Former Memphis Central point guard Danielle Ballard eager for a fresh start at LSU

Despite being dismissed from the team midway through her senior season, former Memphis Central star point guard Danielle Ballard finished as the nation's 25th overall prospect by ESPN. (Photos by Chuck Lajeunesse).

On the morning of May 19, Danielle Ballard had awakened at approxiately 7 o’clock, three hours before she was to make her to way to the Cook Covention Center in downtown Memphis for her high school graduation.

Ballard was seemingly flabbergasted that a day in which she had long awaited since she enrolled at Central High four years ago had finally arrived.

Among the first things the former Lady Warrior star point guard did was jump out of bed and put on her green graduation gown.

She then rushed to her parents’ bedroom, where she began orchestrating a vigorous celebration with the two individuals who have followed her hoops prowess since she first began dribbling a basketball at the age of five.

Of course, Ballard’s parents didn’t seem fazed that their daughter was unknowingly disturbing the peace shortly after sunrise.

“I was just excited to graduate,” said Ballard, who actually wore her gown to her graduation ceremony. “I was ready that morning when I first woke up. I was dancing and playing with my parents, and I told them it was time to get out the house. But my mama always say you’re not grown until you’re 25 because she don’t want us to leave.”

Fortunately for the 18-year-old Ballard, whom various recruiting analysts rated as one of the most sought-after prospects in the country for a majority of her prep career for nationally-ranked Central, she will be vacating her parents’ home for all the right reasons Sunday morning.

Ballard, who signed with LSU during the early signing period in November after averaging 13 points, 3.3 assists, and 3.8 steals per game as a junior, will pack up and head to Baton Rouge, La., where she will enroll in summer classes as she prepares to suit up for the Lady Tigers of the Southeastern Conference this fall.

“I’m excited, knowing that I’m about to embrace the college experience and to get used to the atmosphere,” Ballard said.

For Ballard, she is hopeful that leaving for LSU eight days after being awarded her high school diploma will prove beneficial in terms becoming acclimated with her surroundings, let alone the pressures and obstacles that college life often generates.

Ballard, in fact, appears destined to relish the challenge of what undoubtedly will be a major turning point in her young life, in large part because of the maturation process she had to endure for much of her senior campaign.

Hours after the reigning Tennessee Class AAA state champion Lady Warriors had returned home from a holiday tournament in Mufreesboro, Tenn., Central coach Niki Bray dismissed Ballard from the team for what she deemed repeated violations of team rules.

The news of Ballard’s dismissal came as a shock not only to those affiliated with the team, but to the four-star player and nation’s 25th overall prospect. Bray felt that Ballard was ingenuous in that she did not believe her coach would discipline her so harshly.

“It was constant disruptions that kept building up,” said Bray, explaining the events surrounding Ballard’s expulsion. “I said, ‘Obviously, being apart of this team is not what you want to do, so we’re going to let you do what you want to do.’ She was at a point in her life, where she wanted to do what she wanted to do.”

However, it didn’t take long for reality set it for Ballard, a speedy 5-foot-9 prospect who burst on the national scene when she was only a freshman. Six months after embracing the gold ball on Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Arena court in celebration of Central’s first state title in 89 years, Ballard found herself kicked off the area’s top-ranked team that, at the time, was also ranked No. 11 nationally in the ESPN FAB Top 50 poll.

“It was heart-breaking,” Ballard recalls. “Basketball is my life. And not being able to play basketball for three months was damaging to my heart, to my spirit. Sometimes, I wanted to give up. But I had my family and friends to tell me I still had a future.”

Ballard, who starred four seasons for the Lady Warriors, led nationally ranked Central to its first state title in 89 years as a junior before signing a National Letter of Intent to play for LSU.

Luckily for Ballard, who was invited to compete for Team USA in the U17 Trials last summer in Colorado Springs, Co., her good behavior ultimately led to her earning a spot back on the team. However, her reinstatement didn’t come until after Bray performed what essentially was a background check, of sorts, on the player she first began following when Ballard attended nearby Snowden Middle School.

“At the beginning of February, it was nonstop,” Bray said. “She was like, ‘Please, please, please, I wanna come back.’ After the city championship loss to Overton, she became relentless. So I called four teachers one night and they gave me overwhelming news about her productivity in class. Everybody loves her. Nobody wanted her off the team.”

Central’s team captain Nina Davis, a four-star recruit who is currently rated as the nation’s No. 58 prospect by ESPN for the class of 2013, was among those lobbying for Bray to put Ballard back on the team.

