OXNARD — In the wake of a bad day, when you've been stuck in traffic, spilled orange juice on your new Tommy Hilfiger shirt, got yelled at for not taking out the trash or forgot to do your geometry homework, think of B.J. Ward for inspiration.
This 17-year-old senior from Santa Clara High is more than just the best point guard south of Santa Barbara.
He is proof that dreams come true, that hard work produces positive results, that being a good citizen is as cool as having an outrageous tattoo.
Long ago, when he was 8 and starting to develop a love for basketball, he instinctively knew the road he'd take.
"My mom always said she knew I'd make the right decisions," he said. "I don't know how she knew."
Every step of the way, Granville Burdette Ward III has looked toward the future.
"I just wanted to make it," he said.
He'd stay after practice to keep shooting when others left. He'd sneak through a small window to enter a gym late at night. He'd dribble two basketballs simultaneously along an empty road lit only by the glow of a full moon. He'd leave his apartment early in the morning to run alone along the white sand of Hueneme Beach.
When he wasn't playing basketball at a gym, park or in the street, he'd be doing his homework, reading a book or studying to maintain his grade-point average in school.
He still found time to have lots of friends, go to parties, hang out at the movies, listen to music. But he never wavered from what he was determined to accomplish.
"Everybody knows I'm a gym rat," he said. "Everybody knows B.J. doesn't do drugs. 'Come on, B.J., we want to see you drunk.' Nah, they knew I didn't do that. I'm not going to give into that stuff. Everywhere you go there's peer pressure. 'Do you drink?' No. It's like people don't believe me when I tell them. You can't give in to it."
From the beginning, when basketball became as much a part of his life as sleeping, the dream of earning a college scholarship took hold. As the youngest of six children, he knew a scholarship would help his family immensely. His father is an electrician, his mother works as a city housing coordinator. They've spent thousands of dollars providing him with a Catholic education.
"They've been paying tuition since second grade," he said. "If I didn't have a scholarship, my parents would have to pay. They couldn't do that. It's the only way I could get there. I was determined."
Last November, the 6-foot-1 Ward signed a letter of intent with UC Santa Barbara. It was his reward not only for his basketball skills but his 3.5 GPA.
If only Santa Barbara realizes what it is getting.
"Oh my gosh, he's just the best of the best," said Lou Cvijanovich, Santa Clara's coach for 41 years. "He can do everything so well. His fundamentals are exceptional for a kid his age. He can stop on a dime. He can take off on a dime. He's just a real fine young man."
To watch Ward dribble a ball up the court is like seeing a Harlem Globetrotter in action. Dribbling is as second nature to him as walking.
"He's about as good as I've seen out there," UCSB Coach Bob Williams said of Ward's ball-handling skills.
There are people who have helped Ward along the way, starting with his parents, Granville Sr. and Olivia.
"I love them," he said. "They've done everything for me. My mom is the most special person in the world. I couldn't do anything without her."
There's his coach, Cvijanovich, a 72-year-old legend.
"Every single day, there's a lesson about life, about basketball," Ward said. "If something's not right, he knows how to fix the problem. He knows everything. He's a role model for everybody."
What motivates Ward is when people doubt him. The other day, a friend called to say somebody was questioning Ward's skills.
"They're talking junk about you, so you better come down and play," his friend said.
It's a trick his friends use whenever they want Ward to play in a pickup game. They know he never fears a challenge.
When magazines or college recruiting services rank other players higher than him, it only serves as incentive for the moment he enters college and gets the chance to show everyone what he can do.
"We'll see, we'll see," he says quietly, eagerly waiting for his college debut.
For almost 10 years, he has prepared for the opportunity at hand. The scrapped knees, the balls rejected into his face, the rough and tumble schooling on park courts--they've brought him to this glorious time in his life.
Yet, he has never forgotten what all the hard work was really about.
"Basketball got me my free education, but basketball isn't my first priority," he said. "Education is."
Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.