Junior guard Carmen Grande goes up for a layup during the Cardinals’ game against Northern Illinois Jan. 27 in John E. Worthen Arena. Eric Pritchett, DN File
Carmen Grande: Ball State's new all-time assist leader
Carmen Grande has been a staple, if not the staple, of Ball State's offense since her freshman year in 2015-16. And now, she's etched yet another spot for her name in the women's basketball record book.
The junior guard became Ball State's all-time career assist leader after dishing out six assists against Mid-American Conference rival Western Michigan on Feb. 10. Just another pass between Grande and Jasmin Samz on the fastbreak as the clock wound down in the first half in Kalamazoo, Michigan was anything but.
The guard from Madrid has racked up 630 career assists and has a chance to break her own single season assist record of 244. She's at 227 as the Cardinals go into the last five games of the regular season.
Some just see the flashy point guard, second in the NCAA in assists per game with 9.5 on the now 20-4 Cardinals team, but Ball State women’s head basketball coach Brady Sallee knows that she's so much more than that.
“You’re talking about a kid that single-handedly has changed our approach to offense,” said Sallee. “You hear coaches all the time talk about players that can make other players better. She does that.”
Since her arrival in the 2015-16 season, Ball State's offense has went from the middle of the pack, to one of the most prolific scoring teams in the Mid-American Conference. The Cardinals have gone from averaging 68.8 points per game to 82.3 at this point in the season.
Nearly every assist record in Ball State’s record can be broken by Grande by the time she graduates. She already boasts the single-game, single season average and career total. Grande, however, is not caught up in her stats, giving credit to her teammates.
“It means a lot that my teammates trust me and rely on me,” said Grande. “I take it as a reward for all the hard work we all put in.”
That hard work is something Grande is familiar with and it's paid off. She's started every game in her Ball State career, with both her assists per game and points per game doubling in that span.
Part of that improvement has been her work in the weight room, according to Sallee, which allows her to play more physical.
“Sometimes we have to get her out of the gym just to get her some rest,” said Sallee. “When you have a kid like that who works that hard, it’s a lot of fun to coach her and help her get better. That’s the best thing about her. As good as she is, she continually wants to get better.”
Before Ball State, Grande played overseas in Spain, where she was a member of the 2012 and 2013 Madrid Championship team and a three-time bronze medalist in the Spanish Championships. Grande said the game is less physical overseas, and that is where she developed the art of passing.
“When I was really little my dad just told me, ‘Try to go left, try to go left,’ so I could use both hands equally,” said Grande. “Growing up, we worked on passes and it came naturally after the years.”
Grande brought her style of play to the United States, and one thing she does better than most is play fast. Ball State averages 14.9 fast break points per game, and they have Grande to thank for it.
“The way she plays has rubbed off on us a little bit,” said Sallee. “Sometimes I even step back and become a fan when she goes up and down.”
Becoming a fan of the flashy point guard has only gotten easier over time with the team's third-straight 20-win season, sporadic Top 25 votes and broken records.
If all this wasn't enough, she is getting attention from multiple professional coaches. Sallee said it is an eye-opening experience when WNBA coaches call to talk about how good Grande is.
“When you’re with somebody every day, you don’t fully appreciate how good they are,” said Sallee. “Some kids have it and some kids don’t. Clearly we found one that does.”