Team preview: Ball State
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
Ronny Thompson, son of Hall of Famer and legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson, makes his head-coaching debut at Ball State this season.
An assistant at Arkansas under Stan Heath for three seasons, Thompson is the second of Thompson's sons to run his own program. His brother, John Thompson III, guided Georgetown to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2006.
"I haven't had a whole lot of time to let it marinate -- that I am a head coach," Thompson said. "There is a little more added stress, but at the same time, I knew what to expect, watching my father and my brother."
Thompson succeeds Tim Buckley, who had three years left on his contract and by most accounts had cleaned up scholarship and citizenship. But in the end, it was all about wins and losses. He had presided over a steady competitive decline since beating Kansas and UCLA at the 2001 Maui Classic. While attendance and recruiting had tailed off, injuries played a major role in Buckley's demise. He landed as an assistant to Steve Alford at Iowa.
"We should be winning the MAC on a regular basis," Ball State president Jo Ann Gora told The Muncie Star Press soon after Buckley's reassignment. "Ball State has a great tradition of having won MAC titles and making good runs in the NCAA. We would like to get back to that. It seemed as though it was time for a new direction."
Call it what it is -- Ball State is a pressure cooker. From 1985 through 2003, BSU had at least one first- or second-team All-MAC player on its roster (and won six MAC Tournament titles), including 11 straight years (1988-98) with at least one first-team pick. The Cards were blanked in 2004 and had second-team picks in 2005 (Dennis Trammell) and 2006 (Skip Mills). A restless fan base had been spoiled by the likes of Bonzi Wells, Duane Clemens, Theron Smith and Chris Williams.
Last season it wasn't hard to pinpoint BSU's problem. The Cardinals couldn't shoot straight, ranking eighth in the MAC in field-goal percentage (.426), 10th in three-point shooting (.342), and last in free-throw shooting (.662). The Cards were 4-7 in close games (five points or less or overtime) and finished 10-18 (6-12 MAC).
Two seniors are gone from last season: Tom Howland (1.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg) and Anthony Kent (1.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg). The coaching change saw three sophomores leave -- MAC Freshman of the Year, 5-8 point guard Maurice Acker (9.2 ppg, 4.6 apg) to Marquette; 6-9 forward Landon Adler (4.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg) to Florida Gulf Coast University; and 6-10 post Pat Nelson (1.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg) to Wisconsin-Green Bay. Stephen Jones, a 6-1 freshman guard from Bethalto, Ill., and an early signee, asked out and signed on with Northern Iowa.
Ball State would like to adopt an up-tempo style under Thompson.
"That is what's exciting to the players and the fans. And that's how the game is played today," Thompson said. "You always try to win as soon as you can, but you want to develop a program and that takes time."