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General History Section
Lafayette Jeff graduate Jesse Berry grows up on, off the court at Ball State
December 22, 2012Lafayette Jefferson High School
There are times when Jesse Berry wishes he could turn back the clock. Then again, that would have been the easy way for the Ball State basketball team’s junior guard and Tippecanoe County’s all-time leading scorer.
The 6-foot-2 former Lafayette Jeff standout is coming tonight to face Purdue in Mackey Arena, It’s a significant occasion for the Cardinals’ leading scorer, who is eager to show his hometown that not only is he a more complete player than he was in high school, but also a much better person.
As he reflects on a Broncho career that produced 1,553 points and the three most prolific games in school history — 55, 51 and 46 — Berry frequently struggled to handle success. Then as a senior, he was arrested twice in three months, including suspicion of battery, although criminal charges were never filed.
His actions caused Dayton to pull its basketball scholarship. Enter Ball State coach Billy Taylor, who offered the Jeff star a second chance, an opportunity Berry has seized.
Now 21, Berry describes himself as a grown up, humble and mature person who is more than willing to share his story, which includes many superlatives coupled with some poor decision-making.
“It’s a part of growing up and having learning experiences,” Berry said of his journey. “I went through a lot of stuff in high school. I was immature and made bad decisions. I know that. Now I’m at college and I decided that it’s time to grow up. I’m 21. That’s time to be a man.
“Pretty soon, I’m not going to be in college. I will be working and maybe have kids. I told myself that it’s time to grow up.”
Berry began to carve his high school legend as a sophomore, averaging 15.3 points, followed by a 27.3 average as a junior and 23.5 as a senior. The success literally went to his head.
“In high school, I got a big head at different times,” Berry said. “You can say that you’re going to stay humble as much as you want to, but actually doing it is something you have to do. You can’t just say it. You have to show it.
“I had to learn to take that God-given talent that I have and put it to work. I had to tell myself that I can get better and that I had that time to get better instead of going around telling everyone, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m the man.’ That is something that I struggled with coming through high school.”
Berry can’t begin to thank Taylor enough for the scholarship offer after Dayton backed off.
“My experience at Ball State has been great,” Berry said. “Everybody has treated me right and have done what they promised me, whether that’s academics or on the floor.”
Taylor said he is proud of the man Berry has become.
“Jesse is really a neat kid,” Taylor said. “I have enjoyed coaching him and being around him and having an opportunity to build a relationship with him. I’ve seen tremendous growth as a person. He understands the game of basketball and life.
“I‘m excited for him to have a homecoming game going back to Lafayette and playing in front of a bunch of family and friends.“
In many conversations with his starting point guard, Taylor has emphasized that the term student/athlete begins with the student responsibilities. A sports administration major, Berry is coming off a semester in which he will earn a 2.8 or 2.9 grade-point average. His best semester has been a 3.2 on Ball State’s 4.0 scale.
“Jesse has done a nice job here academically,“ Taylor said. “He has done a nice job in the classroom and has been coachable in that regard. I want to see Jesse graduate from Ball State. I have been excited about his continued development as a person.“
As a player, too.
While Ball State needs Berry’s scoring — he had 22 Saturday night in a victory at South Dakota — Taylor needs him to do other things.
“Jesse has tried to diversify his game,“ Taylor said. “He scored so much in high school and became known as a shooter/scorer. In college, he really has wanted to win. He has taken to coaching and understands that it can’t be all about scoring. He has learned to play both ends of the floor.“
Berry also has learned that without good grades, there is no basketball.
“It goes back to the people around me,” Berry said. “I’m not the best student. I don’t get an A on every test. But I’m not a bad student. It’s making sure I stay on top of stuff. I make sure I get stuff done on time. I’m staying on task and keeping my books open. I’m making sure academics really do come first.”
Along with other aspects of his life, college basketball has humbled Berry.
“The college level is harder,” Berry said. “Guys are stronger, tougher and bigger. It’s much more organized than high school. I’m also playing the point now, so I have to be a facilitator. I have to make sure everybody knows the plays. I keep us organized. When a guy gets down on himself, I try to give him an easy basket to get him going.
“The point guard position is a little tough. When I played the point in high school, it was just shoot it every time. Now, I’m really taking that role of being the point guard. It is like high school in that I always have the ball in my hands. I’m always trying to make a play for someone or for myself.”
Berry, who was briefly recruited by Purdue’s Matt Painter, is excited about playing in Mackey Arena. His mother and brother, current Jeff player Lucas Wallace, and many friends are expected to attend the game.
“Mackey is a great arena,” Berry said. “I’ve been to a couple of Purdue games. I saw them beat Michigan State when E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson were there. The place was crazy that night. It was loud and alive. Everybody is right on top of you.
“It’s not going to be easy playing in Mackey. The crowd gets into it. It’s just a great place to play.”