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Ben Madgen | Determination, grit, toughness from Ben's juniors, US College, NBL and European car

Preface by Janx.....

Todd Matthews, who had significant success as a player at state and then collegiate level, then with the Norwood Flames in the Premier League, wrote an article called “Capturing the winning qualities of South Australian basketball”. Todd spoke about the love he has for the game, importance of facing challenges and failures head on, training hard and building a culture in your program to win. We think that Todd’s attitude and mindset captures the essence of success in South Australian athletes that succeed in our sport. We have seen similar insights from Peter Hooley (ref: THAT moment. The years of preparation, the mindset and the delivery) and Brad Newley (ref: From SA to the AIS, to Europe, to the Olympics, and the NBL; Living the basketball dream) to name a few.

These cultures are contagious in teams, amongst cohorts of athletes, and when it happens we often see a club, state program go from strength to strength. The key is to provide the opportunity for this culture and values to act as a launching pad for athletes into international and professional programs, leading by example for the next athletes coming through, building winning programs. We want coaches from all over the world know the kind of athletes they will typically get from our state. We hope that helps facilitate these cultures and our featured athletes continue to set the standard for others to follow.

PICTURED (Pic source The Australian): 6'4'' Madgen spent 6 seasons with the Sydney Kings in the NBL before heading to Europe.

We feel Ben Madgen also epitomises a South Australian Baller, and his career has taken him from Eastern Mavericks, State Junior Teams, NCAA College Basketball, the NBL and European leagues. With a physical and mental toughness and unbelievable work ethic to get better he has constantly improved throughout his career from College, to the NBL, to Europe.

In this interview Ben highlights his journey and the qualities he feels he developed as a junior that have continued into his Collegiate and now Professional Career. Like most of the athletes writing articles for (this is probably the bulk of successful professional and collegiate out of South Australia) Ben has suffered setbacks and challenges through his career. Like most this came as a result of misguided talent ID and feedback earlier in his career (the talent ID and feedback to make up a future blog) which he managed to use for motivation. Ben always tries to use the game as a personal development tool to develop and grow on and off the floor, he has become a driven and determined leader.

We also look forward to hearing insights on playing in Europe, with great insights on the style of game in Europe, different pathways to Europe’s top leagues. Ben will explain how characteristics as simple as manners and respect shown to support staff can help separate you from the pack in the elite levels in Europe. Some great insights for youth and budding professional athletes wanting to forge long term career, all over the world.

Over to Ben…..

Tell us about your junior career in South Australia?

My early days were humble ones! I first started playing at age 7 and then went on to join the Eastern Mavericks. I wasn’t blessed with amazing natural talent and certainly wasn’t earmarked as a player to watch by any means. My one competitive edge was my immense desire to improve. I practiced before school, after school and was always the first player on the court to put up shots.

PICTURED: Ben began his basketball as a junior with Adelaide based club, Eastern Mavericks.

Despite my natural talent deficit, I was so committed to going the extra mile, I drank litres of milk daily and coaxed my parents into paying for a self-proclaimed revolutionary who would use trigger point manipulation to spur my growth. I had love of game down pact, that’s for sure.

I could never crack the elite teams as a youngster. In South Australia an invitation for SASI was the pinnacle achievement for top players, but despite hours of practice and multiple attempts, I remember the head of SASI telling me I was a “dime-a-dozen” and “there were a million players just like me”. Very useful feedback as I’m sure you can imagine. Dad a sports enthusiast, used to remind me of these words to spur my motivation to improve and boy did it work!!

When you miss out on selection on any team, it feels like the world is over. But what it taught me was the power of perseverance, hard work, determination and not being embarrassed about sticking at it. There are many stories like mine where people who aren’t the “most talented” end up with more successful, enduring careers as they spend years focusing on their attitude, mental resilience and the soft skills that are essential to support your career as a professional athlete. These skills have been a huge driver behind my journey and my desire to keep challenging myself and raising the bar.

