Faster. More. Faster. More. Faster. More.
After 10 seasons as head coach of Ball State Women’s Basketball, Brady Sallee hasn’t changed the game of basketball — he’s changed Ball State’s game of basketball.
“I’ve always felt like, if you stay the same, you’re getting worse,” Sallee said. “They say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ I think sometimes you have to break it to build it back up and make it better.”
It’s an evolution, not a revolution, as the Cardinals turn to a “five-out” offense this season and do not label players by their positions. No more guards, forwards or centers. Instead, the Cardinals go by “crashers, backs and keys.”
For the Cardinals, players have adjusted as much as the coaching staff. Every Cardinal has learned a new style of offense, whether they’ve been with the program for years or are a freshman or transfer.
“I’m sure there were players who felt like a square peg fitting into a round hole with this offense at first,” Sallee said. “This group has done a great job looking at this change positively and realizing what it can do for their skill set.”
Junior Sydney Freeman described this offense as “completely new” — one she realizes lets the Cardinals play to their strengths, like Sallee hinted.
"[The system was] a big adjustment because you can do so many different things,” Freeman said. “At first, it was hard to score because we didn’t really know the system, but now, we’re getting the hang of it, and you’re seeing it work really well. I think it gives everyone an opportunity to score.” Nineteen games in, Ball State has accomplished what Freeman outlined: giving an opportunity for multiple players to score. The Cardinals have created a balanced scoring attack, averaging 70.5 points per game with a 42 percent field-goal percentage.
After beginning her collegiate career at George Washington University in 2017 before transferring to the University of Delaware in 2020, graduate transfer Chayna Latimer said her previous teams used a more “traditional” offensive approach in comparison to the Cardinals. She said Ball State’s “five-out” offense creates more opportunities for her and her teammates.
“I think what we’re built upon is everyone is able to play every spot,” Latimer said. “With my basketball IQ, it’s helped the team think on the fly and get others open as well as ourselves.” With the Cardinals’ blend of upperclassmen and newcomers, Latimer said it has taken time to develop their new system, but it's something she’s experienced before.
“I think, like any team, you have to get used to each other and get a feel for how we all play,” Latimer said. “It helped us get outside our comfort zone and get uncomfortable on the court and have to work. I feel you can apply that off the court as well.”
In a game that used to be dominated by inside scoring (the NBA’s two top all-time scoring leaders are over 6-foot-9 in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone), basketball has evolved into a sport featuring 3-point centered, explosive offensive attacks. In Sallee’s first season at Ball State, the Cardinals made 152-of-520 3-point shots in 33 games. Through 19 games this season, the Cardinals have made 171-of-532 3-point shots.
Assistant coach Audrey McDonald-Spencer, 2010 Ball State alumna and former Ball State Women’s Basketball player, believes the system change is part of the game’s evolution.
“Analytics say you should be shooting threes and getting to the rim,” McDonald-Spencer said. “The mid-range game is kind of a thing of the past.”
Last offseason, Sallee and McDonald-Spencer outlined a plan and determined areas of improvement, be it recruiting needs or a potential system change like what last offseason brought. McDonald-Spencer said the Cardinals gravitated toward their new system this offseason, recruiting more versatile players to fit the new style.“You see a kid like Ally Becki come in, and she can create for others and herself,” McDonald-Spencer said. “She can shoot threes, and she can get it to the rim. With her and Syd on the floor, we can play fast.”
Sallee said he’s been pleased with how quickly Ball State has adjusted to its new system, as well as his coaching staff.
“It didn’t take long — I think [the players] saw what it can do,” Sallee said. “They’ve done a great job breaking it down and making it easier for the players to understand.” Latimer, Freeman, McDonald-Spencer and Sallee said they believe Ball State has what it takes to get where they all want to go: Cleveland for a Mid-American Conference Championship and possible NCAA Tournament berth. “I think there’s more work to be done,” Latimer said. “We’ve been close in a lot of games, but at the end of the day, we want to win these games.”
Sallee said he wants himself and his players to focus on one game at a time and improve after each game, win or loss. “For us, it’s centered around whether we can be better on Saturday than we were on Wednesday,” Sallee said. “It’s really that simple.”
Contact Kyle Smedley with comments at email@example.com on Twitter @smedley1932.