“My team leader came to me and she was like, ‘Coach, this is (Ballard’s) senior season, and maybe she needs the opportunity to prove she’s changed. It was really a disbelief for her. She didn’t think I was serious. It took our team time to find their rhythm. We had to learn to live without Danielle.”

It wasn’t, however, until days before the start of the District 16-AAA tournament that, Ballard — who chose LSU over Auburn, Ole Miss, UCLA, Duke, and Rutgers — had convinced Bray that she had indeed changed and was capable of abiding by her rules.

Still, Ballard’s rejoining the Lady Warriors wasn’t enough to help them defend their state title. Central was eliminated by Clarksville in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

However, for Ballard, who turns 19 in November, the biggest concern now is whether the rigorous lessons of having basketball temporarily taken away will inspire her to make discreet off-the-court decisions once she sets foot on the LSU campus.

“Only time will tell,” Bray said. “I honestly believe that if Danielle goes in there and focus, she could very well be SEC Freshman of the Year. Her desire is to play in the WNBA. And I believe she has what it takes to accomplish that. I’m looking for her to do some great things and be the talk of the nation.”

Much like she was for nationally-ranked Central.

Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

MSL: Memorial Day Weekend 2012

J.J. hitting Ben with the actual chair Jerry Lawler hit the OKC fan with last year


Hour 1:

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter talk about Tony Allen on the NBA 1st Defense team, Grizzlies summer league, Taylor Reed’s transfer options, and more during the Starting 5. Also, scorekeeper and Memphis sports historian J.J. Guinozzo stops by in studio (with the actual chair Jerry Lawler used to hit a Thunder fan with last year) to discuss the history of streaking at Memphis sporting events, the worst moments in local sports, and baseball. 

Hour 2:

Memphis Flyer writer and Oscarologist Greg Akers joins Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter in studio to talk about 2012 summer movies. Also, the first ever MSL Memorial Day Fantasy Football & Academy Awards Challenge. Plus, the guys talk about Shaq turning down the Orlando Magic GM job during Woohoos and Boos.

HOUR 1 AUDIO:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click here to download Hour 1 of the 5.26.12 MSL

HOUR 2 AUDIO:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click here to download Hour 2 of the 5.26.12 MSL

Click here for more MSL interviews.

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010 & 2011 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.   

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @marcus_hunter

MSL: BBQ Fest Weekend 2012

Hour 1:

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter talk about O.J. Mayo’s future, the USFL’s return, the Big East vs. SEC bowl game, and more during the Starting 5. Also, MemphiSport reporter Andre Johnson stops in to talk all things Grizzlies.

Hour 2:

Fox 13’s Senior BBQ Fest Correspondent Lauren Lee joins Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter to talk about the festival, slaw sandwiches, people swimming in the Mississippi River, and more. Also, another edition of Hang Up & Listen. Plus, the guys talk about  The Avengers and the rest of the 2012 NBA Playoffs during Woohoos and Boos.

HOUR 1 AUDIO:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click here to download Hour 1 of the 5.19.12 MSL

HOUR 2 AUDIO:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click here to download Hour 2 of the 5.19.12 MSL

Click here for more MSL interviews.

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010 & 2011 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.   

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @marcus_hunter

Fancap: Grizzlies lose to Clippers in Game 7

Pregame PhotoCap: Grizzlies vs. Clippers Game 7

Was it acceptable for the Beale Street Flippers to wear Clippers shirts at Game 6 in Los Angeles?

Photo courtesy of Rob Fischer

The Beale Street Flippers are a regular touring act in the NBA, but the beloved Memphis group’s halftime performance at Game 6 of the Grizzlies/Clippers playoff series in Los Angeles has some fans upset.  Once word leaked  on Twitter and MSL that the Flippers wore red Clippers “Lob City” shirts during their performance, an outpouring of negative reaction from Grizz Nation started to spread fast on various social media.