What was Augusta State like and what did you learn from your college experience?

College is such an amazing opportunity to have the flexibility to complete your study and play the game you love while living abroad. I know a lot of players are fixated on playing division 1 basketball, which sometimes puts them in a situation where they don’t get the opportunity play. I opted for a division 2 school and was fortunate to start all 4 years. We achieved top ranking in the nation, played in the national championships game and beat countless division 1 teams, not to mention my jersey was retired at the end of my college career which was a huge honour.

PICTURED : Ben at Augusta State. A program he helped lead, and during that time developed it into a power in college basketball, taking the program to back to back Final 4 appearances and earning All American honours in the process.

The Augusta State system provided a first-class professional training environment where you’re challenged by the best most athletic players in the country every day. I was also fortunate to have an amazing coaching team with Dip Metress and local Robbie McKinley who put in the extra time and effort into every player to get them operating at their peak performance. This targeted approach to your development is a once in a lifetime. Outside of college you’re generally paying trainers to give you the time of day.

Selecting the right college can be daunting for any athlete, for me it felt like I needed a crystal ball to make the right choice (get used to that, in a short-term contract career it doesn’t change much). When I was in the process of choosing a program, I knew that getting on the court was critical to my on-going improvement and my overall enjoyment of the college experience. Anecdotally I know that not making the court can have a huge impact on your college life, so I encourage anyone looking to find something that’s a good fit for them rather then worry about the bells and whistles.

Thanks to Augusta’s program I graduated with a Bachelor of Business Management and went on to complete my Master’s in Business Administration at Macquarie University while playing for the Kings. Completing my masters was a no brainer, there’s plenty of time outside of basketball to study and I didn’t want to be in a position where an early injury or change in my plan left me without options. My motto in life is to plan for the worst but aim for the best and that mindset has been critical to ensuring the best possible outcome no matter the situation thrown at me.

You have played all over the world, compare and contrast all the various competitions (Collegiate, NBL, Europe) you have played in?

I consider myself very fortunate to play all over the world. To experience different cultures and visit some incredible places, has been a dream come true. From a basketball perspective each playing style although sometimes uncomfortable builds on your basketball IQ, so I highly recommend a versatile experience to build on your skill-set.

The players in the US college system are extremely athletic, this was my biggest challenge! Coming in a 6’4 and a lean build, I had to get smarter and more efficient to find ways to succeed on court. My game became all about cutting and using screens with purpose. I started using a lot of ball fakes and became deceptive with and without the ball, which gave me enough time to get my shot off and make plays. Our college team played fast, which is not common at the collegiate level with the 35 second shot clock. This made the transition to the NBL easier for me because the NBL is the fastest league I have ever played in.

NBL has an emphasis on transition basketball and individual reads rather than strict structure which makes for a high scoring and exciting style of basketball. I signed with the Sydney Kings for the 2010/11 season, however my professional career got off to a rocky start as I was dropped from the team after just 4 games. I was devastated but after crying my eyes out I decided to turn up the mongrel and go toe to toe with my successor. I made him work for every possession, for every shot and every hand on the ball. Instead of ruminating on what I didn’t have to be in the team, my focus was on how hard I was going to make it for those I was competing against. I set myself up for success by turning up three hours before practice and was dripping in sweat before anyone else even arrived. That year, I went on to get my spot back and win Rookie of the year. It was a harsh but beneficial reality check on what it takes to be a professional athlete.

My first year in Europe was in Belgium; my agent Warren Craig expressed that it was a great league to showcase my talents with a similar style to the NBL. He was right, the game was fast paced and free flowing not the mention the People and culture were amazing so it’s a great transition to Europe especially if you’re coming with family. I had a great coach who gave me the green light to shoot as and when I wanted, and I went on to lead the league in scoring which further instilled my belief that I could take on my next Euro challenge.

PICTURED: Ben has played the past 4 years in Europe, including 2 with EuroCup teams in Lithuania.

