Dec. 10, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– It can be fun being one of the best best-kept secrets in Division I college basketball. It also can be kind of hard remaining a secret, especially playing in the ACC.
Ben Lammers is learning about both right now.
Lammers is having a sensational junior season, leading the Yellow Jackets in scoring (15.8 ppg, 18th in the ACC), shooting (59.1 percent, fifth in the ACC), rebounding (10.8, second in the conference) and offensive rebounding (4.5 ORBG, also second). That’s in addition to leading the nation in blocked shots, rejecting 4.6 shots per game.
Where did this growing phenomenon of “The Laminator” come from? It’s certainly not from any kind of self-promotion from the soft-spoken, 6-10, 227-pound native of San Antonio, Texas.
As with most success stories it starts with getting the opportunity to see the floor more. In Lammers’ case, it’s seeing the floor more than anyone else on the team, as his 35.4 minutes per game lead the Jackets and rank third in the conference.
“I’m enjoying it,” he said. “Obviously, I didn’t get to play a whole lot the past two years so I’m enjoying have a lot bigger role on the offensive end and defensively for my team.”
Lammers came into the 2016-17 season averaging 2.8 points, 3.1 rebounds (1.0 offensive rebounds) and 0.9 blocks in 11.7 minutes per game. He was stuck as an underclassman behind the Yellow Jackets’ logjam of quality bigs, which included the likes of Demarco Cox, Charles Mitchell, Nick Jacobs and James White.
But he’s an upperclassman now and, with all of the previous big men gone, the opportunity to start presented itself. He prepared for an increase in minutes. He’s nearly tripled his career total.
“I pretty much knew I had to play more,” he said. “I might not have been expecting triple but they definitely made sure we were prepared for conditioning in the off-season. So far I’ve been able to handle it pretty well, I think.”
Lammers has scored in double-figures in all eight games — something he’d done twice in his previous two years, covering 55 games, and has recorded five double-doubles, just missing a triple by one block against Southern on Nov. 14.
Getting more touches and being the central part of the offense fits Lammers.
“I like being somewhat of a distributor, having all the plays kind of run through me. It’s been nice,” he said. “Offense is always fun. Obviously, I like making shots. It’s been interesting for me, because even in high school, I was never the guy who would drop 40. I was always consistently like 15. So it’s nice being a little bit more of an offensive component to my team.”
He’s scored with great efficiency, shooting north of 50 percent in six of Tech’s eight games, converting at over 67 percent four times. He’s taking 11 field goal attempts per game — he hasn’t taken fewer than seven in a game — and has made 6.5 of them. In four games Lammers has needed fewer than 10 FGAs to score in double figures. His team-leading 59.7 field goal percentage means a lot to him.
“I’ve always prided myself in being an efficient player so I like that stat because that means I’m scoring efficiently,” he said. “Posts more than guards, we are closer to the basket, and even though we have tough shots we’re expected to shoot a little higher percentage. I guess that means I’m that much more of an offensive threat.”
How he’s getting it done often surprises Lammers, himself, when he sees it on film.
“I feel like every time I play it’s a little bit random because I have some go-to moves, but then sometimes I’ll do a move. but I didn’t practice it,” he said. “I don’t plan things out. they just kind of happen. I’ll practice like four or five moves, but then I might just do a random one, and I won’t know why.
“It’s kind of funny to watch. I’ll look at [a move] and I would know how I did it or why I did it, but when I look at it it’s, `It wasn’t the best decision but it worked out for me,'” he added, with a laugh. “It’s one of those things where if you make the shot the coach can’t really yell at you.”
If any coaches have been yelling it’s been opposing coaches, who have been yelling at their players to double Lammers. It’s a strategy he’s seen more in recent games and something for which he’s prepared.
“I am noticing a lot more double-teams. It’s annoying, but I guess I should take it as a compliment,” he said. “I can use that to our advantage to help get someone else open.
“I’ve always considered myself a good passer and it’s kind of interesting because for the past two years they basically have been yelling at me to shoot the ball,” he added. “I’ve gotten better at that, so now it’s just trying to find the right balance between passing and shooting.”
Head coach Josh Pastner believes Lammers has found that balance, as his center has recorded two assists in each of the past five games. He had three career multi-assist games coming into the season and only two multi-game assist streaks, the longest being three straight games (Dec. 29, 2015-Jan. 6, 2016).
“The more he gets doubled the better,” said Pastner. “He’s such a good passer we have 4-on-3 on the weakside, and we have actions to do that. He’s passing but other guys have to make plays now. He’s finding the open man.”
While teams are crowding Lammers on the offensive end, they’re avoiding him on the defensive end. Lammers, who rejected 27 shots in 18 ACC games (47 in 36 overall) last year, has raised that part of his game as well.
“The Laminator” has 37 blocks thus far, with a season-high of nine, and goes into the break for Finals riding a career-long streak of nine straight games with at least one swat (dating back to last season). But this streak is much more impressive than his previous high of seven games, as in that stretch he had only two multi-block games (three vs. Colgate on Dec. 23, two at Pittsburgh two weeks later). On this run he has only one game with one block, while knocking away no fewer than four in every other game.
“I didn’t know [about leading the nation in blocks] until a week ago when one of my teammates told me,” he added. “Obviously, it’s a good thing. Hopefully I can stay up there. It means I’m helping my team that much more.”
Lammers also was unaware going into the VCU game that he was only 18 blocks away (14 now) from matching his career total for blocks. He is aware, however, that he’ll have to work a little harder to get those 14 blocks, as opponents are starting to stay away.
If teams continue to stay away that will present the next challenge for Lammers — being more vocal on the floor. It’s a daunting challenge for him. But like all challenges, he’ll take it on.
“[The coaches] have all been helping me,” he said. “It’s the same message for everybody, which is `Be more aggressive, be strong, go up strong.’ Those are the things you hear the most. And `talk.’ They want me to talk a lot more. I’m not the loudest person.
“My yell isn’t loud,” he added. “There’s only so much that I can do, but I’m trying to get better at it.”
He got practice getting loud, first Wednesday night after helping the Jackets earn their first road win of the year, a heart-stopping 76-73 overtime win Wednesday night at VCU, in which he went for 16 points, eight rebounds, four blocks, two assists and two steals, then Thursday, knocking out two finals.
“The past two days I think I’ve gotten a total of five hours of sleep. So it’s been a little rough,” he said. “I think [the VCU win is] a big deal because we hadn’t had a road win. That’s big, especially since we have a big break, we have finals and all that. Going into this next section on a win will be great for our entire team energy.”