Photo by Casey Miles

Who is Ben Lammers? On the court, a terror, striking fear into the heart of diminutive guards who dare announce their presence in the paint. An offensive stalwart with enough of a shot to draw consistent attention and the ability to finish inside.

Off the court, Lammers is far from a presence. The lanky junior almost seems out of place at press conferences. While coach Josh Pastner enthusiastically breaks down key situations from the game and explains various decisions, Lammers semi-audibly offers his thoughts, his 6’10” frame hunched over the microphone.

Bill Belichick would be proud.

However, Lammers is more than an interesting specimen, and he certainly serves a greater purpose than a sideshow. From seemingly nothing, the Texas native has become the heart of the 2016–17 Tech basketball team.

The last two seasons have been a tale of two Lammers. In 2015, he was but an afterthought on a team loaded with experience. Marcus Georges-Hunt (now playing out a 10-day contract with the  Miami Heat) was the primary scoring option, and Adam Smith and Nick Jacobs served as perfectly good secondary options.

So when Georges-Hunt and Smith and Jacobs (and Charles Mitchell, for that matter) left the Flats, it was certainly expected that Lammers would rise up to meet the challenge.

Few, if any, predicted that he would go from averaging a tick under four points per game to drawing the attention of virtually every defense the Jackets face.

The change? The sort of suggestion that would draw the envy of most amateur basketball players but seemed to run contrary to Lammers’ deferential personality: get the ball and then keep shooting it. Rinse and repeat as often as possible.

Last year, Lammers was reluctant to shoot even when put on the floor. He played 533 minutes over the course of the season but attempted a meager 87 shots, or one for every 6.13 minutes. This year, he has more than doubled that rate: over 857 minutes of play and attempting 287 shots, one for every 2.99 minutes.

There is no doubt that Lammers’ efficiency has dipped a bit as a result; his .655 shooting percentage led the team last season. This year, he is averaging .526 from the field, which is excellent (second on the team, in fact, and first among all players with 15 or more field goal attempts), which is a definite step down.

Lammers’ offense is far from perfect. At times, his shots are ill-advised. Desperation heaves at the shot clock seem to come at least a few times each game.

However, those shots are largely a function of his crucial role in the Jackets offense. If anyone can take advantage of those moments, it is Lammers. Moreover, his growth into a powerhouse hasn’t gone unnoticed. Each game, it seems as though commentators go out of their way to sing his praises. Perhaps more importantly, he has drawn the respect of opposing coaches each week, particularly as the season has worn on.

Take the legendary Rick Pitino, whose then-No. 9 Cardinals trumped the Jackets 65-50 at McCamish Pavilion. The Jackets’ loss came despite the impressive effort of Lammers, who put up 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting and a perfect 6-for-6 performance from the free throw line. Many of those points came in a run that narrowed a 15-point Cardinals lead into a three-point contest midway through the second half of the game.

“I just think he’s one of the most improved players, not only in the conference but the country,” Pitino said after the game, courtesy of myAJC.com.

Lammers’ distinguishing characteristic is not one particular skill but his balanced game.

“He does it all that you’d want from a big man,” Pitino said.

Indeed, Lammers’ surge is not the only factor that has allowed this year’s Jackets team to overachieve. Equally unpredictable was Josh Okogie’s emergence as a legitimate ACC Rookie of the Year candidate, and Josh Pastner’s newfound ability to win games in crucial spots.

Still, there is no doubt that the Jackets have been lucky to receive the boost Lammers has given them, from his more assertive offense to impressive defense, ranking second in D-I basketball with 3.24 blocks per game, courtesy of NCAA.com. With another year of eligiblity remaining, his arrow points straight up.

With the way Lammers is playing, his career might stretch beyond his time at McCamish.

There are no dearth of quality professional prospects, but at this rate, Lammers will be an enticing package for a team looking for an early-contributing big man.