Over the past few years, one of the big knocks on the Arkansas State University program has been its lack of offering scholarships to players from the local high schools in the area. Come November, that will all change when Buffalo Island Central's Brandon Ballard plans to sign a national letter of intent to play basketball for the Indians, thus becoming the first player in Mustang history to play for a Division 1-A school.
Ballard, a 6'4", 180-pound senior to be, also drew strong interest from the University of Texas-El Paso and Murray State University, but decided on the Indians because it was close to home and the fans of northeast Arkansas and his family could watch him play without having to travel a long distance.
"I made my decision about a week ago," said Ballard. "I really like Coach (Dickie) Nutt and the way he coaches. I am looking forward to being at ASU for the next 4-5 years. I really like the school a lot. I know it's going to be a lot of work, but it's also going to be great fun as well," added Ballard.
One of the question marks surrounding Ballard was whether he had the size and strength to play at the division one level. "I plan on getting bigger and quicker," said Ballard. "There's always ways to work on your game. I plan on hitting the weights and working on using my left hand more as well as working on my jump shot," Ballard continued.
Ballard, who lead BIC to a 35-2 record last season with their only losses coming to Jonesboro and Crawfordsville in the first round of the Regional Tournament, is looking forward to his senior season in hopes of leading the Mustangs back to the State Tournament for the first time since 2002. The Mustangs have an overall 67-5 record the past two seasons as Ballard has earned All-State honors each year. He was named the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's sophomore of the Year in 2002-2003 and was the 3AA North Conference Most Valuable Player the past season. Ballard also has been chosen Best Under the Sun first team the last two seasons as well as being named All-Conference both years. As a freshman, Ballard led the Mustangs to the State Tournament while being named the Regional Tournament MVP.
Ballard has scored 1,652 points in his high school career, averaging 21.2 points per game in 78 games. He averaged 21.3 points per game last year while shooting 82.2% (153-of- 186) from the free throw line. Ballard also hit 109 three-pointers last year, shooting 44% behind the arc. He has career highs of 40 points and eight three pointers in a single game.
"My folks, Coach (Bill) Taylor, and all of BIC are excited," said Ballard, who added he loved the ASU campus and had met some of his future teammates. "I am really looking forward to playing with those guys. ASU plays a lot like we do. They run up and down the floor and look for the three-pointer," said Ballard.
BIC Head Coach Bill Taylor said, "Arkansas State is getting a great kid who is dedicated and has terrific skills as well as a great knowledge of the game. He can really shoot the ball, plus he is a terrific leader and he keeps his composure. He's the best player I've ever coached," added an elated Taylor.
For the time being, Ballard, who plans to major in either accounting or sports education, is concentrating on leading the Mustangs to a state championship.