Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Meet Matt Ballard

Matt Ballard photo courtesy of IVC athletics

At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, Matt Ballard is the final piece in the San Jose State basketball recruiting puzzle and has definitely taken the road less traveled.

After playing at Trabuco Hills High, where he averaged 13 points and 10.3 rebounds as a 2006-2007 senior, Ballard signed on with UC Irvine. The 2007-2008 season had him on the court for 120 minutes as an Anteater freshman

He then transferred in-county to Irvine Valley College. IVC Coach Jerry Hernandez said this of Ballard in the pre-season: "Matt is going to be a player for us. He is such a high character guy and is extremely unselfish and knowledgeable. The challenge with Matt sometimes is to get him to be a more selfish offensive player..."

Ballard earned a starting spot and averaged 7.7 points and 6.7 rebounds a game while battling various injuries throughout the season.

Subsequently, family matters intervened and Ballard put his involvement with college basketball on hold.

He transferred to San Jose State in 2009, enrolling as a student, his only sports involvement being pickup games.

Here's where it gets interesting.

Like Lana Turner being 'discovered' at the soda counter of Schwab's Drugstore in Hollywood, Ballard was observed by one of the SJSU basketball staff when both parties were participating in a pickup game on campus. Ballard's size was a no-brainer but his skill level also impressed.

Introductions are made, Ballard is told "you need to talk to coach" and, voilĂ , Ballard becomes Spartanized, adding a physical, fundamentally sound, hard-working and skilled 'big' to the frontcourt rotation.

Spartanhoops recently talked with Jerry Hernandez about Ballard and his praise was effusive. He said, "I loved the kid. He is a good piece to any team -- he makes others around him better, his basketball IQ is high -- he really understands how to play -- and he is strong and skilled. He plays passionately and is a hardworker.

Hernandez continued, "If he has a fault, it's that he doesn't allow himself to miss a shot -- he thinks he should make every one. I know he loves it at San Jose State and is excited at playing again."

We also spoke with Ballard recently. The words passion and basketball were connected and repeated.

Asked about his best basketball skills, he said, "Shooting, especially my mid-range game, defense and rebounding."

As a youngster, it was soccer, volleyball, baseball and hoops. "But my passion has always been basketball," Ballard explained, adding, "I also golf now."

Ballard credits his father, who played at Dominguez High in Compton, as his biggest basketball influence. "He taught me how to play, coached me throughout high school and gave me the opportunity to play club team basketball around the country."

What he sees as differences between himself on the court as a high school senior and now, he said, "I'm more experienced and know how to play but I still have the same passion I did back then."

What is working for him about his current setup is that "San Jose is close enough to home but far enough away for me to get the college experience" as opposed to the schools in Irvine. Ballard wanted to thank his parents and family members, characterizing them as "strong supporters who will be traveling up from southern California" for Spartan home games.

He is majoring in kinesiology with the idea of eventually becoming a university athletics director.

When queried about what Spartan basketball fans should expect to see from him in 2010-2011, Ballard offered, "what Spartan fans will see is a hardworking, unselfish player who is willing to do whatever it takes to win."

His best basketball moment is when he signed his original letter of intent with UC Irvine and, of course, there is a backstory to putting his name on the official paperwork. "I was told as a freshman that I would never make varsity and I became a starter as a sophomore," Ballard said. "I was also told I would never earn a D-1 scholarship."

Quick, someone tell him that he'll never win a spot on any of the all-Western Athletic Conference squads.

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