Ball State head coach James Whitford is going through some growing pains right now after struggling in his first year as sideline general. The offseason has been a continued struggle for Whitford, as he lost two players being counted on to contribute next season in Mark Alstork and Quinten Payne. He also just lost an assistant who accepted the head coaching job at Western Illinois.
But, on a positive note, the recruiting class is something to be proud of. Whitford signed five guys and is also welcoming Cincinnati transfer Jeremiah Davis, who will be eligible come January of next year.
Phew, that's a big class. But, when you have six scholarships to fill you need to get out on the recruiting trail. Losing guys like Majok Majok, Chris Bond, Jesse Berry and the transfers hurt, but these freshmen will be able to play early and often and pick up some invaluable experience.
We've covered Bik Gill in-depth already, but in summary the Cardinals are getting a skilled big-man who knows his way around the hoop and can also shoot the ball well. He averaged nearly a double-double last year at Owens CC and has two years remaining. Ball State's frontcourt is very thin, so Gill has the chance to start right away beside Matt Kamieniecki.
Kiapway, another Canadian, is a nice player who picked the Cardinals over the likes of Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Canisius and St. Bonaventure, among others. He has a great ability to create his own shot and can get to the rim with ease. From his highlight tape (which looks like it was shot in my middle school) it looks like he can also fill it up from beyond the three-point arc with regularity.
He'll have a great chance to start and fill Chris Bond's role in the offense. He had to sit out awhile this year with a nasty bacterial infection which caused him to lose twenty pounds. I would expect him to be back to his playing weight once the season starts in the fall. There aren't too many Canadian players in the MAC, but if Whitford keeps his relationships with Canadian high school coaches the Cardinals could have a nice pipeline to draw from in what is becoming a much better basketball country.
Richardson is a raw project, but could turn into something special if Whitford is able to mold him the right way. At 6'8" and 190 he's not the typical big man, but he won't be relied upon to dominate the paint. He backed up Kentucky commit Trey Lyles last season but was solid when he was on the floor, averaging around six points per game. His commitment was a nice win for the Cardinals as he chose Ball State over fellow MAC schools Kent State and Toledo.
Richardson lives to attack the rim off-ball and will likely be on the receiving end of numerous alley-oops from high school teammate Jeremie Tyler. They both won the Indiana State Championship this year at Arsenal Tech and should compete right away for spots in the starting lineup.
Speaking of Tyler, he may end up being the best player in this class. While he is likely to back up Davis at the shooting guard, he'll make a huge impact his first year in Muncie. A couple other MAC schools were vying for his services, including Western Michigan, Miami and Ohio. He averaged sixteen points per game this year and was just named to the Indiana All-Star team. Tyler owns the school record for three-point field goals and was a 1,000 point scorer. I wouldn't be surprised if Tyler ends up on the MAC all-freshman team at the end of next season.
Sellers is another player that just knows how to win. Greensburg High School had a record of 49-2 over the past two seasons and went 28-1 this year. He picked Ball State over twelve other schools including Wisconsin-Green Bay and Toledo. Like Tyler, he was named to the Indiana All-Star team and also won a state title. Sellers averaged twenty points and seven and a half boards this year. Like Richardson, to be more effective he'll have to add some weight and muscle.
It'll likely be another down year for Ball State next season, but the future looks bright with these signings. Whitford's looking to make inroads in the talent pool that is Indianapolis. He's doing a great job so far with trying to keep MAC-level Indiana recruits to stay close to home and needs to keep it up. Making Canada a potential pipeline is important as well, as there's so much talent coming out of the country now. Ball State will become a contender again soon with these recruits, but unfortunately it won't be an immediate turnaround.