Two quick, illusive guards that provide an astounding momentum boost every time they step onto the court for the Wildcats. Naim Ladd, a redshirt freshman guard from Seattle, Steward, a true freshman point guard from Bellevue. Whether it be their threat from the 3 point line, ball handling ability, tenacity on the defensive end, demeanor on/off the court, or just how tall they stand, Ladd and Steward are two of a kind.
Ladd, in his second season as a Wildcat, was the only one of his 2014 recruiting class to redshirt (alongside Jerome Bryant and Drake Rademacher), but the wait has been well worth it for the Rainer Beach High School product.
“My whole life I’ve been playing basketball, so this was the first time I took a year off… There were times when I wished I was out there with the guys, but I had to buckle down and be a good supportive teammate… It was worth the wait,” Ladd spoke.
Throughout this 2015-16 season, Ladd has already tallied a whopping 236 points, right on pace to join the 1000 point club in his Wildcat career. Naim has taken Ellensburg by storm with his dynamic ability to drive to rack and finish, despite his 5’7’’ frame. His common hashtag on his social networking pages is completely indicative of his style of play, #HeartOverHeight.
“#HeartOverHeight means that at the end of day, I might not be the tallest on the court, but I’m going to have one of the toughest hearts out there.”
The mantra began when Naim was little. Growing up, watching some of the greatest small guards like Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas (both Seattle-area products), Ladd was inspired by their mentalities on the court.
“They always believed in themselves. Since I was little, I used that as motivation to keep pushing through the adversity in my life.”
To compliment his quickness to the bucket, an impressive 41% shooting ability from beyond the arc is also in his arsenal.
Similarly, Mandy Steward has been just as impressive. Just a year after being named to the 3A All State team as a Bellevue Wolverine in 2015, Steward has transitioned from wearing blue and yellow to crimson and black with ease.
“The road from high school basketball to college basketball is difficult and very rewarding. College basketball is about absorbing as much information that you can, and applying it as quickly as possible. It’s been fun and I love it” Steward proclaimed.
From her first game as a Wildcat, scoring an impressive 13 points against Alaska Fairbanks, head coach Jeff Harada knew he had recruited a gem. Mandy’s confidence at such a young age has been evident, attempting the second most shots on the women’s roster (Jasmine Edwards), and being one of three players to be scoring in double digits for the Cats (Edwards and Parker). Steward, like Ladd, has been providing the spark off the bench the Wildcats this year.
“Being the 6th woman as a freshman has made me have to understand I always can learn more. I can always improve. You don’t have to start to make a difference in the game.”
From the “eye test,” these two are almost identical in nearly every facet of the game: 3 point spot-up shooting, explosiveness to the basket, ability to create their own shot, and the capability to take over games by scoring in bunches.
The best part about these two? Being that they are just freshman, we’ll be seeing Ladd and Steward for the next 3 years in Wildcat jerseys. Put your shades on Nicholson Pavilion, the future is bright.