Ball State Basketball's Top Players of the Past 30 Years

Professional male basketball player shooting
Professional male basketball player shooting

The Ball State men's basketball program might be decades past its golden era, but that doesn’t mean some excellent players haven’t come through the doors of Worthen Arena in recent years. 

The program continues to capture the attention of basketball fans, with Ball State always featured on new betting sites. This visibility draws savvy players looking for opportunities to capitalize on upset wins like their 2021-22 underdog performance against Georgia Tech. Let’s take a look back at the five best Cardinals basketball players of the past 30 years, going in chronological order. 

Bonzi Wells: 1994-98

What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about the best men’s basketball player in Ball State history? Bonzi Wells was a two-way monster in the MAC, winning conference player of the year twice while leading the Cardinals to four straight winning seasons, a conference tournament win in 1995, and a regular-season championship in 1998. Wells is the school’s all-time leader in steals (347) and points (2,485). 

It has to be mentioned that he is one of only three Cardinals alums to make the NBA, and the only one to truly thrive in it, making his mark as one of the best players on the Portland Trail Blazers in the early 2000s.

Theron Smith: 1999-03

Theron Smith was a key contributor on Ball State's most recent NCAA tournament team back in 2000, and he led them to their highest-ever position in the AP poll in 2001, peaking at #15, thanks to historic upset victories over the Kansas Jayhawks and UCLA Bruins at the Maui Invitational.

A PF who combined a bruising interior presence with a deceptively smooth jumper, Smith averaged over 16 points per game and nearly nine rebounds during his four years as a Cardinal, peaking in 2001-02 when he averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds, earning a nomination for the John Wooden award as the nations best player. 

Chris Williams: 2001-03

While he only played two seasons in Muncie, Chris Williams left his mark as perhaps the best pure scorer in Cardinals history. A transfer from Loyola Chicago, Williams teamed up with Smith in 2001-02 to lead Ball State to 23 wins, their most in the 21st century. 

Williams is most remembered for some incredible scoring outbursts, memorably dropping 24 in a win over Kansas during his Ball State debut, scoring 40 on South Florida during the 2002 NIT, and setting the school single-game scoring record in 2003 with a mind-boggling 48 points against Akron.

Jarrod Jones: 2008-12

The 2008-09 MAC Rookie of the Year, Jarrod Jones was a paragon of consistency and reliability during his four years as a Cardinal, never averaging less than 11 points and seven rebounds per game. 

During the dark years of Ball State basketball, Jones was the driving force behind the school’s only winning season between 2005 and 2015, going 19-13 during the 2010-11 season.

Tayler Persons: 2016-19

A transfer from Northern Kentucky, Tayler Persons was an All-MAC player during each of his three seasons for Ball State, serving as a reliable combo guard with multi-level scoring ability and at times elite vision. 

Although the Cardinals wouldn’t make the NCAA tournament with Persons, they would come close, winning 21 and 19 games respectively between 2016 and 2018. Persons is now carrying out a thriving overseas career, highlighted by leading the Dutch Basketball League in assists back in 2020. 

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