MUNCIE, Ind. — Not long after Indiana announced the firing of coach Tom Crean on Thursday, Ball State coach James Whitford benefited from the move.
Zach Gunn, who held offers from both coaches, verbally committed to the Cardinals late Thursday afternoon. He was waiting to see what happened in Bloomington before pulling the trigger on his decision.
“That was a big reason why,” Gunn said. “(IU) just struggled a lot. I know, obviously they’ve had some injuries, but a lot of fans weren’t too happy, just the way it has been.”
So the 6-foot-6 forward, who could very well play for Ball State as a freshman, will join a core of in-state players Whitford has plucked. Former Indiana All-Stars Tahjai Teague (Pike), Tayler Persons (Kokomo), Jeremie Tyler (Tech), Kyle Mallers (Carroll) and Sean Sellers (Greensburg), will be key contributors next year.
The 3-star recruit (ESPN, 247 Sports) knew, too, that he was a priority for the Cardinals. As a senior at Hamilton Southeastern he averaged 21 points per game against the 10th toughest schedule in the state, according to Sagarin’s rankings.
“This is probably big for them, because I’m a big-time player out of Indiana,” Gunn said. “I know (Whitford’s) pretty excited.”
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That’s two commits in Ball State’s class of 2017. Ishmael El-Amin was the first.
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Separate from the Crean news, Gunn said he was impressed by Ball State’s player development program, which has drawn praise from recent redshirts Persons, Teague and Ryan Weber, who played for Roncalli.
And, of course, he’s excited to help build on the Cardinals’ recent turnaround from five- and seven-win seasons to 21 wins in each of the last two under Whitford. The next step, he said, is getting them to the Big Dance.
“Coach Whitford has brought this program a long way,” Gunn said. “We’ve got an opportunity to get Ball State back to where it was, back in the early 2000’s, when they were in the (NCAA) Tournament.”
Find Ball State reporter Dakota Crawford on Twitter: @DakotaCrawford_.