Ohio University forward Ben Vander Plas (5) shows a three-pointer during the home game against Northern Illinois University on Tuesday January 5, 2021 in Athens, Ohio.
Ben Vander Plas follows his family’s traditions. He is a devout Christian and has been playing basketball since he could walk. This year he’s playing in the NCAA tournament.
March Madness runs in his family. His father Dean made a run in the tournament in 1991 when he played for Wisconsin-Green Bay. The Redshirt junior remembers his father’s stories about the tournament and how exciting it was to play for a national audience.
The father and son now share a common memory – they go to the big dance. Dean did what he could to support his son after the regular season. While Ben and the Bobcats blazed through the MAC tournament, Dean texted him Bible verses and the two of them prayed together on the phone before the game. After that, the couple would go through Ben’s performance.
« We’re a pretty religious family, » said Ben. “He definitely does a good job of giving me confidence and allowing me to go out and just play freely. He has a great basketball mind and a lot of people may not see some of the things that are going on out there, but he sees everything. He does a great job and lets me know what I’m doing well and what I need to do better. “
Dean’s memories of Green Bay live vicariously through Ben – or, according to his birth certificate, Bennett. Elderly Vander Plas named his youngest son in honor of his college coach Dick Bennett and Bennett’s son Tony.
The two families have kept an eye on each other since Dean and Bennett’s college careers left. After Bennett became Virginia’s head coach in 2009, Dean and Ben turned on Cavaliers games sporadically over the years.
Bennett watched the younger Vander Plas as he graduated from high school and eventually his time in Ohio. Bennett sees a lot of Dean in Ben’s play style. Both have an analytical mind for judgment. In Bennett’s eyes, Ben filled his old man’s shoes well.
« His father was so physical and only had the ability and the cunning and the know-how, » said Bennett. « And, you know, Dean will be mad at me, but from what I’ve seen, Ben could be better. I don’t know, but Andy was a fucking player and a fucking teammate. »
30 years Bennett will train against his namesake and the 13-seed Bobcats after Dean and Tony entered the NCAA as the 12th seed in 1991. On Saturday, Vander Plas and Bennett will play against each other rather than together in the NCAA for the first time.
The 51-year-old Virginia coach has never felt like time goes by faster than preparing to face Ben and the Bobcats on Saturday.
« (That) makes me old », Bennett said. « Ben was put in a camp here in Virginia, I think he was in ninth grade. And I’m very happy with his success. Very strange again, if you look at it that way. That just means I’ve had a while trained. “
There is no enmity, but as soon as Saturday comes, pers personal feelings put aside. After all, the NCAA tournament is coming up. Bennett and the Cavaliers are the defending champions as the 2020 tournament has been canceled due to the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Vander Plas is keen to get Ohio as far as possible in the tournament.
Bennett was named ESPN’s Best Defensive Coach in 2018, and his defense can stifle the lives of his opponents. Ohio is an offensive team and Vander Plas embodies that. The Redshirt junior scores an average of 12.8 points per game and shoots 43 percent off the field.
Two opposing play styles hit the market on Saturday, and Ohio has a big chance to cause a stir. For now, both Vander Plas and Bennett are focused on the game. Family friendships can wait until summer.
« I think about all of these connections and all the different parts of them, but I’m sure once we get on the court, once the ball is tipped, this will be another basketball game « said Vander Plas. « As soon as we’re out of there, all that stuff goes out the window. »
J. L. Kirven
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