January 10, 2016

Ballard is booming

Kevin McCarthy

photo of Junior Ballard

If ever there was a name that so perfectly matched up with a high-scoring sharpshooter, it's Junior Ballard. The 6-foot-2, 180 Lathrop High sophomore already has game—26.7 points plus 9.6 rebounds a contest—and he's likely to grow bigger since he gained three inches since last season.

Lathrop Coach Nate McGrath has the details:“I've never coached a kid like him. He's a quiet scorer, not super flashy, but he has every move in the book and his IQ is off the charts. Junior is a team player who takes good shots and a hard worker who wants to be really good. The sky is the limit for him.”

Ballard checked in at 5-foot-11, 165 last season as a freshman and “now he passes the eye test,” according to McGrath.

“He scored 45 points the other night (versus Sonora High) and I would never have guessed it. He attacks basket but he can also shoot.” Ballard also finished with 37 against Liberty Ranch.

Missing the first half of the 2014-15 season because he didn't make grades, Ballard has done an about face academically. “It [high school] was overwhelming,” he explained. With time and determination, he adjusted and now sports a 3.75 grade point average as well as having made up his earlier classes.

So how did he arrive at where he is today on the court? It's been all in the family. “I've been playing since the second grade. My brother played overseas and he is one of my biggest influences. Also, an uncle is a trainer and he has helped me with the physical part.”

“I worked really hard over the summer, doing physical and skill work. I'm playing smarter.” As for a leadership role, Ballard said, “I accept it. You play hard and your teammates will have your back.”

Asked to name what he perceives as his best skills, he offered, "going to the basket and defending.”

Although the tallest player on his team, “people are underestimating us,” Ballard said, The Spartans presently stand 7-6 with McGrath starting four juniors plus Ballard.

“The VOL (Valley Oak League) is one of the deepest leagues” according to McGrath as Manteca, Weston Ranch, Central Catholic and Sierra have been formidable opponents for years.