AUGUSTA, Ga. – DeAundrae Ballard has been known as ‘Ticket’ since he was playing AAU basketball in eighth grade. He was the ticket to wins and the ticket to however far the teams he played for needed to go. And when it came time for him to decide where he would go to play in college, the decision was an easy one. The Atlanta product was his own ticket to Florida.
The Florida Gators had been recruiting Ballard for quite some time, and the entire coaching staff was in on the effort. The passion with which the Gators pursued him left him certain of one thing: that they could give him the push he likes to get from the people closest to him from time to time. In April, he made a verbal commitment to play for the Gators.
“They just want me to get better as a person and a basketball player,” Ballard said. “They’re going to stay on me and keep pushing me toward greatness, and I like that.”
Ballard’s desire to get better comes from several places, and has been with him since he decided to take basketball seriously in seventh grade. His father, Aundrae, always thought his son was a better baseball player as a kid. The elder Ballard considered DeAundrae a five-tool player on the diamond until a talk they had in middle school. That’s when DeAundrae told his dad he wanted to focus on basketball.
DeAundrae’s dad reminds him of that every chance he gets, as well. In an attempt to make sure DeAundrae stays humble, Aundrae makes sure the shooting guard from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy knows there’s still work to do. He tells him in subtle and overt ways, from the comparisons he makes about DeAundrae’s style — “Latrell Spreewell with just a dab of Kobe” — to the helpful hints he gives.
DeAundrae is the ninth-ranked player in the state of Georgia, and 247Sports has him as the No. 74 recruit in the nation, right now. He’s a versatile small forward, and at 6-foot-6, he can score in bunches when he needs to and play defense well at the other end of the court.
“I always say ‘Yeah, you’re a 4-star, not a 5-star,’” Aundrae said while laughing. “I remind him to let him know he’s still got work and room for improvement. I don’t want him to think that he’s going to make it and get by with just what he’s accomplished now. There’s other things to accomplish if he wants to make it to the next level.”
DeAundrae said he feeds off that because he always wants to improve. He calls it strengthening his weaknesses and mastering his strengths. But as for the the comparison to Spreewell and Kobe, DeAundrae doesn’t feel that part’s completely accurate. The guy he hopes to emulate actually played a bit of a role in why he committed to Florida.
“I look up to Bradley Beal. I just know we both can shoot. He can shoot,” DeAundrae said after scoring 22 points in the Georgia Stars’ Nike EYBL Peach Invitational win on Friday night. “It was the icing on the cake when Florida came. I used to remember seeing him on TV playing.”
As for the other part of the trifecta that led to the commitment, it came from the bond he built with the coaching staff in Gainesville.
“They contact me all the time and make sure I’m doing well and my family is doing well. They’re just family. It’s a very supportive system,” DeAundrae said of the Florida coaches. “They always talk to me, and Coach (Jordan) Mincey always speaks to me about philosophy and keeping my mind straight and to keep me focus.”
The Gators’ 2017 class has gotten off to a good start in terms of wing players. They also have a verbal commit from 4-star guard Shai Alexander, of Chattanooga, Tenn. The 6-foot-4 guard is the No. 1 ranked player in Tennessee, according to 247Sports.