With the first Ball State Men’s basketball home exhibition game tonight, most fans are focused on the starting players.
Head Coach James Whitford, however, is focused on his entire team, even those who aren’t playing.
That is because the Cardinals gained two transfer players from Southeastern Conference (SEC) schools, sophomore Brachen Hazen from Arkansas and junior K.J. Walton from Missouri.
Because of NCAA transfer rules, both players must sit out one year to get comfortable in their new schools.
Hazen, who spent his freshman year with the Razorbacks, appeared in 14 games.
The 6’8” forward from Columbia City, Indiana says that the culture set by Coach Whitford, with the family-like environment and easily approachable coaching staff made him want to make the move from Arkansas.
“All of the guys on the team are close together. We’re all a family. We’re all in it together. Just having those relationships that I can build off, on and off the floors, was something that I really wanted to be a part of,” Hazen said. “The coaches, they’re all great guys. I mean I can go up to anyone of them anytime and have just have a good casual conversation with them outside of basketball.”
He says that the biggest difference between his two schools is the playing styles of the teams.
“At Arkansas it was up-tempo, kind of a run-and-gun sort of offense and then here it's a lot more strategic. We’ve got a more set plays, that sort of thing, which I think benefits the way I play the most,” Hazen said.
After the 2017-2018 season, Hazen will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Walton spent two seasons with the Tigers, where he played in 63 games. As a sophomore, he started 17 games and averaged 6.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game.
Even though he says that while he had similar opportunities at both schools, he says he is looking forward to being back in a new environment and near his family again.
“I think now it’s just a chance to be with a family environment, be closer to home, and really just a chance to show something special with this team,” Walton said.
Although he is currently working through an ankle injury, the 6’3” guard from Indianapolis says that he can still gain experience and improve as a player.
“Even though I’m injured, I’m still on the sidelines and I can learn from other players. It helps you with your leaderships because you can really learn how to be a leader because you can’t play so you have to learn how to be more vocal.”
After sitting out this year, Walton will have two years of eligibility remaining.
At the team’s first news conference, Coach Whitford says that Hazen and Walton are heavily invested and benefiting both themselves and the whole team by challenging them during this year on the practice squad.
“Those two guys will be going through their own personal development plans all year long, and the goal is that when they’re eligible, they’re both better than they were in their last year at their previous schools,” Whitford said.
Whitford says that although he and his staff were working hard in recruiting incoming freshmen players, when Walton and Hazen became available, he put all of his effort in reporting the pair.
The team’s first regular season game will be Nov. 10 against the Flyers at Dayton.