Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

Ben Bates didn't play much as a true freshman at Puget Sound, but his experience on the bench as a role player will serve him well as he enters his sophomore season at the Division III college in Tacoma, Wash.

Bates, a 2013 Sonora High graduate, helped the Puget Sound men's basketball program to an overall 15-12 record and a 10-6 mark in Northwest Conference play during the 2013-14 season.

The Loggers lost 71-68 in the NWC Tournament finals, and was just one game away from advancing to the Division III NCAA Tournament.

Bates, a key member of the scout team, appeared in 11 games, averaging 1.2 points and one rebound per game in 43 minutes.

The 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward scored a career-high six points in an 80-57 win over St. Mary's (Minn.) in late November, and finished the season shooting 75 percent from the field on 6 of 8 shooting.

Bates, who is back home on summer break and splitting his time between Sonora and Sacramento, spoke withUnion Democrat sports reporter Vongni Yangon Tuesdayabout his freshman experience at Puget Sound.

UD: How did your freshman season go at Puget Sound?

BB: It was good. It was a lot to adjust too, really. The last year was a huge adjustment, but as far as basketball goes, I've learned an incredible amount just playing at a whole different level. It went well. I got some minutes towards the beginning of the year, learned a ton, enjoyed all my teammates, and I like my coach.

UD: What kind of adjustments did you have to make?

BB: One is just the pace. The biggest one is the pace. It's a faster pace. You have to be in better shape, obviously, but it just goes so much faster. It's harder to keep up. Practices, the first few weeks are very tough. You have6 a.m.practices. Everyone is exhausted. You're going twice a day. You're lifting in the afternoon, and it was running all practice. That's all we do. The first couple weeks you're thinking, 'I don't know if I can keep up,' but you start to get used to it. But the pace and the physicality was the biggest adjustments.

UD: Were you expecting to secure some minutes as a true freshman?

BB: I didn't get much time, I was still the second or third guy at my position off the bench. But I was thankful for any minutes that I got. It's really rare that a freshman plays.

UD: How do you stay motivated during the season, even though you know you might not play in actual games?

BB: It's actually really tough to not get discouraged because I was used to just playing in high school, but you have to get over yourself and you have to be on the same page as everyone else. You can't be selfish on a team. It's gotta be about the team's goal and getting others ready for the games. I was more of what you can say is a special teams (player) for football. It's just getting the starters ready and doing your best. Our coaches tell us, 'The harder you play, the harder you make it for our starters, the better they'll play.' I understand my role as a backup player is a big one. You really just have to accept your role that it's not going to be a primary one for the first year or two.

UD: Was being a role player hard for you to accept?

BB: It was tough to accept. It was hard, but you have to get over yourself. That's the only way. You just get on that team attitude mentality, but I mean I enjoyed it. I can't say I was disappointed. I was disappointed and discouraged not to play, but I really enjoyed every minute of being on the bench and cheering for my teammates. I love them all. They're all great guys. That was all great.

UD: Was it hard for you to kind of see the bigger picture and what your coach may have planned for you?

BB: Yeah, it definitely was. I mean, I worked hard all summer. I just expected kind of immediate pay off from working hard and actually being committed to the team, but it's not going to come for another year. You have to get that in your head. It took a while, but I realized the reality and I just have to play my role.

UD: Is it tough to break into the rotation off the bench?

BB: Yeah, it definitely is. It takes time to gain the coach's trust. As a new player, when you finally do get minutes, you got to use them productively, use them well. You can't be making little mental errors on defense, and stuff like that. You're never going to go in. He'll just take you right out, so it takes a while for him to trust you.

UD: Did playing for former Sonora Wildcat head coach Rick Francis prepare you for the college game?

BB: I think it did. In a lot of ways, his coaching, the way he coached, I think was similar. We run a very similar offense. We run the same four-out, one-in motion flex offense, so that part was good.

UD: Are you more of an offensive- or defensive-minded player?

BB: I've become more of a defensive (player). I would say I was more offensive, but I've become more defensive because that's actually where my game was lacking the most coming into college. I say that's where I've been focusing on the most. My coach said, 'For me to put you in the game, you have to get better defensively. There's no other way, you have to get better.' So that's been my primary focus, and it's actually made me develop that quite a bit.

UD: What part of your game do you need to improve to be able to secure more minutes on the floor next season?

BB: I need to become more of a rebounder because we do need more of that out of me. That was one of his (coach) key points. Defensively, I need to be more consistent and better. More reliable defensively. I tend to have a problem of just only seeing my man and not being aware of what else is going on, on the court. I can get a little tunnel vision. Offensively, it would be slowing down, continuing to work on post moves and outside jumpers.

UD: What type of recruiting advice would you give to high school athletes who are hoping to get noticed by college coaches?

BB: Don't be shy. You have to reach out to the coaches. That's what I had to do. I would send emails to the coaches that I wanted to come watch me at tournaments. I let them know where and when I would be playing. You have to be the one to annoy the coaches and be the proactive one.

UD: Do you believe that young, developing athletes should specialize in one sport, and play that one sport year-long?

BB: I think it's a good thing to play multiple sports. I don't think it's any better to just play basketball. If you want to play football too, play football. That's good. It's only gonna help. … Don't give up one sport for another. You only have four years to do it anyways, so enjoy it.