Despite been dubbed arguably one of the best players in LSU women’s basketball history, Danielle Ballard still senses she has so much to prove.
“Well the best thing is to be myself and to let (people) know who I really am as a player,” Ballard told MemphiSport earlier this week. “You can tell that I am a good person. People already know that I work hard. But the most important thing is growth and that’s what I want to show people…that I have grown as young lady.”
Ballard is alluding primarily to her somewhat troublesome career at Memphis Central High, coupled with her unceremonious ending to her tenure at LSU.
Last June, LSU coach Nikki Caldwell announced that Ballard, who was first-team All-SEC last year as junior, would not return for her senior season, news that had surfaced after the star point guard was suspended the first 14 games of the 2014-15 season for violating team rules.
Prior to witnessing her collegiate career end prematurely, Ballard was the catalyst of an upstart Lady Tiger team that made consecutive NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearances.
To her credit, though, she wasted little time making her presence felt at LSU, where she enjoyed a record-setting freshman campaign when she amassed a school-record 100 steals while making 28 starts in 34 appearances.
Although her college career was unceremoniously cut short, the 22-year-old Ballard clung to lofty hopes of playing professionally, having taken her talents overseas, where she currently is the featured player for the Espoo Team in Finland.
Just as she has done at the high school and collegiate ranks, she has been nothing short of impressive, leading Espoo in scoring, averaging 18.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game.
“What I like about playing overseas is experiencing how it is living on the other side of the world and seeing how others players play the game of basketball,” Ballard said. “I must say they have a different kind of toughness about them, and that’s very interesting because it’s totally different from the U.S. because for them, it’s mostly a hobby. For us, it’s a dream.”
According to Ballard, while her tenure at LSU ended prematurely, she hopes WNBA general managers will take into consideration her overall body of work in helping the Lady Tigers re-emerge as a national standout.
Ballard, who led Memphis Central to the TSSAA Class AAA state championship as a junior, helped propelled LSU to the NCAA Tournament in each of her three seasons at the school.
“Coming into college, I wasn’t excepting to break many records as a freshman and so on,” Ballard said.
Now that she’s facing what appears arguably the greatest challenge of her basketball career, Ballard admittedly has taken ownership of her past off-the-court behavior, but believes she’s worthy of a chance to play on women’s basketball’s grandest stage — the WNBA.
According to her agent of 610 Sports Management, Ballard is scheduled to attend the invitation only ProHoops Cobine April 2 in Indianapolis, where she will be evaluated by WNBA coaches and other staff members before the draft, which will be held later that month.
“We have been in contact with a lot of teams about Danielle over the recent weeks,” said Ballard’s agent, who did not want to be identified. “We have heard about the same thing from them. All of them know she is a special talent. The main question is, ‘How has she matured?’ Our answer on this has been, Se has grown up a lot over the seven months. Being in Finland, she is learning how to be a professional as she is learning it is a business now.
“Danielle knows she is not fighting for a Pell grant, but for a living now, and I believe (playing overseas) has really helped her mature,” Ballard’s agent added. “We as a company have seen her grow over these seven months just in conversations.”
Still, whether WNBA coaches and GMs will recognize how much Ballard has handled her off-the-court maturation process remains a mystery.
Fortunately for the talented point guard, she’ll be afforded the chance to prove herself in the coming weeks.
“My coaches instilled in my mind that nothing is easy,” Ballard said. “Everything is earned.”
Most notably the chance to appear on women’s basketball’s grandest stage.
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to email@example.com. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.