211 to 212. As water heats up inside a singeing metal pot, the slight jump in temperature means more than a single degree.
212 degrees Fahrenheit boils water. It creates steam. It powers the engine. The analogy means doing the small things and taking the extra step can lead to bigger accomplishments. This is what head coach James Whitford has preached to his team all season.
The 1-degree difference has left a long-lasting impact on junior guard Ishmael El-Amin. This time last season, he was watching his team play from the bench with a wrist injury, and he knew he had to improve his body.
“I wanted to get stronger. I was in the weight room a lot over the summer,” El-Amin said. “On the court, I knew this team was losing scorers after last year, so I knew this team was going to need a scorer on the offensive end. I got in the gym, got some shots up, worked on my ball handling and as the season went on, the team needed me to be a defender.”
Ball State lost its leading scorer last season in Tayler Persons along with another prominent player in Trey Moses. El-Amin said he knew his role was going to increase, and he was ready to take that next step.
“Since the first day I came here as a freshman, I told coach Whitford, ‘I will be ready for any role that you give me, and I will embrace it and give you 100 percent and give you my all,’” El-Amin said. “Whether that is starting or coming off of the bench, I was going to do whatever I needed to help the team get a win.”
His hard work and positive attitude have paid off, as El-Amin sits seventh in the entire country in 3-point efficiency at 46 percent. He is the team’s second-leading scorer at 14.6 points per game after averaging just 6.9 last season and is currently looking to solidify a spot on the All-Mid-American Conference First Team.
However, El-Amin said it isn’t about the numbers. It’s about his team and adjusting his game by whatever means necessary to win. This even means weathering the storm of an ankle injury early in the season on redshirt senior guard K.J. Walton, who is considered the team’s “defensive stopper.”
“With K.J. going down, we lost our stopper,” Whitford said. “Ish came to me and said, ‘Hey coach, I’d like to do that role.’ Those are the types of things that make a catalyst for a team. You see younger guys watching someone like Ish and how valuable he is for us, and they want to take the mantle on as our defensive stopper.”
While El-Amin has the offensive numbers, it is the defensive side of the ball he is most proud of.
“I take the most pride in my defense,” El-Amin said. “I wasn’t really looked at as a defender, but I feel like I have shown in a quiet way at the end of non-conference and the start of conference play, and I feel like I have answered the bell for my coaches with who I need to guard. I am excited to be able to show them that I can be a defender and still be there offensively.”
Whitford praised El-Amin’s ability to be a great teammate and a responsible role model for the younger players in the locker room by taking what the game gives him and running with it.
“He continues to be a great person, and he continues to be incredibly responsible,” Whitford said. “He has always been those things, but he has amped it up a little bit more, and the game has slowed down for him.”
The Cardinals currently sit at 11-7 and are 4-1 in the MAC in large part because of El-Amin’s selflessness. He was given his moment to shine, and he is remaining humble about it.
“It took me a little longer to be able to get out here and let the fans and my teammates know that I have been capable for a while,” El-Amin said. “It just feels great to see the success. I don’t shy away from any moment, but I am also not tooting my own horn. I stay confident but remain humble and continue to feel blessed about the opportunities given.”
He was given the formula, and he made steam with it. Now, the train is rolling, and El-Amin is having the best season of his collegiate career.