It is not about how you start, it is about how you finish.
Ball State Men’s basketball starts its season Nov. 25, as they travel to play Northern Kentucky. Head coach James Whitford believes the team has a lot of potential but knows there will be bumps in the road to reach it.
“If you watch us where we are now and where we could be,” Whitford said. “They are light-years apart. “Are we there right now, we aren’t even close to being there. Do I think we could be there in January or February, unquestionably.”
Last season, Ball State finished with an 18-11 record and finished first place in the Mid-American Conference West Division in a season cut short due to COVID-19. They have players who are proven, and Whitford believes they can be really good as the season progresses.
“Jarron [Coleman], he’s proven,” Whitford said. “Ish [El-Amin], he is proven. Luke [Bumbalough] led the conference in minutes played for freshmen last season. Kani [Acree] really came on in February. Jalen [Windham] is unproven to you guys, but we see him every day in practice.”
The Cardinals are going to start the season with players missing time due to injury. Redshirt sophomore guard Jarron Coleman and redshirt senior guard/forward Reggie Jones will miss extended time.
Redshirt Junior forward Miryne Thomas’ status is still up in the air, as he is dealing with a small injury which may cause him to miss some games. Redshirt senior forward Brachen Hazen is going through a back injury which he has dealt with throughout his career but should be ready for the opener.
The rotation will be limited, but Whitford knows this and will make the adjustments necessary, even if that means guys playing at positions they are not accustomed to, especially in the backcourt.
“We don’t have many choices in the backcourt,” Whitford said. “We have had Miryne [Thomas] and Kani [Acree] miss a lot of extended time in the fall. On the perimeter, there aren’t a lot of bodies. If Miryne is unable to play, Kani is going to have to play the four.”
A lot of the responsibility will be put on senior guard Ishmael El-Amin, who was the Cardinals’ second-leading scorer a season ago with 13.8 points a game. With Coleman out, he will be the starting point guard, and while it is different, he has experience at the position.
“He has played it a lot in the past,” Whitford said. “I am excited for him and the new challenge. It is a different challenge than what he has had here in the past couple of years. He is a great young man, He is a true leader, He is a real worker and he has a real passion to try to be a great player.”
The frontcourt will be a different story. They will have to work by committee because Whitford said the trio of sophomore center Ben Hendriks, redshirt junior center Blake Huggins and Hazen isn’t ready to play a full game.
Hendricks has missed a lot of practice time due to him being in close contact with people who have COVID-19, Hazen is dealing with his back injury and Huggins still has to prove himself before he cracks the rotation. Whitford is excited for Hendricks and loves the progress he has made since last season.
“That has impacted both his learning curve and his conditioning,” Whitford said. “When he has played he has looked really good. He was probably the most impressive out of the frontcourt guys in the time that we have had him. He has missed a lot of time and is not in condition and has a lot to catch up on.”
The main goal for the Cardinals is to build their chemistry, get healthy and reach a point where they can accomplish what was stopped short a season ago: a MAC title.
“I think our primary motivation is trying to reach our potential as a team and knowing we have a chance to be good and playing for each other,” Whitford said. “Being able to withstand the things coming at us and navigate a college basketball season during a pandemic.”
Contact Ian Hansen with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ianh_2.