My transition to Lithuanian basketball was not so smooth. I came in feeling confident and ready to show the team what I had to offer, but not being exposed to the truest form of structured basketball I was in for a shock. If coach draws up a play for “Jonny” to shoot you best believe he means Johnny and Johnny only is shooting. If you’re free and have the ball and make the read, you you’ll find your butt on the bench within seconds. As I’m sure you can imagine I was benched every five minutes for my first few games. One game, one of my teammates legitimately stopped playing and stood there screaming at me with around 8000 people watching while the other team scored; they don’t mind a good ole serve. Jokes aside, I had to work so hard to build trust with the team and coaches and while I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thought I’d made a mistake in the early days, our team success and my personal success that year was sentiment to the soft skills that are critical to support your basketball career . I continued the Lithuanian adventure the next season and signed with Lietuvos Rytas, another Euro Cup team. After my second year in a structured style of play I definitely felt ready to head back west and get back into a faster style of play with freedom to read the game.

PICTURED: EuroCup basketball is BIIG in Europe. Here is Seimens Arena where games between Madgen's former club Lietuvos Rytas plays their local derby against arch-rival Žalgiris Kaunas

This year I’m playing for Crailsheim Merlins in the German BBL. I’ve been brought in for a leadership role which is mapped to my life after basketball, so it’s exactly this experience I need at this stage of my career. So far it’s been awesome and I’ve loved getting back into my natural style of play with aggressive offense. We are only a few games in, but already I am loving the opportunity and the culture and community has been one of the best we’ve ever experienced.

PICTURED: Madgen always a high IQ player, great communicator and tough is relishing his leadership role in Europe and also putting up big numbers this season (The Pick and Roll: Madgen’s magic for the Merlins)

With a European journey that took you to Belgium initially then to a Lithuanian based Euro Cup team you initially probably slightly stepped back in terms of level when compared to the NBL, but this step back reaped opportunity to eventually land in a EuroCup club.

How would an NBL or Collegiate player go about getting European offers?

Would you recommend they consider following this kind of path?

What kind of attributes for a player suit Europe?

After 5 years in the NBL I wanted to take the next step to Europe with the goal of playing EuroCup or EuroLeague. Despite wrapping up the 2015 season 2nd in MVP voting and being named All-NBL first team honours, I found it difficult to get a look in for any job in Europe. Most clubs looking at a 30-year-old with a few silvers expect to see a fairly lengthy Euro CV. However, an opportunity opened up in Belgium and I was hungry for anything to take my game to the next level, so I opted out of my Sydney contract to take a pay cut and use the experience to showcase my skillset.

After Belgium, I was still quite naive about how hard it was to break into EuroCup. Every player in Europe wants a chance at Euro level and it’s tough to crack. I waited and waited and waited for the right call I started to wonder if I bit off more than I could chew. From a personal perspective, my wife was pregnant with our first child, we were in Antwerp, Belgium moving from week to week. I was so stressed telling my wife I should just sign back in Sydney, but she wasn’t letting me bail out. Then, 2 days before preseason kicked off, I got the call from a EuroCup team, Lietkabelis in Lithuania. For the first time in weeks I could breathe properly and I didn’t ask one question and just signed the dotted line.

My recommendation for players trying to make it in Europe is to jump on any opportunity you can. I’ve seen many players opt to play for lower level teams and do well to be recruited by bigger teams. Exposure is key and European teams want a local comparison, so visibility is your biggest hurdle. My mindset is that my brand is not defined by one “perceived” experience, I utilise all experiences for different reasons and what might look like a step back on the outside can be just the opportunity to take you to the next level. As in my case, Belgium might not have been the strongest league, but it was the link from NBL to EuroCup playing where I fulfilled a life dream playing against the likes of Alexey Shved and Derrick Williams.

PICTURED: Derrick Williams, like many at EuroCup level, had an extended NBA career.

