On the surface, Ball State's hiring of Arizona associate head coach James Whitford last month may have raised some eyebrows in terms of a bringing in a guy who has spent the past four seasons nearly 2,000 miles from Muncie. However, prior to his stint with the Wildcats, Whitford spent the previous 14 seasons scouring the Midwest for talent in his time as an assistant at Miami (Ohio) and later Xavier.
In addition to his familiarity with this region, he has bolstered the Cardinals program by bringing in assistants familiar with Indiana, and that practice continued Friday, as Whitford announced the hiring of Billy Wright.
“Billy comes very highly regarded from a lot of people in the state of Indiana,” Whitford said in a release. “He is well-connected in the state.”
Wright has played (Richmond High School) and coached (Pike and Ben Davis high schools) within this state and also spent time recruiting Indiana as an assistant at Western Illinois.
He has spent five seasons as an assistant with the Leathernecks, including the past three as associate head coach.
“This is a great opportunity, being from Indiana, to come back home and recruit the state of Indiana hard,” Wright said. “Ball State is the right place in terms of being able to win. With the great tradition, facilities and support that are here, it has the ingredients to be a special place.”
At Western Illinois, Wright worked under former Ball State assistant coach Jim Molinari, whom he had played for at Bradley University.
The Leathernecks reached the first two postseason appearances in their 30-year NCAA Division I history with College Basketball Invitational berths in each of the past two seasons. In 2012-13, Western Illinois had its best season ever at the Division I level, posting a 22-9 record and sharing the Summit League regular season championship.
“Billy has worked for a person I respect a lot in Coach Molinari, who had great things to say about him,” Whitford said. “Billy has a great background as a person, as a player and as a successful coach.”
Wright joins associate head coach Brett Nelson and fellow assistant Jason Grunkemeyer on the Cardinals' staff.
He spent 12 years coaching high school basketball at Pike and Ben Davis in Indianapolis, including two seasons as the head coach at Pike (2006-08) after serving five years as a varsity assistant at the school.
During his time at Pike, Wright helped coach and develop three players who went on to be first-round NBA draft picks - Courtney Lee (Orlando Magic, 2008), Jeff Teague (Atlanta Hawks, 2009) and Marquis Teague (Chicago Bulls, 2012).
As a player, Wright was an Indiana All-Star as a high school senior in 1992 after leading Richmond to a state championship.
He went on to a have a standout career at Bradley, helping the Braves to a Missouri Valley Conference title and an NCAA Tournament appearance during his all-conference senior season in 1996. A three-time All-MVC Defensive Team selection, Wright was later inducted into the Bradley University Hall of Fame in 2007.
“I believe in Coach Whitford's philosophy and approach to the game, which was successful at Miami, Xavier and Arizona,” Wright said. “That's something I definitely wanted to be a part of and assist him in bringing that success here to Ball State.”