Buffalo Island Central's Brandon Ballard has dreamed of playing in the Arkansas High School All-Star game since the seventh grade. That dream became a reality Thursday, June 23, when Ballard took the court representing the East All-Stars in the All-Star classic in Bud Walton Arena on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Ballard, who led the Mustangs to the Class AA State Championship this past season, scored eight points as the East All-Stars ripped the West All-Stars 90-69.
"It was an unbelievable experience," said Ballard. "To get to play with the top 30 athletes in the state, from Class A-AAAAA, was an awesome experience. The intensity level was up and the competition level was up, making it a great challenge. Everything up there is more competitive than high school. This was a once in a lifetime experience for a high school player, and something I will never forget."
Ballard described the week as one of forging new friendships that he said would last a lifetime. "Starting on Monday, all the players from both teams live in the same dorm and you really get to know each other extremely well. You not only become good friends with the 15 guys on your own team, but you also get to know the opposing team as well. We all exchanged phone numbers and got along so well. I still talk to them. When you go down there, you don't expect to see or talk to anyone after the game, but that is not the case. This is something I will always remember. I have made a lot of good friends from both teams."
Ballard said the game was not an exhibition and was very competitive. "Living in the same dorm, you see your opponents all week and talk a lot of smack, telling each other who is going to win the game, so it is definitely a competition," continued Ballard.
Ballard had the good fortune of being coached by his high school coach, Bill Taylor. Ballard said Taylor told the team to go out and play as a team, not as individuals, and Ballard said that is what they did.
The interesting thing about this particular game was an alternate, Mitch Rueter, a 6'6" post player from Batesville, turned out to be the game's Most Valuable Player by scoring 21 points to lead the East to victory. The East team held a slim 45-41 lead at halftime, but outscored the West 45-28 in the second half to blow the game open.
"I played AAU ball with Mitch (Rueter)," said Ballard. "It didn't surprise me that he played so well. I really don't know why he wasn't originally picked for the team, but he definitely showed he deserved to be in the game."
Ballard said he enjoyed the practice time he had the first three nights prior to the game, and said there were activities for all the players each night they were there. "It was the best experience I have had so far as a basketball player. I loved Bud Walton Arena. The crowd was great. There were over 8,000 in attendance. I had been there before but had never played on that court," said Ballard.
Ballard, an Arkansas State University signee, is preparing for his first year of major college basketball. "I have gained some weight and strength over the summer. I realize I am going to have to work hard and I hope to get a lot of playing time by my sophomore year," concluded Ballard.
If Ballard's past history on the hardwood is any indicator, the future Indian will certainly see a lot of playing time by his sophomore season if not before. For Ballard, basketball season cannot get here quick enough.