Washburn home opener pits Brett Ballard against Baker, which gave him his start as head coach

Game with Wildcats one of many scheduling quirks experienced Ichabods must tackle

Brett Ballard will make his home debut as Washburn men’s basketball coach Wednesday against a Baker team he led from 2010-2012. (April 2017 file photo/The Capital-Journal)

One oddity about the Washburn basketball schedule was arranged before Brett Ballard ever inquired about the coaching vacancy.


The first-year coach’s home debut will be against Baker, an NAIA program he directed for two seasons from 2010-12. The matchup will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

What Ballard took from those two years in Baldwin City were transposed to the blue backdrop of Washburn.

In practice, in games, in his office, even at home.

Managing people and managing time are two important aspects a head coach of any college program, at any level, must facilitate.

“It was really important for me just to learn what it was like to sit one seat over,’’ Ballard said. “That 18 inches makes a big difference. That was a good experience for me, just an enjoyable experience to be around great people and be at a place like Baker.’’

When Danny Manning called to ask Ballard if he wanted to coach as a Division I assistant, the opportunity was too appealing. So Ballard spent the past five seasons at Tulsa and Wake Forest.

Memories, however, of his short time at Baker remain vivid, and pleasant.

Ballard was 33-30 overall and a 21-12 run in his second season included a berth in the Heart of America Conference championship game and the Wildcats’ first berth in the NAIA national tournament since 1996.

“It’s crazy how much of it is between the ears for these kids,’’ Ballard realized. “So it was about learning to manage people and making decisions and impacting their lives, not only from a basketball perspective, but it was influential for me to see what we could do for them beyond basketball.’’

Time can be stretched thin by watching film, preparing for practice and communicating with staff and players, all while striving to achieve balance at home with your family.

“You get better with it as you go along,’’ said Ballard, “and just having that hands-on experience was important for me.’’

What “anxious energy and some nerves that come with it,’’ which Ballard felt last weekend in St. Joseph, Mo., during the Ichabods’ first two games will probably resurface in the home game against Baker.

Only natural.

“When you’re new you want to prove yourself, you want your team to buy in,’’ said Ballard, “but more than anything I want our guys to go out and show we can compete, play hard and play the right way. That’s the part I’m not as nervous about, because they’ve shown that in practice.’’

To that end, Ballard said, the Ichabods (1-1) have been receptive to a new system after Bob Chipman, who coached in two different arenas at WU before and after the advent of the shot clock and 3-point arc, retired with 808 victories over 38 seasons.

“As good as they’ve been, I still think we’ve got a long ways to go as far as our mindset, our discipline and our execution,’’ Ballard said. “But we’ve got a great group, they’re hungry and they’re great teammates trying to pull each other in the same direction.’’

Good thing, because about that schedule …

Potential opponents noticed the experience Ballard inherited, which included five returning starters. That made it hard to fill the one opening that remained when he was hired.

Finally, WU looked within the MIAA and scheduled a nonconference game in Kansas City against rival Northwest Missouri, the reigning Division II champion.

Also, WU did not play any Division I opponents in exhibitions, settling on scrimmages with two Kansas junior college teams, Barton and Butler.

Finally, WU’s last four games — all in the MIAA — are on the road, followed by the conference tournament in Kansas City.

“Big picture, it’s an interesting schedule,’’ said Ballard, leaving the word “interesting” up to interpretation. “We won’t make any excuses about it, but we know we have to get off to a good start. …

“Our preparation throughout the season will help us, but it’s just a tough way to finish out that conference schedule.’’

Aspirations for reaching the NCAA Tournament, a fair expectation for a team with as much depth and experience as Washburn, could be shaped by that closing grind.

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.



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