In a rough city with a pass-or-fail system, Raven Ward says you must have a role model who has done something positive to dodge the cemented negativity that threaten the residents of her hometown, East St. Louis, IL. Otherwise, you’re stuck.

“Either you’re successful or you’re not, there is no in between” said the key returning guard for the Kentucky State University Thorobrettes, who is using her passion for the medical field, instead of basketball, to unlock the door of success.

As a senior biology major in her last season, Ward is wrapping up her basketball career.  “Nothing is next for basketball,” she said, “I want to become an OB/GYN, so I’m gonna take the route to getting into medical school.”

She draws inspiration from her great grandmother. “My great-grandma was a nurse, and I’ve always wanted to be in this field,” she said.

Her great grandmother serves as her role model, not because she inspired Ward’s future career path, but because Ward has seen her remain grounded through many struggles.  “She taught me what to do and what not to do,” she said.

Ward, 22, grew up in East St. Louis as the youngest of her siblings for much of her life until she was promoted to a big sister in a group that currently totals 12.  Formerly being the littlest of the bunch, she didn’t have to experience many hardships since her older brothers and sisters tackled them, but she still realized that the city was small, full of poverty, and lacked businesses.

“Not many people make it,” she said.  The person closest to Ward was whom she first remembered overcoming the formidable city – her godmother, who went to college and became a high school principal.

On the other hand, Ward’s six-year-old brother aspires to be just like her, and she said it’s been a struggle to be away from her younger siblings.  “Leaving them, sometimes, made me not even want to come back to school,” she said.

Before landing at KSU, Ward travelled down to Barton College in Great Bend, Kan. after high school, hoping to transfer to a Division-I institution. But instead, she became a Thorobrette under head coach Serena King-Coleman.

Standing just 5’6’’, Ward made an immediate impact for Kentucky State as a junior, finishing the 2010-2011 regular season as the team’s third-leading scorer (9.1 ppg) while averaging a team-high 3.5 assists per game; and while her numbers are down slightly this season, she remains motivated and a key contributor in the Thorobrette attack.

“I’m gonna work hard and never give up no matter what,” she said of her basketball performance.

She picked up a basketball at six-years-old when an elementary school coach encouraged her to play at a local recreation center, and she hasn’t put it down since.

In high school, she was also a pitcher on the softball team which helped occupy her time when basketball season ended.  Between the two, basketball was the better choice; she said if she had chosen softball, “I probably wouldn’t be playing up to this point.  I’d probably be at a bigger school for academics.”  While basketball was better for her athletic career, academic success always remained at the top of her list.

While nothing can sidetrack Ward away from schoolwork, it’s the studying that can distract her from basketball. She said it’s harder for her to focus on sports if she has incomplete work.

Ward has always played hard, but studied harder, and that’s partially due to her participation in basketball.

“Growing up, I loved playing basketball so much.  If I didn’t get good grades, I couldn’t play,” she said. “Getting good grades is the starting point to being successful.”

Although she has a passion for basketball, it’s her love for biology and a 3.6 GPA  that she hopes will lead her to medical school in the future, which will be the success that ultimately helps get her pass.