James Whitford remembers coming to Worthen Arena as an assistant coach, facing strong Ball State teams playing in front of large, enthusiastic crowds. The new Ball State men's basketball coach wants to bring that atmosphere back to Muncie.
"I've seen Worthen Arena filled," said Whitford at his introductory news conference. "I've seen the tradition. I've been on the wrong end of some this tradition here in Muncie at times. You need great tradition to build what we're trying to build here."
Crowds for Cardinals basketball have dwindled, with just two winning seasons in the last decade. Whitford replaces Billy Taylor, who improved the program but was still let go after just one winning season in his six seasons.
"When the Ball State job opened up my mouth was watering," said Whitford. "I was itching in my seat to get the job. I have to generate excitement in the community. That's the first thing I have to do. Secondly, we have to put a great product on the floor. When you combine those two things, they'll come back."
Whitford becomes Ball State's 19th basketball head coach. He comes to Muncie after serving as the associate head coach at Arizona under Sean Miller.
"James Whitford is a winner," said Miller in a statement released by Ball State. "He has won championships at every level he has coached, including the Mid-American Conference. He has also been an integral part of four Sweet 16 teams over the past six seasons at Xavier University and here at the University of Arizona. James spearheaded our recruiting efforts at Arizona and was instrumental in landing some of the nation's best recruiting classes. He is the most organized, relentless recruiter I have been around. In a short period, he will lead Ball State basketball to the top of the MAC and into the postseason in a consistent, first-class manner."
Whitford worked for Miller for four years at Arizona and four years before that at Xavier. Whitford got his start in coaching as a student manager at Wisconsin. A mutual friend asked former Ball State player and coach Ray McCallum, then an assistant at Wisconsin, to help Whitford get involved with the Badgers basketball program.
"Within about two days, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," said Whitford. "I wanted to coach basketball in some capacity at some level. I found my passion again. I found my purpose."
Whitford has 11 years of experience as an assistant coach in the Mid-American Conference at Miami University. He looks forward to returning to and recruiting in the Midwest. His grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where his parents were both professors at the University of Wisconsin.
"There's a culture in the state of Indiana," said Whitford. "There's a tradition about high school basketball here that's really exciting to me as the coach. We're going to recruit the absolute heck out of this area."
Whitford has worked with 10 NCAA tournament teams. Five advanced to the Sweet 16, two to the Elite Eight. His teams won nine conference champions.
"I think the combination of experiences of the great coaches I've been around and the great teams I've been on have put me in position to be ready for the challenge here at Ball State," said Whitford.
Whitford and his wife Amber have two sons, Liam and Spencer.
Fans can meet Whitford Wednesday night from 6:00 – 6:30 pm at the Muncie Downtown YMCA.