Ben Botts grew up attending countless Ball State basketball games as a season ticket holder, but the former Muncie Central star never had a chance to be a part of the team.
After spending time with Fort Wayne as both a player and assistant coach, Botts has returned to his hometown to work as an assistant coach for the Cardinals.
“It’s really special to me, you know,” Botts said. “It would’ve been a special opportunity had it not been in Muncie, too. Getting the chance to work for coach Whitford and where this program is going, averaging 20 wins over the last three years … being in Muncie makes it even sweeter.”
Ball State head coach James Whitford said hiring Botts would’ve been the easy move, but he didn’t want to make the easy move.
“When I researched Ben, he really stood out as being very competent. He would’ve been the easy hire because he’s from (Muncie),” Whitford said. “He wanted to be here, but I was very careful not to try to hire the easy person. I wanted to hire the best person, and if Ben wasn’t the best person, I wouldn’t have hired him.
“... He excelled everywhere he went, and that’s what stood out to me the most.”
Botts was a member of two Muncie Central teams that finished as Class 4A runner-up his sophomore and junior years in 2005 and 2006. He then went to Fort Wayne and played four years before working as a graduate assistant for Chris Mack at Xavier. After that, he transitioned into a role as director of basketball operations at Princeton and an assistant coaching role at his alma mater in Fort Wayne before finally accepting the job at Ball State.
Botts said those experiences give him a versatility that he can use to help the team.
“I think every experience that you get or that you’re fortunate enough to jump on shapes you in one way or the other, and maybe you don’t know when it’ll pop up,” he said. “But you could be like, ‘Man, I did that at Princeton … or we recruited a kid from that program last year when I was at Fort Wayne or I saw coach Mack do it like this at Xavier,’ and I think all those things just help shape your whole being.
“If you can be versatile and help in any way possible, you can bring value to Ball State, and that’s what I hope to do.”
Helping lead a team with eight state championships in its history to its most recent state finals appearances means you’re not likely to make it around town without being recognized, and that was the case for Botts when he made his return.
“You kind of forget how many people you know in your hometown,” Botts said. “The reception being back in town has been awesome, you know, just running into some of the guys I went to high school with, getting to spend some time with them. It’s really cool being back.”
Botts said almost every teammate from the two runs to the state finals has reached out to him to welcome him back, even if they aren’t still in the city.
When he first got the news, the first phone call Botts made was to his wife Jordan to let her know what just happened.
“That’s the only call you can make right after,” he said. “We were really excited as a couple.”
Ben and Jordan met at Fort Wayne, where she played on the women’s basketball team while he played with the men’s program.
He then shared the news with his parents, Pat and Jane, who still live in Muncie, and John Peckinpaugh, a teammate of his at Central and assistant coach at Fort Wayne who worked in the next office over.
As a coach, Botts said he likes to keep a calm demeanor because in such an up and down game with a grinding season, you can’t get too high and can’t get too low. As Botts enters his first year on the Ball State staff, he loves the potential he sees on the team, and at least one player is mutually sold on what he brings to the table.
“I love coach Botts. He’s been a big blessing on our team, and he’s a great man,” said senior guard Tayler Persons, who led Ball State a year ago with 15 points per game. “As soon as he got here, I tried to make him feel comfortable and talk to him every day. … It’s awesome to have a great guy, and a Muncie guy, too, who cares about the city.
“He’s steady. He doesn’t get too emotional, and I like people like that because I’m an emotional guy. … I feel like he’s going to teach me a lot about getting to that next level, too.”
With Botts on board and most of last year’s players returning, along with some newcomers, he’s excited to get the season underway.
“I think this team is primed to make a run,” Botts said. “I just want to help in any way I can.”
Contact Nate Fields with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NateNada.