MEN'S BASKETBALL: Berry leads team to new season

Jesse Berry makes a layup against Buffalo during a conference game at Worthen Arena on Jan. 23. Berry was selected twice for the MAC West Player of the Week last season. DN FILE PHOTO RJ RICKER
Jesse Berry makes a layup against Buffalo during a conference game at Worthen Arena on Jan. 23. Berry was selected twice for the MAC West Player of the Week last season. DN FILE PHOTO RJ RICKER

Zavier Turner
Class: Freshman
Senior at Pike High School:
17.4 points per game

Jesse Berry
Class: Senior
.390 field goal percentage
.354 3-point percentage
1.6 assists per game
10.3 points per game

Tyler Koch
Class: Senior
.397 field goal percentage
.354 3-point percentage
.439 free throw percentage
4.6 points per game

Chris Bond
Class: Senior
.534 field goal percentage
.665 free throw percentage
4.9 rebounds per game
7.8 points per game

Majok Majok
Class: Senior
.488 field goal percentage
.534 free throw percentage
9.8 rebounds per game
10.7 points per game

For the past three years, at least one thing was true for the Ball State men’s basketball team: Jesse Berry could score.

The 6-foot-2 senior guard has been second-leading scorer for the last two years, playing second fiddle to his elders — Jauwan Scaife in 2013 (16.6 ppg) and Jarrod Jones in 2012 (14.7 ppg). As Ball State went 49-43 over the last three seasons, Berry has averaged 10 points per game, and his average has climbed every year.

Berry has shown flashes of being a prolific scorer capable of carrying a team, like the time he went for a career-high 28 points against Western Michigan last season.

But scoring is a means to end for Berry and the reinvented Cardinals.

“I’m going for it all, I want to win,” Berry said. “My mindset is ‘we’re going all the way.’”

Ball State has gone 24-24 in conference play the past three seasons, and has not won a tournament game since Berry’s freshman year. This year the Cardinals were pegged to finish fourth in the MAC West, a ranking first-year head coach James Whitford does not put much stock in.

“The reality is, I don’t really know what to expect from this team,” Whitford said. “I’ve been really impressed with our progress so far. I think we have a high character group, and I feel like we’re working really hard, and we’re getting better. I can see the progress every day. We’re going to have a learning curve early, but if we continue to work at the pace we’re working, there’s going to be a day this season when I think we become a dangerous team.”

Whitford brings with him a model of success, coaching under Sean Miller at the University of Arizona and Xavier University. For the past eight years with Whitford on the sideline, the Wildcats and Musketeers went 199-78 (.718) — Whitford went 50-20 the past two seasons as associate head coach with Miller.

When athletic director Bill Scholl decided to try to replicate the success a new coach brought the women’s team in Brady Sallee, he didn’t just bring one in with a winning résumé, he brought in a coach with a new up-tempo system that even pushes the ball after made baskets.

“It’s great for everybody to have freedom and make plays,” senior forward Chris Bond said.

The change is style doesn’t come without challenges, accentuated by the pressing need for an established point guard. Players’ roles and responsibilities have shifted, but Whitford said that because of the level of talent and work, the team improves each day — as should be the goal of every team.

“I think every team in America is working out kinks,” Berry said. “I don’t think anyone is perfect or will ever be perfect.”

One of those kinks for Ball State is finding more reliable outside shooters. Outside of Berry, the Cardinals return only two players that attempted a show from the three-point line — senior Tyler Koch and sophomore Chase Brogna went 9 for 39.

When healthy, Koch has proven lethal from behind the arc, making three three-pointers in five games in 2011 while shooting 35.6 percent. But injuries limited his action last season and directly affected his shot.

This offseason Berry said he expanded multiple facets of his game. Whitford said he can utilize Berry at the one and two guard spots this season now, which will hopefully aide in the development of the six new guards on the roster, including three freshmen and only one true point guard in the anticipated starter Zavier Turner.

“I don’t want to be known as just a shooter,” Berry said. “I want to get in the paint and make plays, and be on attack mode the whole game.”

Exceptional dribble drives and floaters will be needed to make opposing coaches forget about the 37.5 percent shooting from around the arc, but if what Whitford said is true, it might not matter.

“I think Jesse Berry is playing the best basketball of his life,” Whitford said.

Even so, Berry knows the key to success for him and Ball State is through all-conference big man Majok Majok, who Whitford said had the potential to win MAC Player of the Year with his new frame in a new system.

Whitford noted that Majok is down to 7.5-8 percent body fat and has a higher vertical from last season when he was in the top-20 nationally for rebounding.

“If he only produces what he did a year ago, we’re not going to be as good as we want to be,” Whitford said.

Majok’s strong inside presence garnered waves of help defense from opposing teams last year, yet he averaged double-digits confined to the post without a very effective jumper.

“I’m looked at as a scorer, but we look to get the ball inside because Majok is a special force for us,” Berry said. “He’s a monster in the paint.”

Berry, Majok and Ball State’s success are intertwined in high-screens, pick-and-rolls and passes out of double teams, and Berry knows it.

“I think everyone just wants to win and do what they have to,” Berry said.

Some nights will call for a flurry of Berry, other nights he’ll need to facilitate. But whatever the situation calls for, Berry wants to have an answer.


More from The Daily

Loading Recent Classifieds...