The mens' basketball team huddles during the game against Bowling Green on Feb. 14 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO EMILY CUNNINGHAM
Ball State men's basketball looks to exceed season expectations
The men’s basketball program has the tools to compete for a Mid-American Conference championship this year.
Head coach James Whitford knows his team has the potential, but knows his lineup has to come and stick together.
“We have to come together, but I certainly feel that we can be one of the teams to compete for it,” Whitford said.
After Whitford labeled his second season as disappointing, he answered the questions that riddled Ball State last season by recruiting length, a true point guard and more experience.
Senior guard/forward Ryan Weber is the most notable addition to this year's roster. He maintains junior eligibility after sitting out a season due to transfer rules. This 6-foot-6 wing can shoot and defend well, along with possessing a high basketball IQ.
Weber and MAC Freshman of the Year Sean Sellers (11.8 points per game, .440 3-point percentage) will face off against each other for the starting small forward position this upcoming season.
Another notable player is the 6-foot-2 sophomore shooting guard Jeremie Tyler. After starting in all nine of his appearances last season, he was ruled academically ineligible for the second semester of the school year.
During his time on the roster, Tyler averaged 12 points per game, with a 46.1 shooting percentage and .429 3-point percentage, which would have been in the top five in the MAC if he had played in enough games.
His presence was missed on the court as he watched the Cardinals drop 17 straight contests to end the season.
Francis Kiapway filled in for Tyler as the starting shooting guard and finished seventh in the MAC for freshman scoring during his 28 appearances last season.
Junior guard Naiel Smith is a new face this season, but will look to make an impact this season. The Brooklyn native is a point guard who brings a pass-first mentality to the position.
Last season at San Jacinto College, Smith averaged nearly 7 points and five assists per game. He will look to challenge fifth-year senior Jeremiah Davis (7.1 points per game, 2.8 assists per game) for the starting point guard spot.
Whitford will look to lead this upperclassman-heavy group as the team's season begins on Nov. 13 in Peoria, Ill., against the Bradley Braves.
“Coach is doing a great job of leading us,” Davis said. “But it's on us to do whatever we have to in order to win games.”
Senior Bo Calhoun and junior Franko House are Ball State’s tandem at the power forward position.
Calhoun stepped up for Ball State in a big way last season—he is the second-most improved offensive player in the conference behind Justin Moss of Buffalo, who was named MAC Player of the Year last season.
Calhoun averaged 2.4 points per game and 3.1 rebounds per game in his 27 appearances in 2013. The 6-foot-6 man increased his average to 9.6 points per game and six rebounds per game, throughout the season, which included a 30-point outburst at Toledo.
While Calhoun has proven what he can do as an individual, he knows his team has a lot to prove as a whole.
“I’ve always been a person to work hard,” Calhoun said. “I feel like we have a lot to prove as a team and not from the individual aspect.”
Ball State's "biggest" addition is the 7-foot-1 transfer from Davenport, Iowa, center Nate Wells. He is Ball State’s first 7-foot player since Lonnie Jones in 2001-02.
Wells transferred from Bradley as a graduate student and will play this season. Last season, Wells averaged seven points per game, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks on his way to emerging as the starter for the Braves to end out his four-year career.
Whitford’s first commit to this season's string of new addition was 6-foot-9 freshman Trey Moses. Moses will likely be placed at the power forward and center position this season.
He left high school as the No. 3 recruit in the state of Kentucky after averaging 12.5 points, eight rebounds and four blocks per game as a junior.
When asked about Wells and Moses, Whitford only had positive things to say.
“I’m pleased with both of them,” Whitford said. “They both have really bright futures.”