For Ben Bates, playing college basketball has always been a dream.
Former Wildcat hoops star Ben Bates (above) is headed to Puget Sound. Courtesy photo.
But through hard work and a stellar senior season, the Sonora High grad’s dream has become a reality.
Come this fall, the 6-foot-7-inch, 205 pound-forward will play for the University of Puget Sound Loggers mens’ basketball team on a partial athletic scholarship.
“I’m really excited,” Bates said. “I’m looking forward to it a lot. I can’t wait.”
The 17-year-old caught the eye of Division III Puget Sound head coach Justin Lunt and his coaching staff last summer in an AAU basketball tournament in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. And after seeing him play a few times, they expressed interest on his potential as a college player. They liked him so much, because of his size and frame, that they asked him to take an official visit to the Tacoma, Wash. campus.
Bates took them up on their offer.
“I just fell in love with the school,” Bates said. “The brick buildings are cool. They have a really nice gym. I was really impressed with it. It’s fairly new — I love it.”
Facilities weren’t the only thing that factored into his decision to attend Puget Sound. A major selling point was Lunt and his team’s aggressive style of play.
“It’s a faster pace,” Bates said. “They run the floor a lot. Full-court press. I love that kind of offense and defense. I’m really excited to play that kind of tempo.”
Bates doesn’t know how the Loggers coaching staff will utilize him when he leaves town later this month to work out with the team. But come basketball season, Bates wants to contribute in anyway he can.
“I’m hoping that I would play as a freshman,” he said. “I’d rather not redshirt.”
As a senior at Sonora High, the former Wildcat standout and co-captain was named a first-team All-Valley Oak League performer and also made The Union Democrat’s 2012-13 All-Area First Team.
He led the Wildcats in blocks (39), rebounds (194) and scoring (361) while shooting 47 percent from the field, including 50 percent from two-point range. Bates scored a season-high 25 points against Division IV power Riverbank and recorded a double-double six times.
During his three-year varsity career, Bates blocked 69 shots, grabbed 291 rebounds and scored 647 points in 73 games.
“It was pretty fun,” Bates said about his time as a high school baller. “I had some good times. I enjoyed it.”
Sonora athletic director and former head basketball coach Rick Francis said Bates was the ultimate team player on and off the court.
“There’s no negative about Ben,” he said. “He’s an outstanding basketball player. A tremendous athlete with great work ethic. And a great student. He’s just going to get better and better with natural maturity. His upside — he’s got a huge upside. I hope he stays with it.”
And Bates is staying with it. Even now in the hot Sonora summer sun.
“I’ve been going to the gym most days: conditioning, lifting weights, a lot of running and skill work,” Bates said. “A lot of different drills too.”
Bates, who graduated with a 3.6 GPA, plans to double-major in business and music at Puget Sound.