The Beale Street Flippers responded to the criticism with a post on the MemphiSport Facebook page:

Just to explain a little: Yes, the Clippers paid a lot for us to come to L.A. and perform for halftime. That’s what we do — all over the NBA, college, corporate events, etc. We do perform a lot for the Grizzlies, but the Grizz don’t have an exclusive on our group. At almost every game, we flip in the home team’s shirts. Grizzlies, Clippers, Lakers, Hawks, Magic, OKC, Pacers, Mavericks, Ole Miss, Auburn, UT, UConn — we’ve got drawers full of t-shirts from every team in the NBA and most colleges. We are professional entertainers, and we entertain to the best of our ability for the people who hire us. Yes, of course we are Grizz fans in our personal lives; yes, it was a little awkward to be in LA last night; and yes, we were surprised that the Clippers wanted to book us. But they did, we gave them a great show, we got paid well, and now we’re back in Memphis and ready for the Grizz to move to round 2 of the playoffs.
In a later post, they went on to say the following:
We aren’t celebrities who can pick and choose whom to endorse. We’re just hard-working street kids who have developed a skill and created an act that people want for entertainment… As for what happens at tomorrow’s game, we’ve had some fun discussions with our friends at the Grizzlies, and all we’re allowed to say is “Stay tuned….”
What do you think? Did the Flippers turn their back on their city by wearing the shirts of a playoff rival? Or were the Flippers just doing what everyone else would do in that situation? Comment below or join in on the conversation on Facebook right here.

Kevin Cerrito is the managing editor of MemphiSport and host of MemphiSport Live (MSL) every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010 & 2011 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.  
You can follow him on Twitter @cerrito.

Clippers guard Chris Paul loves playing in ‘hostile environments’

Clippers guard Chris Paul (center) has been a force throughout the opening round of the playoffs against the Grizzlies, but was limited to 11 points in Friday's crucial Game 6 loss in Staple's Center. The Clippers will need Paul to be more effective if they are to advance to play the Spurs. (Photos by Justin Ford)

Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro walked up to Chris Paul in the locker room after Wednesday’s Game 5 of the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs at FedExForum, apparently relieved after learning that his star point guard’s injury that forced him to the bench in the waning moments wasn’t as serious as the team initially thought.

“That was good…better news,” said Del Negro while patting Paul on the back. “You’ll be alright.”

Paul, removing ice packs off both knees, agreed.

“Yeah, I’ll be alright,” he said.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, who were hoping to close out the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 6 Friday night at the Staple’s Center, Paul appeared hampered by a right hip flexor strain for a majority of the game. His ineffectiveness ultimately led to the Grizzlies evening the best-of-seven series at three games apiece with a 90-88 win.

Heading into Sunday’s decisive Game 7 before what will be a raucous FedExForum crowd, the Clippers will need a much healthier and effective Paul directing the offense if they are to prevent from becoming only the ninth team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead in the postseason.

Paul, who averages a team-best 20.7 points in the playoffs, was limited to just 11 points on 4-of-9 field goals in 35 minutes in Friday’s game, his lowest point total and minutes he’s had the entire series. What’s even worse for the Clippers, who must now win in a hostile environment for a second time, is that power forward Blake Griffin wasn’t at full strength for Game 6 after sustaining a left knee late in third quarter Game 5.

After Game 5 in Memphis, Paul and Griffin insisted that their injuries weren’t a cause for concern and that they both would be fully prepared for Game 6 in Los Angeles.

“There’s a difference in being hurt and being injured,” Paul told reporters after Wednesday’s game. “I just felt a little slight pain in my leg. “No pressure. We’re going to be okay. Obviously, we didn’t want to go back home (for Game 6), not right now anyway. But it is what it is.”

At the time, Paul also spoke about the importance of the Clippers needing to win Game 6 in their arena, given the FedExForum crowd hasn’t been too kind to them. Throughout much of the series, the Clippers have endured their share of rants and taunts from Grizzlies fans, who have routinely chanted “Beat L. A.” and booed Griffin each time he touches the ball.

One fan went as far as to hold up a big head of Paul wearing a baby bonnet draped over his head, while sucking a pacifier featuring the Clippers logo as a way of suggesting that Paul has spent much time whining and complaining to officials and the media about the Grizzlies’ aggressive play throughout the series.

Paul, however, admittedly welcomes the trash talk and constant scoldings he’s getting from Grizzlies fans.

Throughout the opening round of the Clippers' playoff series against the Memphis, Grizzlies fans haven't been too kind to Paul and Co.

“In a way, I love playing in hostile environments,” Paul said after the Clippers erased a 27-point second half deficit to win Game 1. “That way, I can take the crowd out of the game.”

Even if the Clippers don’t advance to the play the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, it’s clear that Paul’s presence has greatly impacted a franchise that has been the subject of constant jokes and endured decades of futility. After commissioner David Stern rejected a proposed three-team trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers on December 8, the Clippers and New Orleans Hornets agreed to a trade that sent the five-time All Star to the Clippers.

