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."