From Viking to Hokie: Michael Ward (‘22) makes history as first D1 basketball walk-on in years


Photo courtesy @mikeyw4rd Instagram

Ward left an imprint on the Whitman basketball program as one of the only Vikings to go on to play Division 1 in the NCAA.

By Faiyaad Kamal

For many high school athletes, competing at the collegiate level is the endgame. However, this dream only comes true for 7% of those students — and Virginia Tech freshman Michael Ward (‘22), a former Viking basketball forward, is one of them. 

After deciding to attend Virginia Tech, Ward walked onto the school’s Division 1 men’s basketball team in May, making him Whitman’s first D1 men’s basketball player since Michael Gruner (‘06).

During his senior season, Ward led Whitman’s varsity squad to a 13–9 record by virtue of his season average of 15 points, five rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. In a midseason game against Richard Montgomery, Ward posted his varsity career record in points, scoring 33 points and seven three-pointers in an overtime victory.

But, Ward really cemented himself as one of the best Vikes in recent memory when it mattered most — the playoffs. In a first-round matchup against Wootton, he led Whitman with a dominant performance of 22 points through efficient shooting, opening up the postseason on fire. Just three days later, Ward continued his playoff excellence in a rivalry matchup against BCC, where he recorded a double-double, accumulating ten or more in two stat categories, with 18 points and 13 rebounds. The intense back-and-forth battle didn’t end in Whitman’s favor, but despite the loss, Ward ended his high school career with a strong statement.

“I feel like it was cut short — having no fans for a lot of the senior season, and not having a junior year season because of COVID-19 — but I’m glad I got what I got,” Ward said. “It went by really fast and that’s gonna happen for everyone.”

However, making the team in the first place didn’t come easy for Ward; he didn’t make the JV team his freshman year. That setback motivated him to earn a spot on the Varsity roster his sophomore year and come off of the bench. Despite his limited minutes, Ward ended the season as one of the top five scorers on the team. 

A year later, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the cancellation of his junior season. But, Ward used his time in isolation to turn to the thing he loved the most: basketball.

“It wasn’t a grind for me because I enjoyed it,” Ward said. “I went to the park to play basketball almost every day when COVID hit. It was the only thing I had to do.”

Senior Preston Kuhn, who played with Ward for a year, regularly witnessed Ward’s relentless work ethic.

“Nothing came easy for him,” Kuhn said. “He always grinded in silence and would always be down for early morning workouts before school playing at the local park.”

Ward was also known for his intense workout routines among team members. Kuhn said that Ward once joined him for a workout at a local park shortly after completing an eight-mile run. Although the former Whitman player trains hard, Kuhn said that he’s humble. 

Varsity boys basketball coach Chris Lun especially noticed the effort he put in to be the best, he said. 

Michael is one of the hardest workers we have had at Whitman in a long time. Michael really opened some eyes with his performance in the DeMatha summer league in summer 2021,” Lun said. “As the season went on, his on-the-ball and help-side defense both improved tremendously.” 

On the Whitman team, Ward’s teammates saw him as a leader, primary scorer and the “go-to guy” on the team, because he was the team member that the Vikes turned to when they needed a bucket. Ward was aware of his contributions to the team, he said, and thrived on the motivating responsibility to propel the team to success. While playing at the national level was always in his sights, Ward didn’t realize it was either possible or even realistic until his senior year when he played in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).

Soon after the AAU season ended, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team offered Ward a walk-on opportunity upon his acceptance to the university.

Ward had talked with Lun about attending Virginia Tech for basketball, so Lun reached out to Capitol Hoops director Marc Stern. Stern then discussed the idea with Virginia Tech assistant coach Mike Jones, who, one month later, notified Ward that they’d love to have him.

I couldn’t be more proud of Michael,” Lun said. “His situation at Virginia Tech is a dream come true for him. He is exactly what any college coach would want in a player. He is talented, unselfish and has an amazing work ethic.”

Ward left an imprint on the Whitman basketball program as one of the only Vikings to go on to play Division 1 in the NCAA and took part in the Hokies’ 19-15 record in the 2022-23 season.

“There is no doubt Michael will be a positive addition to the Virginia Tech Basketball program,” Lun said. “I expect Michael to work hard and to make his teammates the best they can be.”