From court to courtside: Ball State women's basketball assistants share similarities and differences between coaching and playing

Junior forward Moriah Monaco attempts a 3-pointer in Ball State’s 71-58 loss to Indiana. Monaco led the Cardinals with 17 points. Colin Grylls // DN
Junior forward Moriah Monaco attempts a 3-pointer in Ball State’s 71-58 loss to Indiana. Monaco led the Cardinals with 17 points. Colin Grylls // DN

CLEVELAND – Moriah Monaco stood alongside associate head coach Audrey McDonald-Spencer on the floor of the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, the arena that houses University of Connecticut women’s basketball Dec. 6, 2023. As an estimated 9,273 fans surrounded the court before the Huskies took on the Cardinals, Monaco thought back to her not-so-distant playing days. 

While in a Ball State uniform for four seasons from 2014-2018, Monaco played at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana, helping the Cardinals beat Purdue. She was a key contributor in two Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) wins, and even led Ball State to one of the best regular season records in program history (25-7) in her senior season. 

Yet after six seasons out of the red and white jersey, Monaco turned to McDonald-Spencer and said: “I have never wished that I was playing more than right now.”

Although Monaco said she is able to enjoy the triumphs of the current Cardinals’ regime just as much as those she experienced as a player, she admitted the struggles that come with hanging up the high-tops.

“I can prepare them as much as I want to, but then I have to sit on a bench and not go out there and play, which still hurts me to this day,” Monaco said. “I don’t know if that will ever go away.” 

Monaco is in her third season as an assistant coach for Ball State after spending two seasons playing professional basketball overseas and one season as an assistant coach at Malone University. After just two seasons away from the Ball State program, head coach Brady Sallee, who she played for during her four-year stint as a Cardinal, brought her back to coach alongside him. 

“I know what he wants and I know what he needs without him saying it, usually,” Monaco said. 

But Monaco isn’t the only former Sallee player now guiding Ball State with him. Having played for Sallee for three years at Eastern Illinois, assistant coach Mariah King is joined by Monaco as one of two assistants to come from the Sallee tree.

In her first season as a Ball State assistant, King said her eagerness to help Sallee’s program comes down to the 20-season head coach’s character.

“He’s always had this ‘Tell it like it is’ personality, and that’s what made me want to play for him at Eastern [Illinois] and now work for him at Ball State,” King said via text. “His commitment to fostering a culture of resilience and perseverance has influenced how I approach challenges and setbacks both on and off the court.”

Ball State assistant coach Mariah King yells for movement from the team against Kent State March 15 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio. Ball State lost to Kent State 65-50. Andrew Berger, DN

King also spent one season at her alma mater Eastern Illinois as an assistant. So far, she said she has learned the importance of extreme attention to detail, teaching her the importance of preparation as it pertains to achieving success. 

King played professional basketball overseas from 2014-2019 and played in big games during her four seasons at Eastern Illinois, even participating in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Championship game alongside Sallee. King said she always had a sense of calmness in these high pressure games, but she enjoyed the adrenaline rush and opportunities to test her skills and abilities under intense circumstances.

For Monaco, having lost in the first round all four times she played in the Mid-American Conference tournament doesn’t cloud her vision of the history-making 2023-24 squad. 

The Cardinals finished the regular season with a 27-4 record, and extended their win total to 28 with a first round MAC Tournament victory against Ohio March 13. However, Ball State failed to reach the MAC Championship for the second year in a row after another semifinal loss, this time falling 65-50 to No. 3 seed Kent State. 

Next up, the Cardinals have a first round Women's Basketball Invitational Tournament (WBIT) contest at home against Belmont (25-8) at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21.

With two seasons as an assistant coach under her belt, King said similarities between playing and coaching in high pressure games include leadership and adaptability. King said coaches and players have to be adaptable and flexible in their approaches, both adjusting strategies and tactics based on the dynamics of the game, and opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. 

“Regardless of individual talent, teams that communicate effectively, support each other and play cohesively tend to achieve greater success,” King said via text.

King said while both coaches and players have to focus, that aspect of the game has its differences on each side. She said players focus on individual performance, teamwork and executing plans while coaches focus more on analyzing the game, developing strategies and motivating players.

“Players experience the game first hand, feeling the adrenaline, pressure and emotion on the court, while coaches observe the game from a more strategic and analytical standpoint, often seeing patterns and opportunities players might miss in the heat of the moment,” King said via text.

While only having one season to get to know the Ball State roster, King said junior Nyla Hampton would make for a great coach after her playing days are over. Monaco agreed with that assessment, but also used her three seasons coaching junior Ally Becki as proof that the 2023-24 First Team All-MAC selection would make for a good coach as well.

Hampton said the biggest thing she has learned playing for Sallee in her lone season at Ball State is that a full 40-minute effort is essential, no matter the score.

“You're never out of a game until it's over,” she said.

Stepping away from her playing career in 2020, Monaco never claimed that she would rather be coaching than still playing, but she knows her current role for Ball State is the next best thing.

“I don't know what else I would be doing if I wasn't doing this,” she said.

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at or on X @KyleSmedley_.


More from The Daily

This Week's Digital Issue

Loading Recent Classifieds...