Although Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has publicly labeled the Clippers “the other team,” it seems they are now being mentioned in the same breath as the Lakers, in large part because of the buzz Paul has created throughout the organization in his brief time with the team.

“He’s brought respect to that franchise,” said former NBA player Chris Webber, now a commentator for TNT. “I think the thing with him and Chauncey Billups is that everybody took them seriously because they won everywhere they’ve been. What they’ve done is come in and take this franchise seriously. He’s brought with him some respectibility to L. A.”

Still, the Clippers, one of the NBA’s youngest teams, have a long ways to go to catch up with their Staple’s Center counterparts.

“They’re going to be the little brothers to the Lakers,” Webber said, “But you’ve to work your way up the ladder.”

They can take yet another huge step with a win Sunday in Game 7. It certainly will take some doing, considering the injury-plagued Clippers will be up against a more experienced Grizzlies team that appears to be as healthy as it has been all season.

Fortunately for the Clippers, though, they have Paul, whom many believe has been the best player on the floor throughout this series.

“Chris Paul has been a force everywhere he’s been,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “He’s a point guard with the ball in his hands. He’s going to have it 95 percent of the time. He’s made some big shots in this series. The Clippers are not a factor without Chris Paul. Without him, they wouldn’t have been up 3-1.”

Paul realizes the Clippers will need him to be an even bigger factor Sunday afternoon if they hope to earn more respect, particularly among Los Angeles fans. However, if the Clippers manage to shock Memphis again, Paul contends they wouldn’t have done anything more than winning a brutal opening-round series.

“Nothing,” said Paul, when asked what would advancing past the Grizzlies mean for the Clippers franchise. “It will just mean we won a series against a tough team. We’ve got to stick together and grind it out.”

Something the Clippers have been able to do since Paul’s mid-December arrival to L. A.

Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler talks about piledriving the Clippers on MSL

Jerry “The King” Lawler joined Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter on MSL to talk about piledriving the Clippers fan at Game 2 of the Grizzlies/Clippers series, whether of not he will appear at The Grindhouse for Game 7, the 30th anniversary of his Andy Kaufman feud, the status of “The Jerry Lawler Show”, plus much more.

AUDIO:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click here to download the Jerry Lawler interview from the May 12, 2012 MSL

Click here to watch Jerry “The King” Lawler piledrive a Clippers fan

Click here to visit KingJerryLawler.com

Click here for more MSL interviews.

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010 & 2011 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.   

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @marcus_hunter

MSL previews Grizzlies/Clippers Game 7 with sideline reporter Rob Fischer

Memphis Grizzlies sideline reporter and Sports Bar host Rob Fischer joined Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter to preview Game 7 of the Grizzlies/Clippers series and to talk about everything from the Playoffs to the Beale Street Flippers wearing Clippers gear at the halftime show of Game 6 at Staples Center.

AUDIO:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click here to download Rob Fischer’s appearance on the May 12, 2012 MSL

Click here for more MSL interviews.

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010 & 2011 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.   

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @marcus_hunter


MSL: Grizzlies/Clippers Game 7 Eve

Photo by Justin Ford

Hour 1:

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter celebrate Game 7 Eve by talking about the seriesgoing back to Memphis. Also, Jerry “The King” Lawler joins the guys on MSL to talk about piledriving the Clippers fan at Game 2 of the Grizzlies/Clippers series, whether of not he will appear at The Grindhouse for Game 7, the 30th anniversary of his Andy Kaufman feud, the status of “The Jerry Lawler Show”, plus much more. Plus, the guys recap Game 6 and preview Game 7 with Matt Moore of CBSSports.com.

Hour 2:

Memphis Grizzlies sideline reporter and Sports Bar host Rob Fischer joined Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter to preview Game 7 of the Grizzlies/Clippers series and to talk about everything from the Playoffs to the Beale Street Flippers wearing Clippers gear at the halftime show of Game 6 at Staples Center.  Also, another edition of Hang Up & Listen. Plus, the guys talk about  Kevin’s Game 7 predicament and Lisa Turtle’s new look during Woohoos and Boos.

HOUR 1 AUDIO:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click here to download Hour 1 of the 5.12.12 MSL

HOUR 2 AUDIO:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click here to download Hour 2 of the 5.12.12 MSL

Click here to watch Jerry “The King” Lawler piledrive a Clippers fan

Click here for more MSL interviews.

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010 & 2011 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.   

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @marcus_hunter