Archive for Ball State

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."

CHIRP! CHIRP! CARDINAL COACH LEMBO IS THE REAL DEAL

"THE GOLDEN VOICE" WITH CHRIS LOWRY

SPORTS JOURNAL COLUMNIST

I’ve seen this before. It was my senior year of college at Ball State in the fall of 2007 and I was calling ballgames for the Cardinal football team on the student radio station, 91.3 WCRD. BSU’s record the first three years of my collegiate tenure went like this: 2-9, 4-7, 5-7. Clearly some progress was being made under head coach Brady Hoke, but nothing too earth-shattering. And the atmosphere for home games was nearly non-existent. I think back to 2004 for the last home game of the season when I watched the Cards pick up a win over Mid-American Conference foe Central Florida and former Notre Dame coach George O’Leary (yes, the Knights used to be in the MAC. Clearly they were the ones to start the Mass Conference Migration we enjoy today). I saw that game with one of my buddies and together I think we made up approximately 10-percent of the crowd that day.

Fast forward to 2007, and as I watched this BSU team throughout the course of the year, I realized that these guys were pretty good. A narrow defeat at Michigan the year before helped pave the way for a strong 7-5 regular season, which concluded with an International Bowl loss in Toronto to Ray Rice and Rutgers. The Cards were solid, but not great that season. A one-point loss at Nebraska that year still haunts the minds of many Cardinal faithful.

But 2008 was special. BSU went a perfect 12-0 in the regular season and peaked at #12 in the Coaches and AP Polls. The Cards were an ESPN staple and 22,000 seat Scheumann Stadium was regularly filled. A couple fluke plays and a horrendous call ended the perfect season in the MAC Championship Game against Buffalo. Brady Hoke left for San Diego State prior to the following bowl game which resulted in a pounding to Tulsa under new coach Stan Parrish, who would finish a miserable 6-19 in Muncie in his two seasons.

Something tells me, however, that Ball State football is about to be back to the level of play the Cards enjoyed in 2007 and 2008 – if not this season, then in the very near future. Former Ball State Athletic Director Tom Collins hired Pete Lembo to take over the program in December of 2010 after Lembo spent five years as the head coach of Elon, which followed five seasons at Lehigh.

Immediately upon arriving in Muncie, Lembo instituted a more comprehensive weight-training program for the Cards. Almost across the board, BSU players increased their strength. Lembo took a Cardinal team that I felt had a drop-off in talent from previous years and went a more than respectable 6-6, including wins against Army and Indiana.  It was a very satisfying .500 campaign, and perhaps one of the reasons I felt that way was because I bought in. I have bought in lock, stock, and barrel into what Lembo is doing in Muncie.

I remember being in the post-game press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium that season after the Cards big victory over the Hoosiers and seeing how relaxed and at-ease the new coach was after beating the Hoosiers. It was then that I realized this was not a guy in over his head; Lembo truly wants to change the culture in the Muncie community.  The game-day culture didn’t truly change at Ball State until ’08, and then it quickly reverted back to the norm. Lembo is trying his best to engage fans through various efforts in the community and through social platforms. Lembo interacts through Twitter (@Pete_Lembo) and has an excellent fan letter he sends out prior to and following every ballgame. The letter is filled with insightful and honest thoughts about opponents and the state of the Cardinal team (go to www.ballstatesports.com to register.)

I officially met Lembo this past summer at the Kokomo Country Club for a Ball State alumni fundraiser. Sports Journal Publisher Dean Hockney and I both came away impressed at his passion for the game and friendliness in talking with the media. In fact, I sent Lembo an email the afternoon prior to the season opener wishing him “good luck” and received a reply back an hour later. How many head coaches are going to do that, especially on game-day? Several months ago I spoke with Eastern Comets football Coach Josh Edwards, who likewise agreed that Lembo is starting something special in Muncie and said it wouldn’t shock him to see Lembo with a BCS program in the future.  For that to happen, (and I hope it doesn’t) Lembo would have to continue his success on the gridiron.  That success appears to be starting quicker than anyone anticipated.

The Cards are 3-1 this season with wins against Eastern Michigan, Indiana and South Florida. The only loss came at Death Valley against a ranked Clemson squad. This past Saturday against South Florida, the Cards picked up their first-ever victory against a BCS program other than Indiana. The ballgame came down to coaching and heart versus talent. Coaching and heart won. The Bulls continuously converted busted plays into positive yardage. The talent discrepancy was apparent, as quarterback B.J. Daniels and his Bulls showed off athleticism that the Cards could not match. South Florida has more talent than Ball State, but still couldn’t leave Scheumann Stadium with a victory. The Cards continuously drove down the field against its BCS foe, much like a week prior against IU. And what about that Mid-American Conference offensive line? It has allowed a grand total of TWO sacks all season long. The weight-training program is clearly paying off.

