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Building Trust

Player buy in, alumni support important to Ballard as he builds program

Brett Ballard in front of Lee Arena

From The Ichabod - Fall 2017

When Washburn University was about to announce Brett Ballard as the next men’s basketball coach, assistant coach Matt Hundley, b ed ’03, called a team meeting to tell the players this hire should excite them.

“I told them he’s a high-character, high-energy guy. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s going to work hard,” Hundley said. “Do everything you can to welcome him and get to know him as soon as possible.”

That meeting kick started Ballard’s top priority when he left his assistant coach position at Wake Forest University, in North Carolina in April.

“Number one, players won’t follow me until they trust me,” Ballard said. “That will be key from now until we start the season.”

Washburn’s top returning player fits Ballard’s mold – strong on both ends of the court and hardworking in the classroom. Senior forward Brady Skeens is an Academic All-American and two-time MIAA defensive player of the year. He was impressed right away with Ballard.

“I think he will be a player’s coach,” Skeens said. “He has been very involved with us since he arrived on campus, and I have really enjoyed getting to know him and his family. He is developing relationships with us as people first. He certainly wants to foster a family type culture and environment.”

Ballard involved himself with the Topeka community early on, visiting elementary schools, hosting summer camps and making obligatory visits to hotspots like Bobo's Drive In.

“There are a lot of proud people in this area and it’s cool to get out and be a part of that,” he said. “I feel like this is a place where my family can be happy, healthy and successful. And the boosters have helped me get organized, connect and fundraise. It shows how much they care and are committed to making this an elite program.”

That sense of community, along with strong traditions made Washburn an easy choice for Ballard.

“Looking at a job, you look at the total package,” he said. “There’s a commitment on the academic level that’s elite. Students can come here and get an unbelievable education by people who care about them. That was important to me. The facilities, leadership and support are in place. I’m excited to meet more people and encourage them to come out and support these young men.”

Taking over after Bob Chipman’s 38-year career ended in March, Ballard recalls a quote from Bill Self, whom he worked under for seven seasons at the University of Kansas.

“Coach Self says Kansas is bigger than any one player or coach,” Ballard said. “I think Coach Chipman would agree Washburn is bigger than him or me, any one player or team. It’s a group of people who sacrificed and committed to this place. We want to embrace the tradition and former players, and at the same time, figure out how we can help put these guys in a position to be successful.”

Ballard’s career has always had a tie to the state of Kansas. He was born in Hutchinson and played guard at KU from 2000-02 for Roy Williams. The Jayhawks went to the Final Four his senior season, and he was named academic all-Big 12.

Earning significant minutes as a walk-on at a place like Kansas is something I’m personally proud of.”

He started coaching as a student assistant on Self’s first Kansas team, was a head coach at Baker University and an assistant at the University of Tulsa and Wake Forest. He worked under former Jayhawk Danny Manning at the two latter schools.

“I’ve been fortunate to be around great coaching,” he said. “The lessons I’ve learned have been incredible, and hopefully I can take that and build a program that best fits my personality.”

Ballard and his staff are ready to get started playing in a conference – the MIAA – that produced two national champions in the last four years.

“Rolling up our sleeves and getting to work excites me more than anything,” Hundley said.

"This is a big-time league with big-time coaches, great players and fan bases who care,” Ballard said. “Every night’s going to be a battle.”

Brett Ballard holds up a Washburn jersey during his press conference

Getting his brand out there

Fans will be able to catch up with Coach Brett Ballard on Twitter (@CoachBBallard), where the 37-year-old actively runs his own account.

“Twitter is free advertising for our program,” he said. “I want to put our brand out there. I want to have our fans and alumni feel connected. I try to show some of the behind-the-scenes stuff. Some fun stuff or hard things we’re doing. Even when we struggle, I want fans to feel connected.”

The Ballard File

Hometown: Hutchinson, Kansas
Degree: Secondary education, University of Kansas, ’03
Family: Wife Kelly; Sons Kaden and Brooks; daughter Breagan
Coaching History:
2014-17 (3 seasons) - Assistant coach, Wake Forest University
2012-14 (2 seasons) - Assistant coach, University of Tulsa
2010-12 (2 seasons) - Head coach, Baker University
2008-10 (2 seasons) - Director of basketball operations, University of Kansas
2004-08 (4 seasons) - Administrative assistant/video coordinator, University of Kansas
2003-04 (1 season)- Volunteer student assistant, University of Kansas


The Ichabod magazine spring 2019

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2018-19 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

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