Microphone in hand, Brett Ballard stood in front of more than 100 Washburn University basketball campers last Tuesday while moderating a Q and A with Kansas redshirt sophomore guard Malik Newman.
“Malik was a McDonald’s All-American,” Ballard, the 37-year-old former KU guard and first-year Ichabod head coach, told the 6-to-14-year olds.
“Hey Malik … do you get a discount on McDonald’s for life? I was hoping to get some free french fries from Malik,” Ballard added, putting a smile on the face of his guest speaker and some of the campers and their parents.
Onlookers poking their heads into Lee Arena — site of Ballard’s two weeks worth of camps — see in Ballard somebody clearly having fun working at the NCAA Division II school located just a half-hour drive from his alma mater in Lawrence.
“It’s been really good. There’s great support here. The leadership is good. The facilities are good. The foundation here is really good,” Ballard said.
He was introduced as the successor to Washburn coaching legend Bob Chipman on April 6.
“You kind of know what it is going into it. You don’t know everything until you actually get in a situation. It’s been very positive,” Ballard added.
He spent the last five seasons as an assistant on Danny Manning’s coaching staffs at Wake Forest (three seasons) and Tulsa (two). Before that he worked two seasons as head coach at NAIA school Baker, and before that seven seasons on Bill Self’s staff at KU.
Chipman retired at the end of the 2016-17 season after recording an 806-353 record in 38 seasons at Washburn.
When asked if he’d someday be considered a “legend” at Washburn, Ballard said with a smile: “I don’t know about that. I’m replacing one. Coach Chipman was here a long time, won a lot of games. Coach Chipman is unbelievable. I’m just trying to win Game No. 1.”
Ballard said the formula for winning games at Washburn is the same as at Wake Forest, Tulsa, KU and Baker.
“It’s about finding talent, finding guys good enough to play and compete at this level. This is a really good conference with really good coaches,” Ballard said of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. “Recruiting is probably your biggest challenge, then once they get here, it’s getting them to buy in.
“We’ll recruit Kansas hard — Topeka, Wichita, Kansas City. Those will be important recruiting bases for us,” Ballard explained. “Northwest Missouri State just won a national championship. They had a ton of Kansas City kids. If we recruit those kids in this area hard, we’ll have pretty good teams.”
Hutchinson native Ballard is not currently thinking about whether he’ll miss Division I basketball; he’s just relishing his new post at Washburn.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy when I left KU for Baker,” said Ballard, who moved to Topeka with wife Kelly, sons Kaden and Brooks, and daughter Breagan. “I loved that opportunity. They were two of the greatest years of my life. Yes this is a different level than Division I. I don’t look at it as a step down. I look at it as a great opportunity. I’m excited to be at an elite Division II school.”
In 2018-19 he’ll get a chance to bring his second Ichabod team to Lawrence for an exhibition game against KU. He played on Roy Williams’ 2002 Final Four team and earned an NCAA championship ring as a member of Self’s Jayhawk staff in ’08.
“I don’t know if fun is the word I would use. It depends on how that game goes,” Ballard said of KU vs. Washburn. “It’ll be a unique experience. I’m excited about it, but it’s obviously down the line. I don’t know what my emotions will be. It will be pretty cool to be in the fieldhouse again.”
He’s happy to be in Lee Arena for his second session of camp this week. He’s telling the youngsters all sorts of stories and providing words of wisdom.
“Like Malik said, listen to your parents. Listen to your coaches. You’ve got to be coachable,” Ballard told the youngsters during last week’s Q and A with Newman. “Listen to your teachers. Life isn’t perfect. It hasn’t been perfect for Malik. It hasn’t been perfect for any of us. Work hard, listen to people who have your best interests at heart … you grow and go on to do really good things,” the former Academic All-Big 12 player stated emphatically.
Watson lauds Suns draftee
Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson spoke to azcentral.com about No. 1 draft pick Josh Jackson’s ability to play defense.
“Nasty,” Watson said of the former KU guard, who was selected fourth overall in last Thursday’s NBA Draft.
“Toward the end of last season, we got into a couple of scuffles every game,” Watson said of the 2016-17 season. “(With Jackson), I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. But I think fans kind of like to see these young guys fight for a chance to win.”
The 20-year-old Jackson, by the way, will earn $4,241,700 his rookie season.
“I think in the future people are going to say, ‘He’s the next Josh Jackson,’ ” Watson told azcentral.com, referring to comparing prospects to current standout players.
Hurt high on Jayhawks, Tar Heels?
KU and North Carolina appear to be the early leaders for Matthew Hurt, a 6-9 junior forward from John Marshall High in Rochester, Minn., Rivals.com reports. The No. 6 ranked player in the Class of 2019 also is considering Minnesota, Louisville, Duke, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Indiana and many others.
His brother, Michael, is a sophomore forward at Minnesota.
“I think we are going to go to a few football games this year to see Louisville and also go to the Duke and UNC game next year, so that should be pretty good,” Hurt told Rivals.com. “I am going to try and get to most of these schools.”
Hurt said he would make a decision in September of his senior year of high school.