Carroll High School grad Kyle Mallers will ‘have a very big role’ for Ball State Cardinals

Ball State sophomore forward Kyle Mallers (background) battles for position with senior forward Sean Sellers during a drill in a recent practice at Worthen Arena in Muncie. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

MUNCIE – There are a lot of reasons for optimism surrounding the Ball State men’s basketball squad this season.

There is the return of four starters from a 21-win squad.

You can include the addition of double-digit scorer Jontrell Walker, who transferred from Incarnate Word and is now eligible.

In addition, fifth-year coach James Whitford signed a talented threesome recruiting class that provides players with potential in the backcourt (Ishmael El-Amin), wing (Zach Gunn), and frontcourt (Blake Huggins).

Oh, and there is the return of Kyle Mallers.

Come again?

Mallers is coming off a freshman season in which he missed 16 of his 20 shot attempts in Mid-American Conference play and averaged barely one point per game. And the Cardinal Nation is supposed to be gaga over him?

Yes, according to Whitford.

“The one guy that has done really well so far in practice is Kyle Mallers,” Whitford said recently. “He’s done really well.”

Whitford has never stopped believing in Mallers, even during a trying freshman season that saw his production decline as the season wore on. Whitford fell on the sword for that.

“You heard me say, last year, a few times,” Whitford explained, “he was put in a tough spot.”

The Cardinal coach asked the former Indiana All-Star out of Carroll High School to play multiple positions, because of personnel issues that Ball State was facing at times, so the 6-foot-8 athlete never truly got comfortable.

“We started teaching him the four,” Whitford said, “then we had some issues with our team and we put him down at the three, and then back to the four… he went wherever I asked him to and never complained.”

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Midway through the season, Mallers was shooting 35 percent overall and an impressive 42 percent from 3-point range. However, once the Cardinals got into league play, his shooting numbers plummeted.

Mallers connected on just 20 percent of his shots, including an anemic 14.3 percent from long range.

“It didn’t put him in a position to be successful,” Whitford said of the flux of positions. “He was our utility infielder. I asked him to play seven positions.”

During this preseason, Mallers has thrived with the comfort of knowing his defined role. In Monday’s 97-61 exhibition win over Saint Francis, Mallers hit 3 of his 5 shots and finished with eight points in 27 minutes. He also grabbed four rebounds and dished out two assists.

“This year, he’s had more time to lock in on what his role is going to be and how he is going to be played,” Whitford said. “He has stood out in a really good way.”

Not only is knowing what he is supposed to do helping Mallers, but he is also benefitting from the fact that he is a far different athlete than he was 12 months ago.

“He is just more athletic,” Whitford said. “That is a credit to (strength and conditioning coordinator) Jason Roberson. He is faster and moving better. You can visibly see a difference.”

With the graduation of four-man Franko House and three-man Ryan Weber, there are nearly 1,800 minutes of playing time available along the baseline for Ball State this season.

“I would anticipate Kyle having a very big role for us all year,” Whitford said.

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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