By: Alec Runyan
Ball State Sports Link
The Ball State men’s basketball program looks much different than it did a season ago. The Cardinals return nine players from last year’s team, including two starters. However, they lost six players in the offseason, five of which transferred. Among those transfers, included Ball State’s top three leading scorers from last year.
K.J. Walton transferred to Akron and Ishmael El-Amin, now at Rhode Island, both averaged just over 16 ppg last year with the Cardinals. Former 2019 MAC Freshman of the Year, Jarron Coleman begins his redshirt junior season in the SEC with the Missouri Tigers. Coleman averaged nearly 14 points a game in Ball State’s final 13 games of the season after missing the first 10 due to a foot injury.
The Cardinals also lost big man Brachen Hazen to graduation. Hazen started 20 games last year, averaging 9.6 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. Forward Zach Gunn decided to join former Ball State assistant Matt Crenshaw at IUPUI. Crenshaw who spent the last three seasons at Ball State, begins his new journey as a head coach at his alma mater.
Amongst the nine returnees for Ball State features junior Luke Bumbalough and redshirt senior Miryne Thomas. Both Bumbalough and Thomas held a starting spot for a majority of the season last year, while averaging 7.3 ppg.
Huggins, Hendricks, Soukas, and Acree all came off the bench fairly often for the Cardinals in the season prior, with Acree seeing the most action. Playing all 23 games and starting in three, Acree averaged 3.7 points and 3.5 rebounds a game.
Ball State was voted to finish eighth in the MAC’s preseason standings, exactly where they finished a season ago. The Cardinals were 10-13 last year and saw their season come to an end in the first round of the MAC Tournament in an 89-91 OT thriller to Toledo.
While the new rules involving transfer eligibility have certainly changed the landscape of college basketball, Ball State was active bringing in new guys as well. The Cardinals welcomed four incoming transfers prior to the 2021 season. Mickey Pearson Jr. (TCU), Demarius Jacobs (St. Louis), and Tyler Cochran (Norther Illinois) all join the team with immediate eligibility, while Ball State is still seeking options for Luke Brown’s (Stetson) immediate eligibility.
Tyler Cochran 6’2″ Guard
After playing his first two seasons at fellow MAC school Northern Illinois, Tyler Cochran comes to Muncie with three years of eligibility remaining. Only playing in 12 games last year due to injury/COVID protocol, Cochran led the Huskies in points (15.5), rebounds (7.3), and steals (1.7).
In Ball State’s exhibition against Michigan Tech, Cochran picked up right where he left off a season ago. Leading the way for the Cardinals in both points (13) and assists (5), Cochran also totaled seven rebounds and three steals. At 6’2″ Cochran plays much bigger than he stands and provides a boost in all aspects for the Cardinals.
“It felt good to finally get out there again and play with these guys that are ready to compete,” Cochran said following the exhibition. “We always talk about the next play, next play. After this one, we’re going to take it in the chest and move to the next day. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
Luke Brown 6’1″ Guard
The latest addition to the Cardinals roster is Indiana high school basketball phenom Luke Brown. After originally committing to Stetson in Florida, Brown had a change of heart a few months in and recently decided to return home to central Indiana.
Brown’s high school career was remarkable to say the least. Playing at nearby Blackford High School in Hartford City, Brown totaled 3,011 points. He finished his high school career as Indiana’s fourth all-time leading scorer. Not only was he a prolific scorer but a great passer as well with over 600 assists in his career at Blackford.
“I love the staff, players and the program they are building, and am extremely excited to help this team win,” Brown said following his commitment to BSU. “As a point guard, that’s my job – to win. I’m looking forward to playing in front of familiar faces and winning championships with this team.”
Mickey Pearson Jr 6’7″ Forward
Pearson joins Ball State after spending his first two seasons at TCU. Following a redshirt year in the 2019-2020 season, Pearson played in 19 games last year. Despite not getting a lot of time on the floor, Pearson made use of what time he did get. Playing a season-high 20 minutes against Oklahoma, Pearson tallied five points, six rebounds, two blocks, and a steal.
While playing is high school basketball at John Hardin in Kentucky, Pearson was a member of the 2018 Kentucky All-Star team as well as a finalist for Kentucky Mr. Basketball his senior year. Following his senior season, Pearson spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia. Pearson averaged 11.2 ppg and 4.4 rpg through 42 games on a roster featuring 11 other Division I players.
Demarius Jacobs 6’2″ Guard
Demarius Jacobs enters his first season at Ball State with plenty of experience under his belt. At SLU, Jacobs played in 68 games while averaging 5.9 ppg on .442 shooting over the course of two seasons. During the 2019-2020 season, Jacobs started 29 games for the Billikens as sophomore before coming off the bench a season ago.
Jacobs went off for a career-high 20 points on 5-8 of shooting from the field including a pair of threes against Valparaiso in 2019. Along with his scoring ability, Jacobs was also a very active defender at SLU. The Chicago native averaged nearly a steal a game as a sophomore, including two games where he had four steals.
Payton Sparks 6’9″ Forward
Winchester, Indiana native Payton Sparks joins the Cardinals after having a dominant high school career. A left-handed post player, Sparks averaged a double-double during two of his seasons at Winchester. As a junior he averaged 21.9 points and 12.4 rebounds a game. He was also named to the small school all-state team and was awarded Tri-Eastern Conference Player of the Year.
Sparks will look to make an immediate impact for the Cardinals in his freshman season. Having started in the team’s exhibition, Sparks scored 10 points with two rebounds and two assists.
Basheer Jihad 6’9″ Forward
Basheer Jihad, much like Sparks brings a lot of size and length to the Cardinal’s roster. Jihad, a Michigan native, played his high school basketball at North Farmington, a top-10 team in the state his senior year.
However, Jihad’s senior season was cut short after 11 games. Through those 11 games, Jihad averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks a game. He was named to the all-conference team and was a candidate for Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 2020.
Jaylin Sellers 6’4″ Guard
Sellers is an athletic combo guard from Columbus, Georgia. While playing his first few year of high school basketball in Columbus, Sellers was a two-time all-state player before finishing his high school career at Carver Montgomery High School in Alabama.
In his first collegiate action, Sellers was very active on both ends of floor finishing with 10 points and a game-high five steals in Ball State’s exhibition.
Despite dropping the exhibition 69-70, head coach James Whitford feels good about his squad as he enters his ninth season at Ball State.
“We played this game for a reason. We played this game because I knew it would really test us and challenge us. I wanted to get through the nerves of playing under the lights,” Whitford explained following the exhibition. “We accomplished two of the three. We just didn’t win the game. We’ll learn from it. This time of year, you get into situations like we did tonight. No one here is panicking, it’s a great lesson for us. We played a really good team and they deserved to win the game.”
Whitford and the Cardinals begin the regular season Tuesday, November 9 at 7 p.m. on the road against Georgia Southern. Ball State will then make its home debut against Omaha on Saturday, November 13 tipping off at noon. Both games can be found on ESPN+.
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