Nov. 18, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– From the looks of Ben Lammers, he’s enjoying basketball more than ever and all of it rather than just some aspects of the game.
Where making a nice pass here or there, grabbing a few rebounds, or blocking a shot or two once kept Georgia Tech’s laconic center humming, Lammers has been practically singing since head coach Josh Pastner riled him up.
When the Yellow Jackets (2-0) take on Ohio University (2-0) tonight in McCamish Pavilion, the Bobcats almost certainly will game plan around Lammers, and not the version they’d see on tape of his first two seasons.
That edition of the 6-foot-10 junior from San Antonio is hard to remember. The big guy is averaging 14 points, 11.5 rebounds and seven blocks now.
Lammers has made 13-of-18 shots already, and he’s putting the ball up three-plus times more frequently than he did in 36 games last season (2.4 attempts per game). Big Ben seems to actually like shooting now so much that it’s one of his favorite parts of the game. Note the emphasis on plurality.
“Probably last year I would have said a pass, but I’ve tried to change that,” he said with a grin when asked if his favorite part of the game came in making a nice pass, or rebounding, or blocking shots, or scoring. “Now, I would say it’s almost equal. If I maybe miss a shot, I can help out with a pass or a blocked shot.”
Since beginning the season with a career-high of 10 points in a game, he’s scored 15 in the Yellow Jackets’ win over Tennessee Tech and 13 in a victory over Southern.
Soon after Pastner was hired in April, he watched tape of all returning Georgia Tech players, and his message was to get after it, especially on offense.
Lammers averaged 3.6 points and 4.0 rebounds as a sophomore, and 1.2 and 1.5 as a freshman while taking just 21 shots in 19 games.
“He pretty much told me that right away,” Lammers said. “It took me a little while to get used to it, but I think I’m starting to get there now. He said I’m an important part of the team offensively and defensively and that I needed to be more aggressive, especially on the offensive end.”
This transition wouldn’t come naturally, as Ben said, “I don’t know why, but I’ve always been kind of a passive, pass-first guy.”
So, once assistant Eric Reveno was hired to work with the Jackets’ big men, he turned the message into a mission. With Tech transitioning from a two-post offense to one, Tech’s tallest player would have to take on more of an Alpha role, and develop.
Step one came in the weight room, with strength and conditioning coach Dan Taylor. Everyone, big or otherwise, has to be able to run for Pastner.
“The stronger you are the better you’re going to be so working in the weight room with coach Taylor, and getting stronger from head to toe is key for him to maximize his athleticism,” Reveno explained.
“Also, playing with that strength was a key. He’s a mild-mannered guy, and sometimes that translates to how he played. Being comfortable with teams being more physical with him, him being more physical and blocking out, posting up … those were things where the weight room and the skill work started to mesh.”
There were tools to work with.
Lammers has soft hands and nifty passing skills. His jumper, largely hidden over his first two seasons, is smooth out to 18 feet or so, and he often sees things develop just ahead of time.
That fits nicely in a single-post offense.
“I’m moving around a little more. Last year, they just kind of had me at the block in a two-post system,” he said. “Now, it’s a one post, so I’m the only one down low, and they want me way back on the baseline moving kind of back and forth. I’m able to find openings and play with my instincts more. I’m liking it a lot.”
Moving more wisely than many big men helped Lammers block a career-high five shots against Tennessee Tech and then nine more against Southern.
Most of his swatted shots were not taken by the opponent he was defending.
“He’s got a lot of skill in the low post defensively — timing-wise — that is sort of … a fundamental post-play attribute that you like in a big guy,” Reveno said. “He’s a deceiving athlete: long, moves well, runs the floor well …
“I’m a little worried that he’s saving us from some deficiencies elsewhere. We’re getting driven, or guys are getting offensive rebounds … he’s blocking the shots.”
Lammers’ ability to grasp what coaches are seeking may be as important as the mechanical engineering major having the skill set to do what he’s being asked.
“The understanding of where his opportunities arise in our four-out motion, being smart about when to be aggressive, when to lay back, those types of things are helping him the most,” Reveno said. “He’s got a good feel for things whether it’s defensively changing things up, or offensively making his individual game fit.”
With another smile, Lammers pledges to keep bringing it.
“I’ve been working mostly on getting more comfortable on the offensive end. I was always comfortable on defense,” he said. “On offense, I just wasn’t used to getting the ball as much, and being a component of our offense.”
Early indications are that Lammers is getting comfortable on both ends.