Recruit gets early start on getting better


DeAundrae Ballard.

Published: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 6:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 8, 2017 at 9:37 p.m.

ATLANTA — Each dawn, incoming 2017 Florida basketball signee DeAundrae Ballard drives 15 minutes from his house to the Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy gym.

Sometimes, Ballard works out alone. Other times, a high school teammate or two will join him.

The 5 a.m. workouts have become part of the 6-foot-6 Ballard's routine as he prepares for his upcoming freshman season at Florida. Often, the workouts last until 7:30 a.m., then school, then more basketball in the afternoon.

“For me to work out, it had to be early in the morning, because I have a lot of things to do throughout the day,” Ballard said.

The early-rising Ballard could rise to an important contributing role for the Gators next season. A four-star prospect coming out of high school, Ballard's all-around game has drawn some heady comparisons. Last month, Florida coach Mike White said Ballard's play reminded him of South Carolina guard and SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell. White said he doesn't expect Ballard to play at Thornwell's level right away, but given time, he said the Atlanta native could have that kind of impact on both ends of the floor.

“That's a great comparison,” Ballard said. “I watched him play. I watched him in the Elite Eight. How great he was, strong, physical, he can run the court, has a motor. He doesn't stop. There are some similarities.”

Growing up, Ballard first thought football or baseball would be his calling. But after sprouting to 6-2 as a sixth-grader and being named most outstanding player at Dwight Howard's summer basketball camp in Atlanta in seventh grade, Ballard developed a love for basketball.

“I told his mother then that he had potential to be a pro basketball player,” said Dwight Howard Sr., the athletic director at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and father of the star Atlanta Hawks center. “He always had that drive to get better, to work on his shot, his ballhandling, his defense.”

Ballard averaged 27.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals in his senior season at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, helping lead the Eagles to the Class A private school state finals.

“I learned a lot,” Ballard said. “I had to take the leadership position, had to lead my team through will, lead them to wins and take them to state. It was hard, rough, we faced a lot of adversity but we pushed through it.”

Ballard committed to Florida in April of 2016 and signed the following November. He took joy in watching UF's breakthrough second season under White as the Gators reached the Elite Eight in March for the ninth time in school history.

“I was screaming, every game, cheering them on, as if I was there,” Ballard said.

White and his staff made Ballard's recruitment a priority when they first arrived at UF in 2015. The letters that came from UF, Ballard said, were hand-written. Ballard developed a bond in conversations with Florida assistant coach Jordan Mincy.

“Really it was about life,” Ballard said, “It wasn't even about basketball, it was off the court because the game is but for so long, after a while, the ball will go flat so you have the other part of life to live.”

Given his size and skillset, Ballard said he feels he'll be capable of playing multiple positions in college. At 180 pounds, Ballard said he knew he needed to get stronger after visiting with UF's current players.

“As I observed, I knew I had to work on my body,” Ballard said. “Those guys are strong. Very strong. They stay in the weight room.”

Ballard said he's also prepared to adapt to White's defense-first mentality when it comes to earning playing time.

“I love defense,” Ballard said. “Defense shows your character, how much you want it.”

Ballard said his main goal is to be a great teammate in his freshman season and is looking forward to arriving on UF's campus in late June for the start of the second summer session.

“I've been waiting for this all of my life,” Ballard said. “I knew it was the right school when I chose it. I thought about it and everything and took my time and I was patient.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or kevin.brockway@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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