Archive for December 9, 2016

IU KOKOMO WOMEN’S BASKETBALL COACH RESIGNS, MEN’S COACH IS SUSPENDED BY SCHOOL

Indiana University Kokomo Cougars

UPDATED: December 13, 2016

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Just when the Indiana University Kokomo men’s and women’s basketball teams are having their best seasons in history, the program has been rocked by controversies involving its coaches. On Dec. 8 the school announced both the men’s and women’s coaches were in turmoil. Fresh off suspensions last week, women’s coach Whitney Farris abruptly resigned and men’s head coach Jace Thompson has been suspended by the school.

According to a press release issued by Danielle Rush, a communications specialist for the school, Farris, “resigned from her position December 6. Because this is a personnel matter, no additional details will be released.”

The press release also stated Thompson, “has been suspended pending the outcome of a prompt and effective investigation. Because this is a personnel matter, no additional details will be released.” IU Kokomo Athletic Director Greg Cooper referred further questions to the press release.

Last week, although never confirmed by school administrators, Thompson served a two-game suspension while Farris was suspended for one game. It is unknown if last week’s suspensions were related to the Dec. 8 announcement.

Thompson, a native of Linton, Indiana, was the first basketball coach of the Cougars when the program started with the 2011-2012 school year. He coached the squad as it became a member of the NAIA in year two and the River States Conference the following season. In six years, he has a 45-99 record.

Farris, a Kokomo High School graduate, was the first coach of the women’s squad and has a 23-45 record in three seasons. Previously, she served as the IUK sports information director and spent a year as the assistant coach with the men’s team before being promoted to the women’s position.

Third year assistant coach Alex Birge has taken over as the acting head coach of the men’s team in Thompson’s absence. Birge was also at the helm for two games during the first suspension, including a road trip to NCAA Division I Ball State University, which was broadcast on ESPN3.

It is unknown who will coach the women’s squad. Assistant coach Carlee Cottrell took over during last week’s suspension, but she is a graduate assistant and has limited hours. She missed a game on Dec. 3 because of a shortage of available work hours after filling in during Farris’ absence. According to school officials, they “hope to have more information soon” on the official state of the coaching positions.

In an email sent to school staff before the announcement was made public, IUK Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke asked for the continued support of the student-athletes involved in the basketball programs.

“As you know, we have had a very successful athletic program,” the chancellor stated in the email. “At this time, I ask that you support our student-athletes as they go through this time of transition. I hope to see you at the games this weekend.”

The Cougar women, now in its third-year as a program, is currently in first place in the West Division of the River States Conference with a 3-0 record. The team has set a school record – for any basketball team – with its current four-game win streak. With a 8-4 record, it is also the first men’s or women’s team to be over the .500 mark after 10 games.

The men have also found success – at 6-6 they are the first IUK men’s team to be at .500 or better after 12 games. And the 2-1 RSC mark is also the best conference start in the program’s six-year history.

The men swept its two games in the Cougar Classis last weekend with wins over the University of Cincinnati Clermont College (102-74) and Kentucky Christian University (91-81).

“Great two wins for the team,” said Birge. “Really glad to get back to .500 and look forward to keeping the momentum. Proud of the contributions made by everyone this weekend.”

Against Clermont, Devon Burton led the way with 17 points while Jonathan Hurt added 14 and Trent Elliott and Devan Straub each added 12. Eric Miller snatched eight rebounds.

In the win over Kentucky Christian, Elliott earned a double-double with 24 points and a career-best 11 rebounds. Durante Lee and Antoin Clifton both scored 12 while Burton and Beau Dedmond had nine each.

Through Dec. 11, Elliott was ranked No. 14 in the NAIA Division II for points in a game (22.0) and No. 28 for free throw percentage (.859). He was the River States Conference men’s basketball player of the week last week after a 34-point outing against Asbury – just four points short of his own school record.

The IUK women defeated Andrews University 86-25 on Dec. 12. The team is now on a school record five-game winning streak. Both teams return to the Cougar Gym on Dec. 30 against the Miami University Hamilton; the women tip at 5 p.m. and the men at 7 p.m.

KOKOMO GRAD TAYLER PERSONS FINDS A NEW HOME WITH THE BALL STATE CARDINALS HOOPS PROGRAM

Kokomo native Tayler Persons makes a move to the basket for Ball State. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

Kokomo native Tayler Persons makes a move to the basket for Ball State. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

 

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

MUNCIE, Ind. – Two years ago, Kokomo graduate Tayler Persons made the tough decision to leave his NCAA Division I basketball scholarship at Northern Kentucky University and take a chance by transferring to Ball State University. After sitting out one year due to NCAA transfer rules, the 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore is thrilled with the outcome.

“I feel really good,” said Persons, who is a slim 220-pounds. “I am in the best shape I have ever been and I have lost a lot of weight. I have my game right. I have always been a guy who plays hard, and I feel I am doing that right now. I am absolutely where I want to be. I didn’t have any doubts, but sitting out a year made me think. I lost 30 pounds and I worked on my game. It was one of the best decisions of my life.”

On Nov. 29, Persons and his Cardinals dismantled Indiana University Kokomo in Worthen Arena 92-52 to improve to 4-3. Persons, known as a shooter who was averaging 17.3 points per game, took just three shots against the Cougars – but he had a career best 14 assists, which is the fourth-best effort in Cardinals history. The Ball State point guard had three turnovers as the squad met its goal of having 10 or fewer in the contest.

“That is how the game goes,” Persons said of his lack of shooting. “I have always been a player who does whatever the team needs. We hit 16 threes and I just didn’t need to shoot like I usually do. I’ll take it; I’ll take that every game.”

He admitted that his turnovers were high after the first six games of his Cardinals career, so he was thrilled with a 14 to 3 assist-to-turnover ratio against IU Kokomo. Persons entered the game with 25 assists and 22 turnovers.

“My turnovers were high for the first six games,” he said. “I felt I was rushing a little bit after the year off. I was trying to find myself, but now I feel more comfortable.”

Ball State head coach James Whitford said Persons is maturing and becoming the player he wants him to be.

“It was big,” said Whitford of Persons assist-to-turnover ratio. “What we are trying to do is to get Tayler to play fast. Tayler knows how to score and how to draw people in to get others a wide-open shot. What Tayler has to learn to do is make simple plays. As a point guard in basketball, you have to make the simple plays, and tonight he did that. I want this team to play fast, and he did a great job of guiding us down that path tonight.”

The transfer to Ball State was not because of a lack of playing time or production – he was the Atlantic Sun Conference Freshman of the Year and a member of the All-ASC Second Team. But when NKU fired head coach Dave Bezold, Persons decided to move closer to home. But it was tough for him to only be a practice squad player for Ball State last season.

“It was one of the hardest things in my life, especially since I was healthy,” he said. “I knew I could help the guys (last year) and we needed a leader. But it is a good place here and we have a lot of talent.”

Playing IU Kokomo was not lost on Persons, who graduated as a member of the Wildkats 1,000 Point Club and was a 2014 Indiana All-Star. Several of his fans, including Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight, made the trip to Muncie to see Persons play the hometown Cougars.

“It was great seeing some familiar faces in the crowd. I love Kokomo and I am glad people can come over. It was great to see people, although I didn’t try to think about it. It was fun.”