Only a handful of high school basketball players will score 1,000 points before they’re done. Fewer still will reach that milestone on a night so bittersweet.
William Blount senior Micah Ballard was honored for eclipsing 1,000 prior to Tuesday night’s game with Knox West at Marvin Boring Gymnasium. Just before tipoff, the 6-foot-4 guard was brought to center court, where Governor coach David Baumann presented Ballard with a basketball commemorating the feat. Stenciled on the ball was the night Ballard had reached the mark at a holiday tournament over Christmas: Dec. 22, 2009.
Neither Baumann nor athletics director/public address announcer Mike Brewer immediately grasped the significance of the date. On Dec. 22, 2005, Ballard’s father, Stan, succumbed to a decade-long battle with cancer. One of the school’s most decorated players, Stan Ballard’s jersey is retired in a glass case just off the gymnasium’s main floor.
“Craziness,” said Micah Ballard of reaching 1,000 that night.
Just as quickly, he shifted focus to Friday’s game with Lenoir City.
“It’s definitely a milestone,” Ballard said. “It’s a good thing to get in your career. Right now, we have a home stand, and we’d like to build on this.”
Reaching 1,000 couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player, Baumann said.
Ballard, on pace to become the school’s all-time leading scorer by season’s end, was only 4 when Stan was diagnosed. By the eighth grade, Micah had become one of the area’s brightest young talents at Carpenters Middle School. His moves and court savvy by then were strikingly similar to those that had brought his father fame.
Stan passed away that winter, Micah going on to finish the season by leading the Cougars to the middle school tournament championship game. Although Carpenters lost, Ballard was named the tournament’s most valuable player honors.
It was not a sympathy vote.
Micah was going to be every bit the player his father had been on the high school level, and then some. You could see it in the way he moved, the way he passed the ball, the way he shot.
Ballard is closing on Governors’ all-time scoring record this season averaging 21 points per game.
Baumann said he wasn’t sure what to expect on the first anniversary of Stan’s death during Micah’s freshman season with the Governors.
“I said, ‘You don’t have to play if you don’t want to,’” he said.
Ballard allayed his coach’s concerns with a 29-point outburst against Cleveland that night and hasn’t stopped scoring since.
“He’s a tough player,” Baumann said, “and there’s not a player in that locker room who doesn’t love him.”
Watching Ballard eclipse 1,000 was special in more ways than one, Baumann said.
After an All-Blount County season as a sophomore, Ballard was diagnosed with an arrhythmia that caused his heart to beat dangerously slow at times. His junior season was almost over before it began until medication was able to bring the problem under control.
Ballard would go on to earn all-district honors at season’s end.
Add the fact Stan Ballard and Baumann were close friends, and Tuesday was a special night, Baumann said.
During the ceremony prior to the game, Micah glanced at the date on the commemorative ball and paused. In the stands, his mom, Lisa, heard Brewer announce to the crowd the date Micah had reached 1,000 and new immediately what it meant.
“He’s had to weather some pretty tough storms,” Lisa Ballard said.
The Governors very nearly delivered a storybook ending on Ballard’s big night. With Ballard tossing in 23 points, fellow senior Ty McBrayer and sophomore Ryan Rice 10 each, William Blount pushed West to the buzzer, the Rebels prevailing, 68-67, when a William Blount shot bounced off the rim at the horn.
West, having twice beaten two-time defending state champion Fulton this season, is one of the favorites for the District 4AAA title this season. While moral victories don’t count, Baumann said, there’s a lot the Governors (8-7, 2-5 4AAA) can take from the loss for the stretch run.
With William Blount already down a man with senior guard Tyler Stinnett out sick, the Governors lost Ballard to his fifth foul with three minutes remaining, the score tied at 60-all. Ballard did anything but pout upon reaching the William Blount bench.
“When he fouled out, when we came to the sideline (during timeouts), he was coaching as much as I was,” Baumann said.
William Blount gave little ground without its leading scorer, something that can only help come tournament time, Baumann said.
“I’m too competitive to look at it as a moral victory,” he said, “but what I took out of that was their character. We had a shot to win it at the end. I can’t ask for more from my kids.”
William Blount’s near miss is indicative a team that could prove a force come district tournament time next month. Much the same could be said for the Lady Governors, who put away the Lady Rebels, 51-41, in convincing fashion on Tuesday.
Sharpshooting sophomore guard Tatum Burstrom pumped in a game-high 20 points, including four treys, for a team playing only its third home game of the season. With senior Hannah Stinnett adding seven points, sophomores Sarah Wilson and Katie Wheeler six each, William Blount overwhelmed West with a balanced approach Lady Governor coach Matt Fowler said is evidence of much to build on.
“We just haven’t shot it well,” he said, “(but) their effort never wavered. Their attitude never wavered.”
While 3-11 overall, 1-5 in league play entering the stretch run, the Lady Governor record at this point must be balanced against nine of their losses coming by five points or less.
“It’s tough when you lose game after game after game by one or two points,” Fowler said.
A home game for only the third time this season did wonders, Wheeler said.
“We’ve just been on the road so much,” she said. “We knew we could pull it off (Tuesday). We were sick of losing.”
Once they got rolling Tuesday, there was no looking back, Burstrom said. The frustration of all those tough losses finally poured through.
“After every loss, we said, ‘Our time will come,’” Burstrom said.
Now that it has, she said, only one thing will keep it that way.
“We can’t get the big head,” Burstrom said. “We have to keep playing, keep our level and keep our energy coming.”