Another lesson learnt from my experience is around mental preparation, especially as an import. Teams expect their imports to be high performers in every game. To paint the picture, I was having a great season and one game I didn’t shoot the ball well and we lost. I was called into two meetings in two days, asking “what was wrong?”, “why I didn’t shoot well?”, “how could we lose to that team?” I pointed out that it’s normal to have an off game and that we should stay calm and focus on our team opportunity areas. In some environments, this can be a career limiting response, but my coach was a good bloke and understood the matter of fact Aussie style. The expectations can be very stressful, so it’s important to start equipping yourself now for that challenge. How did I equip myself? Lots of reading, mentoring and learning to express how I felt and how I could move beyond the situation to focus on team success.

Versatility is also a key requirement in Europe. There are so many talented players vying for spots on teams and when you get an opportunity, they usually have a specific role for you in mind. Sometimes it aligns with your key strength, other times it can be a bit confusing as you’re being brought in to do x and you’re not necessarily accustomed to that role. I’m usually brought into a team to score the ball because this is my strength but last season I got on the court for defensive capability which was a result of 3 years of focusing on my defensive skills to increase my versatility as a player. Gone are the days you can be a sharp shooter and get your legs back at the defensive end. Teams expect you to be solid in all areas of the game so if you’re setting your sights on Europe start tackling your weaker attributes now.

What advice would you give to young athletes that want to follow in your footsteps?

Nothing will ever substitute hard work. It sounds cliché but the only reason I’ve been able to play professionally is due to my work ethic. If someone else gets to practice before me, I get there even earlier to outwork them the next day. Even as a veteran, I engaged a new skills coach this offseason to work on footwork and finishing drills, you’re craft is never complete and with that mindset, you’ll set yourself up for a journey of continuous improvement.

You can’t underestimate the importance of being a high character teammate. Let me assure you, word gets around quick and how you handle yourself on and off-court behaviour can be the difference to securing your next gig. As an example, after my first year in Lithuania another local team was looking to sign me. They shared that their stadium janitor, the guy who cleans the courts and takes out the trash was impressed with how I took the time during my pre-game routine to have a chat to him and show him respect. This was one of the primary reasons they wanted me over other shooters for their team.

Like all seasons there are peaks and troughs, last season I was in the middle of a trough where one missed shot meant you were replaced by one of five other shooters (big teams, big budgets, stacked positions) and I was finding it difficult to enjoy the game with so much pressure to shoot at 100% or lose my court-time. I called Shane Heal for some advice. He told me to switch my focus from my on-court performance to the level of comradery I was providing the team with. He reiterated a sentiment I’ve come to really understand in Europe, people will notice how you handle adversity and word will make its way around. If you’re the player who drops his head and shoulders and isolates himself from the team in a rough patch it won’t serve you well for being recommended for future gigs. Blokes in particular might not tell you they admire how you’re handling adversity, but they will notice and there’s a good chance they will be asked what it was like to play with you, so make it count.

I’m pretty passionate about harnessing your mindset and setting yourself up for success, so if you’re interested you can find some more insights on my blog, Evolve with Ben Madgen.

Do you offer any professional services or expertise to athletes, coaches and anyone? Please explain.

Having a degree and MBA with a focus on leadership and culture in sports teams I’ve started to make sharing my knowledge and learnings a key priority as this will be my focus for life after basketball. I offer free mentoring for anyone in need of advice, coaching or support in the areas of enabling your mindset or harnessing your potential via Office Hours. Hit me up if you’re keen I’d be happy to help.

You can also follow me and be updated blogs ball and the likes via Insta, Facebook, Linkedin.

PICTURED (Pic source Daily Telegraph): Based on qualities developed through his long pro career, one day when the pro basketball stops dribbling for Ben we see an outstanding career for him in whatever he chooses. His blog site has phenomenal content, well written, on leadership, high performance mindset, life experiences. It is a great read indeed. Evolve with Ben Madgen.

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