Rowdy Ball’s growth spurt over the last three years has been exceptional by any standards. He’s went from being a 5-foot-4 freshman to a soon-to-be 6-2 senior.
Ball has drawn more than his share of second looks from anyone who hadn’t seen him in a while. But he reports everyone has still recognized him, no matter how long it’s been since they last saw him.
“There have been a lot of people who have said something to me about (his added height). But I'm still the only red-head at Sparta, so people always recognize me,” Ball said.
Basketball fans will surely see a lot more of Ball next winter than they have in the past. He’s likely to go from a seldom-used backup last season to a swingman of sorts who will play along the perimeter offensively and stand along the Trojans’ front line at the defensive end.
Coach Deric Link has seen enough from Ball over the summer to be optimistic he’s ready to embrace a much bigger role.
“I probably should have got him more time (last season) than I did down the stretch. That's on me,” Link said. ”We’re going to need him (next season). He's worked his tail off since the end of our season to give himself the best opportunity to play. We're going to need him to shoot the ball well, rebound and take care of the basketball.”
With Ball having added nearly a foot to his frame, he’s obviously had to adapt more so than the average player. The added height has added to his potential.
“It’s changed my shot a lot. It's been weird putting on muscle, growing a lot and still trying to shoot the ball the same,” Ball said. “I wasn't a playmaker when I was shorter. I was a spot-up shooter.
“I've had a lot of awkwardness. I was slow-footed. I couldn't move at all,” he added. “I think I'm finally getting used to my body and height, and getting more athletic.”
“He's still trying to figure things out with his body,” Link said.
Ball is bracing himself for possibly another growth spurt.
"I'm pretty sure I'm still growing,” he said. “My doctor said I'm supposed to be 6-5. I don't know if that will happen this year. My Dad didn't stop growing until he was 20 and my brother was 6-1 last year and now he's 6-3.”
In addition to Ball, guard Mason Letterman is also expected to step into Sparta’s starting lineup for the first time. The Trojans lost starters Dexter Loveland, Kavan Walker and Steven Brown to graduation form last season’s District championship bunch that captured the fancy of SWMO fans by making it to the Blue Division final at the Blue & Gold Tournament.
Link values the experience the newcomers to his rotation have gained the over the summer and has been happy with their work ethic.
“They are getting more confident in their abilities and what they bring to the table,” Link said. “Our upperclassmen who are coming back are instilling in them the confidence to go be themselves. When they are at their best, we are at our best. It's been good to see guys like Jake (Lafferty), Walker (Loveland) and Mason take guys under their wing, hold them accountable, show them how to work and at the same time also let them learn.
“There are guys we're going to see how much they're going to grow,” he added. “Can they stay within themselves, play defense and take care of the ball?”
As first-time starters, Ball and Letterman have waited a while for this chance and feel the sense of urgency to make the most of their one time around as starters.
"The last two years coming off the bench I was a scrapper and came in to play defensively,” Letterman said, “I still have to maintain and play that way and also find ways to do something to contribute offensively. It's exciting. I'm ready for it. This is it."
“They're big losses,” Ball said of Walker, Dexter Loveland and Brown. “We’re trying to do the best we can to fill the roles they played last year. I’m going to do the best I can to help us win games.”
The Trojans warn fans not to count out Sparta.
“We have a lot of disbelief outside of us,” Letterman said. “But I feel in our circle we can make a run again. We have higher hopes than we did last year. We want to be back in the Quarterfinals and be in the Final Four — that's our goal.”