Brett Ballard, head coach of the Washburn University men’s basketball team, has never known life without basketball. “My dad was a teacher and a coach, so I grew up around the game of basketball,” Ballard said. “I had a lot of really great youth coaches and high school coaches growing up in Hutchinson, KS. I was very fortunate.” He listened to those coaches, worked hard and developed his God-given talent.
All that hard work started paying off in high school when he went to play junior college basketball. Then he walked on at KU and played for Coach Williams. “Obviously that was an incredible opportunity for me and I had a great experience there,” Ballard said. “Then the timing worked out perfectly that after coach Williams left I finished playing and was lucky enough to be on coach Self’s staff for seven years. I was really blessed to have two Hall of Fame coaches as mentors.”
While at KU, Ballard was the camp director for the Bill Self Basketball Camps. He organized and directed over 2,500 campers and also coordinated and directed the Coaches Clinic, the Winter Clinic, and the Wilt Chamberlain Special Olympics Clinic. The lessons he learned from his coaches and the campers have stuck with him throughout his life.
Ballard eventually left KU for an opportunity to be head coach at Baker University, followed by the head coach position at Tulsa University, and then Wake Forest. In 2017, the Washburn job opened up. “Washburn was one of the best Division II basketball programs in the country and I knew it would be a great opportunity,” he said. Ballard has certainly made the most of it. His 104 wins are the most recorded by an Ichabod coach in program history after their first five seasons!
But as the years bounce by, Ballard says he’s gaining more from the game than simply the satisfaction of teaching young men to play better basketball. “I think initially what drove me to coach was the love of the game. I love competing and it still is a big part of why I coach. But I think the longer you do this, you start to see the impact that you can have,” Ballard shared. “It's really an influential time in their lives and to have an impact on them as a basketball player is important, but to be able to influence who they're going to be after they leave…I think that part of it is as much of a motivator now as anything else.”
Luckily for the Topeka community, that impact isn’t restricted to the basketball players he coaches. Washburn University offers summer camps for youth boys and girls in second grade through eighth grade. This past month, they hosted over 450 kids at summer basketball camps.
“My guys really give a high level of effort and energy to the kids. I’m really proud of them for that,” Ballard said. “They form a bond and I know the young campers look up to them.”
There is also a camp scholarship opportunity for kids who can’t afford to attend. “We're really fortunate we have some individuals and businesses in Topeka who donate camp scholarships,” Ballard said. “This year, over 50 kids were given scholarships.”
Whether it’s through the camps or the basketball team at Washburn, Ballard says he loves the difference that they are able to make in the community. “I really like giving back to Topeka because it's been so good to my family,” Ballard shared. “We've been treated so well since we moved here. I hope the fans that come out to our games see a hometown team that they can be proud of both on and off the court.”
Visit CityLifestyle.com/Topeka to view additional photos from this article.
“You know the relationships you have with your players. When they get done and you see them as husbands and fathers, just knowing you played a small part in that…that’s really rewarding.” - Coach Brett Ballard