In late March, only days after VCUs tough loss to Indiana in the NCAA tournament, Tulsa athletics director Ross Parmley fired head coach Doug Wojcik. The ripple eventually worked its way east to Broad Street in Richmond, landing Jeremy Ballard in a second floor office in the Siegel Center.
The Golden Hurricane had not made the
NCAA tournament in Wojcik's seven years and were coming off a
lackluster 17-14 season. For two weeks the basketball team and program
hung in limbo. Barely past his 30th birthday, Ballard stepped up
to be Tulsa's compass during the difficult transition period.
"It was definitely a unique situation when you have 14 guys in a program who are looking for guidance," he says. "I always try to think like a head coach and act in the best interest of the kids and the program. I think it helps a head coach if his assistants are thinking like he thinks."
Ballard joined the VCU
coaching staff this summer, replacing Jamion Christian, who moved on to a
head coaching position at his alma mater Mount St. Mary's. Ballard chose VCU over Tulsa's new head coach and Kansas legend Danny Manning.
"The recent success under Coach Smart is a big reason," says Ballard as to the motivation behind his move east. "The Final Four jumps out at you, but losing four starters and coming back to set a school record in wins, and win an NCAA tournament game, speaks volumes. The opportunity to work with Coach Smart and the opportunity to learn. He's so well-rounded."
Interestingly, when you peel back the onion there's absolutely no surprise Ballard was hired as VCUs new assistant coach. He sounds familar.
Ballard is super intelligent--he graduated from Colgate with a major in English and a minor in religion. While at Colgate, Ballard won the highly prestigious ECAC Merit Medal Award, given to a student-athlete who combines excellence in competition and in the classroom, twice. He twice earned Patriot League Academic Honor Roll recognition and was given the title of the team's best defensive player by the coaching staff during his senior season.
It is that drive to succeed in the classroom and on the basketball floor that allows Ballard to connect with Smart deeply on non-basketball levels. And similar to Smart, Ballard had any number of opportunities upon graduating, but he chose basketball as his career.
"I've always been very passionate about basketball," he says. "When you find something you love it makes the decision easy. I like to take the things I've learned (on and off the court) and put them into how I coach and interact with the team."'
Those interactions, from his experience at Tulsa through the moment you read this article, will carry forward. It's Ballard's job as the season unfolds to work with the guards, making sure they fully understand and grasp the havoc philosophy and how it plays out on the court. Off the court, Ballard plays a very important role in the development of the VCU players as individuals.
"Just being there for them," he says of his role, "to be a sort of sounding board, to be an academic support system emotionally and intellectually."
If it isn't already clear that family and relationships matter greatly to Ballard, consider this. His wife Khatera is in business partnership with his two best friends "from my childhood" owning a mobile catering business in Atlanta. (Hey Jeff Cupps--get that baby into the UU Lot!)
You can spin numbers, but you can't spin actions nor history.
Shaka Smart hired Mike Jones, who is now the head coach at Radford. He hired Jamion Christian, who (as mentioned) is the head coach at Mount St. Mary's. Mike Rhoades and Will Wade have been rumored for every job not listed on your ballot yesterday.
And now we have Jeremy Ballard, who displayed intelligence, leadership, and a maturity beyond his years at Colgate, then at Tulsa. That's called a track record at a young age.