@MIPrepZoneMD on Twitter
Cornell’s basketball program is going to get a shot of energy when Jerry Ben arrives in Ithaca, N.Y., later this year.
New Haven was leading St. Clair by more than 20 points when a loose ball hit the floor. In a split second, there was Ben — all 6-foot-9 — diving on the court to prevent a Saints player from grabbing it and going in for a transition basket.
“That’s how much he cares,” said New Haven coach Tedaro France II. “That’s how hard he plays. As a coach, you can’t teach that. He has a motor that just keeps going and going. He’s a great kid.”
That wasn’t the only time that Ben showed the hustle and willingness to scrap for a ball that’s usually the trademark of an undersized player.
“If I’m not real skilled yet, or if I don’t have all the mental part I want to bring something to the game,” he said. “I’m an energy player. I can’t just keep quiet.”
Ben and 6-11 Innocent Nwoko have come a long way since they played their first games for the Rockets as sophomores. Basketball was new to both of them. They had played mostly soccer in their native Nigeria. Now they’re senior leaders on a basketball team that’s loaded with underclassmen and off to a 6-1 start.
Ben and Nwoko, who has a scholarship to Central Michigan University, are both students at Austin Catholic, but because Austin didn’t have enough students to field a boys basketball team they were able to play at New Haven through a co-op agreement.
There was a lot more than just learning how to shoot and dribble a basketball for Ben to grasp when he joined the Rockets.
“The hardest was getting the mental part of the game,” Ben said. “Getting to know what position I’m supposed to be in to rebound and to play defense.”
Ben gives credit to France for helping him develop from a raw talent to a college recruit.
“Coach France works with me every day in practice,” Ben said. “He wants me to get better. And I’ve taken it upon myself to be a better person and a better basketball player.”
France marvels at how far Ben and Nwoko have come since their first practice with the New Haven team.
“Both have improved by leaps and bounds,” France said. “When they first came here, they barely touched the ball. They’re both like a sponge. We had to teach them, not only how to play, but the rules. Soccer was their sport. To see how far they’ve come is amazing — and they’re still raw. I don’t think they know how good they can be.”
Ben, along with his teammates, has benefitted from a change France instituted in the team’s film study.
“We used to watch film as a group,” France said. “This year, I’m sending them the film to a link we have through an app. Each player has a note pad. The more they can watch it themselves, the more it will help them. They can take notes and learn from it, not just from what I tell them.”
It showed in Tuesday’s game against St. Clair. The Rockets seemed to know what the Saints were going to do every time they had the basketball. It led to several turnovers and easy baskets in transition.
“That helps with their anticipation,” France said. “They’ve seen it on film. We did our scouting prep. Now they can make plays because of the work they’ve put into it.”
Ben is looking forward to playing basketball for Cornell, but that wasn’t all that went into his decision to join the Big Red.
“I visited the school and I liked it,” Ben said. “It has a good academic system. It will help me become a better person on top of being a basketball player.”