When Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said that LSU freshman guard Danielle Ballard played basketball like a linebacker, he didn’t know how close to the truth he was.
As a young girl growing up in Memphis, Tenn., Ballard did play football. Quarterback, in fact.
The lessons learned in playing a leadership role like quarterback served Ballard well when she joined the Lady Tigers, evolving into LSU’s point guard.
Point guards are plentiful, of course. What helps makes Ballard uncommon besides her silky moves to the basket is her ability to crash down low among taller trees and pull down rebound after rebound.
Though just 5-foot-9, Ballard averages 6.6 rebounds per game along with her 12.1 points per game.
Only 6-5 All-Southeastern Conference forward Theresa Plaisance averages more on the LSU team with 8.3 rebounds per game. Ballard had 15 rebounds in a regular season game with Georgia, 10 against Alabama and 11 in the season-finale at Texas A&M that prompted Blair’s “linebacker” quote.
“She’s very physical,” Blair said. “I don’t have anybody who can guard her in a one-on-one situation.”
Ballard said being a girl among boys is where her physical play comes from.
“Since I was little I would play against boys who were so tall,” Ballard said. “I would be fearless about getting rebounds. That’s all I would like to do.”
If you see Ballard play, you would be tempted to think her favorite thing to do is steal the ball.
She’s had at least one in all but one LSU game this season, 93 in all. One more in LSU’s NCAA tournament opener Sunday against Green Bay and Ballard will have the single-season school record she currently shares with former All-American Marie Ferdinand (1999-2000) all to herself.
“I know things will happen before they happen,” Ballard says in a low, steady voice that makes you believe in her sleight of hand. “Their eyes and their body language. I go off how they go.”
Considering the package she brings to the court — scoring, rebounding and defense — it isn’t a stretch to say Ballard is the most polished all-around freshman guard LSU has had since Seimone Augustus a decade ago.
“I’m honored that people say that about me,” Ballard said. “I’ve been working on my game a lot. I’ve never tried to play like a woman, but more like a man.”
“She’s grown so much over the last couple of months,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “She’s done a great job becoming a complete player.
“I like Ballard’s intensity. You see how she can dial it up. That’s something you can’t teach. It’s been her wanting to get in the gym and get better.”
Ballard said she’s a little nervous about the prospect of her first NCAA tournament game, set to tip off against Green Bay about 6:30 p.m. Sunday night after the first game between Penn State and Cal Poly at 4 p.m.
“I’ve never been in the NCAA tournament before in front of a crowd like this,” Ballard said. “But it (her nerves) will go away.”
All probably she needs is that first good contact going for a rebound, like the quarterback she used to be, and Ballard will be good to go.
Staying the course?
The Lady Tigers went about the work of preparing for their game with Green Bay, practicing Thursday on the PMAC’s main floor.
Meanwhile, workers prepared the arena for NCAA tournament play, hanging banners, affixing logos to the court and erecting backdrops.
Guard Jeanne Kenney practiced full speed with her teammates after being bothered late in the regular season and the SEC tournament by a stress reaction in her left foot.
Caldwell said she and her staff will continue to monitor Kenney’s health before determining whether she or senior Bianca Lutley will start at guard.
“The most important thing is to make sure she stays healthy,” Caldwell said.
NCAA tournament tickets are on sale at the LSU Athletic Ticket Office, online at LSUTix.net or by phone at (225) 578-2184.
Ticket books for all three games are $25 for adults and $15 for children. Tickets for Sunday or Tuesday’s games are $15 for adults and $10 for children.
Tickets for groups of 10 or more are available for $5 each.
LSU students are admitted free with a valid LSU ID.