Former Lathrop High basketball star Junior Ballard has enrolled at Modesto Christian and will be eligible to play for the Crusaders in Clovis this weekend.
Modesto Christian is taking part in a summer basketball tournament against some of the Central Section’s best.
Ballard joins a roster that already includes rising prospects Gabe and Aaron Murphy, Tyler Williams, Michael Pearson Jr. and Dathan Satchell.
“There’s no guarantee he’ll come in and be the man,” Modesto Christian coach Brice Fantazia said. “We already have a lot of talent, so he doesn’t have to come in and carry us.
“It’s not ever a guarantee that he’ll start, but it does add a level of competitiveness to our team. We’re going to be deep next year, so playing could be tough to come by. Adding him to that mix will make the others raise their game a notch higher.”
Ballard played three varsity seasons for the Spartans, developing quickly into one of the top players in the Valley Oak League, a conference rich with next-level talent. He has averaged 20 or more points in each of the last two seasons, including 24.9 points as a sophomore. For his career, the 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals.
In his final season, he’ll don a Crusaders uniform, joining the Stanislaus District’s premier program.
Modesto Christian has won 18 Sac-Joaquin Section titles, 170 consecutive league games, two CIF State championships, and recently, appeared in back-to-back Northern California Open Division finals in 2015-16.
Ballard, who reportedly holds one Division I offer, said it was difficult to leave Lathrop High, but he and his family made the best decision for his future.
“The main reason was to get me ready for college,” said Ballard, who will have to sit out the first month of the season, per the CIF’s transfer policy. He’ll miss most, if not all, of the preseason, including The Gary Porter Showcase (Dec. 2) and Holiday Hoop Classic (Dec. 27-30), but return in time for Modesto Metro Conference play and the postseason.
“It just kind of happened. My family thought it would be the best fit for me. It was pretty hard” leaving Lathrop High. “I’ve been with those coaches for so long, since eighth grade, but they understood.”
Ballard’s transfer was complete on Thursday, June 1, according school athletic director Greg Pearce.
The enrollment process took about a month, Pearce added. The Ballard family had to submit an application and supporting documents – transcripts and recommendations, among others – to an enrollment counselor, and then take part in an interview with Pearce and Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Burton.
“He’s highly motivated,” Pearce said. “I think it’s fair to say his mother said it best: She feels like this is the best place for his future goals, college and his preparation. That’s what she shared with us.”
Pearce is pleased to welcome Ballard into the Modesto Christian community. He didn’t know much about the dynamic scoring guard before the enrollment process began, but believes Ballard has the makeup to succeed as a student-athlete.
“What I have learned in a short amount of time is that he’s well liked and does well in the classroom,” Pearce said. “If you remove the athletic part, he’s exactly the kind of student you want in your school. There are no discipline issues. In the short amount of time I’ve known him, I’ve been very impressed.”
With Ballard, an MVP-caliber talent, Modesto Christian becomes one of the most exciting programs in Northern California.
The Crusaders already boast Williams, a super-athlete and All-District selection last winter, and 6-8 forward Gabe Murphy and Pearson at the point. Aaron Murphy (knee) and Satchell (ineligible) return after missing last season, and both have shined for Chuck Hayes Basketball on the AAU circuit.
Fantazia isn’t sure how Ballard will mesh with those pieces, but he’ll find out soon enough. The second-year coach plans to work Ballard into the rotation this weekend in Clovis.
“That’s what the summer is for,” Fantazia said.
Ballard understands the firestorm his transfer likely will create around the section, but for now, his focus is on the opportunities ahead.
“They don’t know my situation and what I’m trying to accomplish,” Ballard said. “I’ve never been a part of something like this, school-wise, so I’m really excited.”