As the fall athletics season begins to wrap up, the winter season is just beginning. On Thursday, Nov. 1, the men’s basketball team will take on the University of Kansas in an exhibition matchup. Leading the Ichabods is a former Jayhawk himself, head coach Brett Ballard.
Ballard met his wife, Kelly, at KU. Kelly was also an athlete there, competing in Cross Country and Track and Field. They have three children: Breagan, Kaden and Brooks. The oldest of the bunch is Kaden who is in sixth grade, then Brooks who entered third grade this year and the youngest, Breagan, is in kindergarten. To Ballard, being a coach cannot compare to what it means to be a father.
“Being a coach is terrific, but being a father is an amazing experience. Most of my free time is chasing them around. They are all playing sports now, so I like to be able to do things with them and be involved in their activities,” Ballard said.
Ballard is originally from Hutchinson, Kansas where he attended Hutchinson High School. At Hutchinson High, his mother was a teacher, and his father was the basketball coach. From there, he went to Hutchinson Community College to play basketball for two years.
Ballard had many options to continue his basketball career, but his main goal was to coach. He was offered scholarships by multiple NCAA Division II schools, and some smaller Division I schools. Ballard decided to reject those offers and take a Preferred Walk-On offer to play at KU, where he eventually was given a scholarship and entered on the roster. His time at KU held some of the greatest moments of his life.
“Playing at Kansas, in general, was incredible. Coach Williams was great. Even though I was a walk-on, he treated me like I was one of the top players; he treats everyone the same way,” Ballard said. “I learned so much from him about how to run a program, and specifically coaching basketball. Capping it off, my senior year we got to go to the Final Four which was a terrific feeling. It was easily two of the best years of my life.”
Ballard started his coaching career at Kansas as a volunteer assistant. After a year, he then transitioned to the head of film and video for the Jayhawks. Ballard was then named the director of operations. His first head coaching job was at Baker University where he coached for two years.
Following that, Ballard went to the University of Tulsa where he was an assistant coach under a former Jayhawk great, Danny Manning. Manning and Ballard left Tulsa after two years to coach at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There, Ballard spent two years as Manning’s assistant. When the head coach position became available here at Washburn, Ballard left Wake Forest to seize the opportunity.
“I knew a lot about Washburn’s tradition and their history, so I had a pretty good feel for how good this level was. I knew this was an incredible opportunity, I knew that I wanted to run my own program,” Ballard said. “I knew the mind set they had here, the facilities were great and the leadership was great. For me, it was really a no-brainer.”
There are two main reasons that Ballard loves to coach. One is his passion for competing and the other is his love of the game.
“Basketball has given me incredible opportunities in my life, so I love being around the game of basketball. I know I am being biased, but I think that it is the greatest sport in the world. I love being around it every day. I love helping young people develop and grow as people and as players and I love to see players come in and have a growth mind set. I also like the environment of college athletics in general and I enjoy being around that every day, too,” Ballard said.
Even though coaching has its challenges, Ballard enjoys facing them head-on.
“I like that every day is different, and depending on the time of the year, your job is different. I enjoy the different aspects of problem solving that come with being a basketball coach,” Ballard said.
After spending most of his day focusing on basketball, Ballard uses the remainder of his time on the things that he loves the most. His main hobby is spending his time with his children. Outside of his kids, he enjoys golfing.
For Ballard, the up-coming season calls for new goals.
“First and foremost, how hard can we compete and how tough can we be? We will focus on ourselves more than anything. Then I will challenge our guys to get better every day. I know its coach speak, but we are just trying to grow a little bit better every day, as people, as players and as a program,” Ballard said.
Each new season brings the challenge of losing graduating players and bringing in new ones.
“Specifically, as a team, we have to replace Brady Skeens who was an All-American. Brady was incredible on both ends of the court, specifically on the defensive side, so have to have guys on the defensive end step up and rebound the ball. Offensively, we have to take better care of the ball this year, we had too many turnovers a year ago. Finally, we have to step up and make shots when we have the opportunity,” Ballard said.
Ballard and his Bods will kick off the regular season Friday, Nov. 9, against Oklahoma Baptist in Bethany, Oklahoma. They will play their first home game here at Lee Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 14 against Rockhurst University.