immediate eligibility was rejected by the NCAA. He wasn't allowed to play until the second semester.
"Everything just kept happening to me," Ware said. "It started off me getting out of the letter from Tennessee and then coming here for the Derby (Festival) and all the Central Florida and Louisville questions. Stuff just kept building up.
"And then I decided to come here but I couldn't play."
Ware ended up playing in 20 games for the Cardinals last season, scoring just 20 points and hitting only 8 of 27 field goals in 5.3 minutes a game.
"A learning experience," Ware called it. "I knew coming in that I probablywouldn't play a lot. I just had to me patient and work hard."
Ware said he "matured a lot," and used the offseason to try and make sure he was going to get minutes this season. He worked hard on his jump shot and "whatever else coach (Pitino) wanted me to get better at."
Senior Stephan Van Treese said it's "pretty obvious he put in a lot of work. He's improved and really wants to be a big contributor this season."
And, so far, Ware has been just that for the Cardinals.
Ware scored 10 points in the opener against Manhattan, has scored in all but two games and has 10 steals. His field-goal percentage is up to 45.7.
"I'm definitely a lot better," he said. "I improved my shooting a lot. I just need to keep working and keep improving."
Pitino said he's recently talked with Ware about watching teammate Russ Smith and trying to "do more things like that" on the court.
"We are trying to get him to do more things like Russ," Pitino said. "He doesn't always have to pull up for a mid-range shot. We want him to try and get into the lane and get fouled or make some layups. He's doing a lot better."