Fans are starting to take note again as well. After a decent contingent of Cardinal faithful made the trek to Bloomington a week ago, more than 16,000 fans showed up this past Saturday to watch the South Florida game. Not great, but it’s a start. Aside from a contest at Army, Ball State will stick with MAC play through the rest of the regular season, and after three other MAC schools knocked off BCS teams this past weekend, that promises to still be quite a challenge. But Lembo and company have the train moving in the right direction.

2012 probably won’t be a program defining season, but I’m telling you to pay attention to what’s going on in Muncie these next few seasons. Trust me, I’ve seen this before.

(Chris Lowry is the radio voice of the Kokomo Wildkats and Howard County athletics on 1350 WIOU-AM. He contributes a monthly column to the Sports Journal.)

BILL SCHOLL STRIVES TO BRING BIG SCHOOL MENTALITY TO BALL STATE SPORTS

Ball State University Athletic Director Bill Scholl

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. - In April, Ball State University athletics scored a major win – not on the football field or basketball courts – but in the front office. Much like the university did when it hired football coach Pete Lembo from a non-Mid-American Conference school, the athletic director position was filled from outside the conference. And the Cardinals did not settle for any small school administrator. Instead, they hired University of Notre Dame Deputy Director of Athletics Bill Scholl.

“It was great to get the call from Ball State,” he said during a visit to Kokomo. “I am looking forward to a great and long-term relationship with the school.”

The 1979 Irish graduate arrived at BSU after a 22-year career at Notre Dame and has extensive experience in marketing as well as being a football administrator. One of his major duties at Notre Dame was overseeing the Rockne Heritage Fund – the first-ever athletics annual fund that directly benefits student-athlete grant-in-aid scholarships. He also served as senior associate athletics director where he was the director for marketing and was executive director of the Notre Dame Monogram Club, an organization of Notre Dame student-athletes, student managers and cheerleaders who have earned monograms at Notre Dame.

In addition, Scholl oversaw all aspects of the athletics ticket office, including ticketing, parking, staffing, systems and customer relations. His previous sport administration duties included providing supervision for the men's soccer as well as assisting the director of athletics with the men's basketball program. He also served as director of financial development for the 1987 International Summer Special Olympic Games. Scholl served in the same position for one year at South Bend's Logan Center which offers services to persons with developmental disabilities.

And now he brings that wealth of experience to Muncie and the Cardinals athletics program – and he said he was already knee deep in work. But before he talked about the department, he talked Cardinals football.

“I got here in time to watch some spring football and liked what I saw,” he said. “I am really excited to see how we look despite the tough schedule – and that is something we will work on in the future. Last year was a great turn-around year and the guys are really excited.”

He said as far as the department is concerned, it wants to put the athletes first – and he liked what he saw in exit interviews from previous letter-winners.

“I went back and read some exit interviews (of our student-athletes) and they have been having good experiences,” said Scholl. “I hope that doesn’t change, but I hope we can make those experiences even better.”

He said one of the ways to make the program better is in the win-loss column – and that in-turn puts more smiles on student-athletes faces.

“I think the MAC and other conference’s judge you on your overall play and we haven’t fared very well lately,” he said. “And we would like to see us moving towards the upper-half, if not the top, of the MAC in as many sports as possible. I think fielding successful teams is a critical piece of where we go.

“Now, that being said, we have to match resources to expectations. We can’t just wish for it, and we will be spending a lot of time acquiring the resources to make our facilities better.”

He also talked about his coaching staff, and on first glance, he likes what he sees.

“I think we have a great group of coaches,” said Scholl. “They are a key piece to this whole equation and I think we are in good shape for the most part. We just need to give them the tools necessary to succeed.”

And that relates to one of the major reasons Ball State hired Scholl – his sports marketing background.

“I have a background in forming corporate partnerships,” he said. “I think creating and developing revenue streams is something that the big schools are very good at. I think that is a very transferable skill that I have and can bring to Ball State. I have also seen collegiate programs at the absolute highest level – and I know there is more to a program than just wishing for something. You have to make a commitment, and I hope I have the ability to show people what it takes to get there.”

Ball State’s hiring of Bill Scholl appears be a big step in the right direction as the Cardinals athletic program moves towards being the “it” athletic program of the MAC and other mid-major conferences. Chirp! Chirp!