Jan. 11, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Ben Lammers did it again the other day, quite likely shocking Louisville basketball fans, but his career-high 24 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots did not surprise Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino.
He’d seen enough game tape of Georgia Tech’s junior center to practically expect what he saw last Saturday in McCamish Pavilion.
“I just think he’s one of the most improved players not only in the conference, but the country,” Pitino said on Monday’s ACC coaches teleconference. “He has an outstanding mid-range shot, he’s a terrific shot blocker, has a good low-post game, gets off his feet, he’s athletic.
“He does it all that you’d want from a big man. He’s a triple threat.”
Lammers might be a revelation to fans who haven’t seen him play this year, and only knew of him from his first two seasons. He averaged 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds as a freshman, and 3.6 points and 4.0 rebounds as a sophomore.
This season, he’s leading Tech in scoring (14.9 points per game), rebounding (9.9), and blocked shots (50). He’s third on the team with 30 assists, and third with 12 steals.
When the Yellow Jackets (9-6, 1-2 ACC) play host to Clemson (11-4, 1-2) Thursday night in McCamish, head coach Josh Pastner will look for more of the same from the 6-foot-10 native of San Antonio. He’s come to expect it.
“Rick Pitino told me before the game he’s the most improved player in the league by a mile, maybe the most improved player he’s seen in the last 10 years in college basketball,” Pastner said.
“To go from where he was, where he didn’t think he was really good, to where he is now … that’s a credit to Ben. Full credit goes to Ben, but also I think the assistant coaches. [Eric] Reveno does a great job with the bigs.”
Lammers is doing a great job.
In 12 of 15 games this season, he has surpassed his previous career high of 10 points, and twice more he’s matched it. Seven times he’s grabbed more than his previous high of nine rebounds, and once tied that mark. Never in his first two seasons at Tech did he have a double-double. This season, he has seven.
Lammers nearly pulled off a triple double against Southern on Nov. 14, when he scored 13 points and added career highs of 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots.
“I think he’s improved as much as anyone in the league,” said Duke acting head coach Jeff Capel. “You look at where he was the last two years … he’s scoring better than ever, rebounding at a higher level. He’s expanded his game to where he’s able to consistently hit from 15 to 17 feet.”
Indeed. Lammers stroked a couple long jumpers against the Cardinals, who surely haven’t forgotten about Tech’s center after he accounted for 10 points in a 12-0 run in the second half Saturday that drew the Yellow Jackets within three points of Louisville.
Also in that game, there was a nifty drop-step move in the lane, where Lammers spun hard to his left for a layup. A couple dunks, a turnaround jumper from the high post, and a close-range score off a no-look pass from teammate Josh Okogie.
Lammers knows where to be, and his teammates know where to find him.
“I remember one play I didn’t even see him, but I just knew where he was at,” Okogie said. “I feel like we actually have that mojo on the court.”
So where did all of this come from?
Reveno said most of the big man’s skills were already in Lammer’s “tool box.” The trick has been to open it up and use them.
“There’s definitely something about him whether you call it aggressiveness or assertiveness, that you want more of,” the assistant coach said. “As a mechanical engineer, he’s analytical … if you’re able to do something and score on a guy because that’s what they’re giving you, you’ve got to do it.”
Lammers sheepishly accepts compliments, like when told what Pitino said.
“It’s definitely great re-assurance,” he said. “I guess it shows I’m doing something right.”
He’s doing a lot of things right, yet had to be told to drop the sheepish part on the court. Recalling early conversations with his new head coach soon after Pastner was hired in April: “He pretty much told me that right away. It took me a little while to get used to it,” Lammers said.
“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. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been kind of a passive, pass-first guy.”
Lammers still makes nice passes. His 30 assists trail only point guard Justin Moore’s 50 and Quinton Stephens’ 31.
Reveno had a good feeling soon after watching Lammers work back in the spring that there was more to the big man’s offense than dishing it. For starters, the coach said, “he’s a deceiving athlete: long, moves well, runs the floor well.”
And better still, “From a coaching perspective the thing that you see right away from Ben is that he’s got a very good feel for the game. You see it in his passes, finding open guys … and he’s got a very good shooting touch,” Reveno said Wednesday.
“Those two things might be the hardest to teach. He’s good at those things. From a coaching perspective, you get excited right away.”
There’s plenty to like.
Lammers leads the ACC and is third nationally with 3.33 blocked shots per game, he’s third in the ACC in rebounding, shooting 57.6 percent from the field (also third in the ACC)and 77.4 percent from the free throw line. He’s 19th in scoring.
That career-high 24 points against Louisville came on 14 shots from the field. He made nine, and went 6-for-6 from the line.
Sensing that the Jackets would be challenged offensively this season, Pastner and Reveno set about a building plan for Lammers.
Step one came with the transition from a double-post offense of seasons past to a single-post attack that affords Ben more room to maneuver, as he moves well without the ball and has good hands.
Step two has been coaches urging him to be more aggressive, and repeating that over and over.
The rest of the steps are fine-tuning.
Tech coaches would disagree partially with Pitino when he said Lammers previously, “was just raw, weak, raw, didn’t have the skill set that he has now.”
Ben has gotten much stronger since arriving at Tech and working two years with former strength and conditioning coach Mike Bewley, who’ll be in the building with Clemson Thursday, and since last summer with Dan Taylor.
That skill set, though, isn’t new. It just wasn’t often used in the past.
“We’re working on him getting the ball in high probability scoring areas, so it’s pretty obvious he’s a scorer,” Reveno said. “I think he had the skill for that. He gets a lot more touches, so he has more confidence. He had the ability to shoot. We haven’t worked much on the shot except being in the stance … being ready to shoot.”