Eudora freshman Mitchell Ballock grew up playing pickup basketball games with his three older brothers on a 20-by-30-foot slab with two baskets in the backyard.
As the youngest in the family, there were no easy layups and there was nowhere to hide on defense.
“There’s a lot of nights he’d come in crying or whining about not getting the ball,” Mitchell’s father, Don Ballock, said. “They beat him up pretty good out there. We always told them it’d come back to haunt them someday. They helped toughen him up. It was good for him.”
It certainly has haunted opposing players. Mitchell scored 40 points in his first varsity game, and hasn’t looked back. He’s teamed with brother Andrew, a senior, to help Eudora High to a 13-5 record and a No. 3 ranking in Class 4A-DII from the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association.
“It was me against them and they wouldn’t take it easy, so that helped me to start to transfer into playing older kids,” Mitchell said. “That just helped me out a lot.”
Mitchell, a left-handed 6-foot-4 wing, has been doing everything a few years beyond his age. He started dunking in the sixth grade and he picked up a scholarship offer from Creighton University the summer before his varsity debut. Coaches from Kansas University, Kansas State and the University of Oklahoma have watched him this season, and he took an unofficial visit to Creighton on Sunday to watch the Blue Jays beat Villanova.
Creighton basketball coach Greg McDermott called Mitchell’s former AAU coach, Allen Skeens, in July before he offered the scholarship. McDermott asked if Skeens thought the offer would go to Mitchell’s head, otherwise he would wait until he was older.
“(Skeens) said, ‘No, in fact, it’ll probably just make him work harder,’” Don said. “That’s what his coach said and I believe he’s right. That’s just Mitch.”
Mitchell and Andrew are a level above gym rats. They will call all of the high school coaches — and even the janitors — to try to get them to open the gym to work on their games. After suffering a loss to Paola earlier this season, they stayed in the gym until 11:30 p.m. to work on their shots.
“You’ll get calls all times of day, all times of year, ‘Hey, can we get in the gym for awhile?’” Eudora’s boys basketball coach Kyle Deterding said. “It’s kind of neat to have kids that want to get in the gym that much, because you know they want to get better.”
Andrew, a 6-foot-3 guard, will play basketball at Missouri Southern next year under former KU basketball players Jeff Boschee and Nick Bradford.
Despite missing the first six games of this basketball season after fracturing his ankle in football, Andrew eclipsed Eudora’s career scoring record last week, topping the 1,045 points that his brother Jordan had set two years ago. Andrew and Mitchell pointed at Jordan during the PA announcement while Mitchell was at the free throw line.
“There was a lot of hard work put into (Jordan’s record),” said Andrew, who also was a star quarterback and led Eudora’s football team to the state playoffs during his junior season. “I kind of knew at the beginning of the season what he had. He was cool about it. He kind of joked with me like he was mad, but he really wasn’t. It was cool.”
Andrew and Mitchell grew up playing on the same team, as first-grader Mitchell joined his brother’s team and played with and against fourth-grade competition. The brothers have shown a knack of finding each other for easy baskets this season.
“Our kids have always been close to each other, but these two are really close,” Andrew and Mitchell’s mother, LaDonna Ballock, said. “We always joke about they were twins born 2 1/2 years apart because from the get-go they were just close.”
Mitchell switched teams in the fourth grade and began playing with Powergroup basketball. Last summer, his 14-and-under team, which has kept the same players together for several years, regularly beat much older and taller opponents.
“What Mitchell did for our team, I think the greatest attribute that I can give him, is that he made his teammates better,” Skeens said. “He’s a kid that just wants to win. ... He certainly has the ability that he can showcase his individual talent, but he’s always willing to sacrifice that if it made our team better.”
Skeens compares Mitchell to Bubba Starling, the former football and baseball standout at Gardner-Edgerton who was a first-round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals.
A few years ago Mitchell, who usually finds success in all of the sports he chooses to play, went three months without playing baseball because of the summer AAU basketball season. In his first game in late September, he came to plate in the first inning and drilled a home run on the first pitch he saw.
“Some of the kids hadn’t seen him before and they had heard stories about him,” Skeens said. “‘Hey, here’s the sixth grader that can dunk a basketball.’ You look over at them and their jaws have all dropped. That’s just the kind of crazy stuff that he can do.”
The rest of Mitchell’s siblings have accomplished many athletic feats. His sisters, Megan and Emily, both went on to run track in college. Emily started at Wichita State before transferring to Pittsburg State, where her sister also ran. Another brother, Justin, also ran track at Pittsburg State.
“There’s kind of expectations for you when you’re coming into high school that all your brothers did this and this, and all of your sisters did this, so you kind of have to live up to that,” Mitchell said. “But it’s cool coming from a family that’s athletic and did college sports and all that.”
Those expectations are a long way from when he couldn’t keep up with his siblings on the slab.
“In his eyes, he was never big enough, fast enough, strong enough, good enough because he was younger than all of them,” LaDonna said. “So he had to keep working. There was a time I went out there and I said, ‘Guys, come on.’ They said, ‘Mom, he’s too good now, we’ve got to take it to him.’”