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Arizona assistant James Whitford takes head coaching job at Ball State

James Whitford

James Whitford (right) with Arizona assistant coach Joe Pasternack before a 2012 game at McKale Center. Photo by Chris Morrison-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats assistant coach James Whitford, who has spent the past eight seasons coaching under Sean Miller, was hired as the head coach at Ball State on Saturday morning.

This will be the first head coaching position for Whitford, 41.

Whitford is familiar with the Mid-American Conference, having been an assistant coach under Charlie Coles at Miami University from 1997 to 2005 before joining Miller at Xavier for four years and following him to Arizona.

“James Whitford is a winner,” Miller said in a statement from Ball State.

“He has won championships at every level he has coached, including the Mid-American Conference. He has also been an integral part of four Sweet 16 teams over the past six seasons at Xavier University and here at the University of Arizona.”

Whitford’s areas of emphasis at Arizona were coaching the big men, defense, and he is known as a top recruiter. He has served as the team’s associate head coach for the past two seasons.

It was only a matter of time before Whitford, who was under consideration for the Miami University job last year before pulling out of the running, became a head coach.

“James spearheaded our recruiting efforts at Arizona and was instrumental in landing some of the nation’s best recruiting classes,” Miller said. “He is the most organized, relentless recruiter I have been around.”

Ball State, located in Muncie, Ind., fired its previous coach, Billy Taylor, on March 14. The Cardinals haven’t been to any kind of postseason tournament in the past 11 seasons, although they were one of the top programs in the MAC before that.

“In my mind, Ball State offers the best combination of academic excellence, basketball tradition, outstanding arena and fan support of any school in the Mid-American Conference,” Whitford said in a statement.

“When you add the unparalleled recruiting base in the state of Indiana and the great teaching those high school players receive from their various coaches, this job became one I targeted over the last few weeks.”

Coles told The Star Press in Muncie (our Gannett partner) about how Whitford left an impression on NBA scouts when he trained former Miami star Wally Szczerbiak in Chicago before the 1999 draft. Szczerbiak was the sixth pick in the draft.

“I got all kinds of phone calls about how good James was,” Coles said. “A lot of the pro guys said it was the best workout they’d ever seen.”

Miller has one original member of his Arizona coaching staff — Book Richardson. His brother, Archie Miller, left two years ago to become the head coach at Dayton. Sean Miller hired Joe Pasternack, the former head coach at New Orleans, to replace his brother.

Miller’s coaching tree includes those two, plus Chris Mack at Xavier.

Whitford’s introductory press conference at Ball State is scheduled for Wednesday.

“Muncie is getting an incredible family-centered person who brings with him all the qualities of a true leader,” Miller said. “In a short period, he will lead Ball State basketball to the top of the MAC and into the postseason in a consistent, first-class manner.”


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