Coach Sam Ballard completed his tenth season on the bench for the Thunderbirds in 2017-18, making the Division 1 playoffs in nine of those seasons. Coach Ballard has an extensive background in playing and coaching basketball at the high school, college, and professional levels.
He has been involved in the game for over 40 years. A native of Phoenix, Ballard played interscholastically for legendary coach Royce Youree at East Phoenix High School. From East, Coach Ballard went to Lee Junior College in Baytown, Texas, where he achieved All-TJCAA honors and then went to the University of Wyoming, who was then a member of the Western Athletic Conference in NCAA Division 1. After trying out with the Portland Trailblazers after college, he played professionally in France for five and a half years.
Returning to the United States, Coach Ballard started his coaching career at the Judson School in Paradise Valley, Arizona, where in 1980 his team was the Arizona Independent Athletic Association state champions and he was named AIAA Coach of the Year. After three years at
Judson, he returned to East High in 1981-82 to assist his mentor, Royce Youree. That team went 23-3, won the Metro League regular season and tournament titles and went to the state quarter-finals.
The next year, Coach Ballard went to Yavapai College in Prescott to assist Dave Brown with men’s and women’s basketball, which had a combined record of 41-13. The women were NJCAA Region 1 champions and led the nation in team defense. He then took the job as head
women’s coach at Yavapai from 1983 to 1985 and had a record of 42-15. The Lady Roughriders finished in the top 5 nationally in team defense both years and were Region 1 runners-up in 1984 and semi-finalists in 1985.
In 1985, Coach Ballard went back to coaching young men as an assistant to another legendary Arizona coach, Bill Farrell at Paradise Valley High School. The 1985-86 PV team finished 20-6, won the Central Region and advanced to the state semi-finals. In 1987, he worked as an assistant coach at Phoenix College with Rob Babcock, who went on to become General Manager of the Toronto Raptors of the NBA.
In 1989, Coach Ballard returned to high school coaching again as an assistant to his mentor, Royce Youree at Camelback High School in Phoenix. In 1990, he took over as head coach of the Spartans and in seven years compiled a 107-69 record. In 1995, he was named the Metro Coach of the Year. In 1997, Coach Ballard took the head coaching position at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix where in ten years he had a 171-90 record. He was the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune Coach of the Year in 1998, and Central Region Coach of the Year in 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2005. In 2006, he was named Arizona Coach of the Year by Arizona Varsity.com on the Rivals network. In 2007-08, he was an assistant coach at NCAA Division 2 Grand Canyon University in Phoenix before accepting the position as head coach for men at Mesa Community College in April of that year.
In his 10 years at Mesa, Coach Ballard has compiled an impressive 191-107 record as a Division I participant, including a 158-70 mark against ACCAC teams in conference play. In 2010 his T-Birds won the Region 1 championship and Coach Ballard was selected as the ACCAC Coach of the Year. In 2013-14, his team won the Fiesta Bowl Junior College Shootout, won the ACCAC regular season title, and won the NJCAA Region 1 title, with Coach Ballard again being named the ACCAC Coach of the Year.
In 2015, Coach Ballard was inducted into the Mountain Pointe High School Hall of Fame while in 2016, he was inducted into the Arizona High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
Coach Ballard has a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education from Linfield College in Oregon and a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from Arizona State University. He has been married for 43 years to his wife, Brigitte, who he met in France. She taught French at Camelback High School starting in 1992 until her retirement in 2018, and also has taught French at MCC. They have three children. Jordan, who played for his father at Mountain Pointe High School and currently coaches on the staff at MCC, is working as a rep for Eastbay Team Sales. Morgan, his daughter, graduated from the University of Arizona and is currently working with the PR firm MMPR, after stints with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Grand Canyon University. She is married to Brendan Domaracki, who works for the Seattle Mariners, and they have one son, Lincoln. Derrick, who played basketball at Camelback High School and at MCC, is a graduate of Arizona State University, with an MBA in International Finances. Derrick currently works for the insurance firm Nautilus in Scottsdale.