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Benjamin Griscti | An Athlete's Tunnel Vision

Preface by Janx....

Over the coming weeks and months, just like we've done in the past, we will be featuring articles on the storys of various young athletes striving to develop and grow their games, seeking opportunities to play at the next level and achieve their dreams.

But first, to give some context on this athlete we tell a story that may seem unrelated at first.....

When meeting college coaches you hear some really cool and interesting stories from them. One such story we were told over lunch was the time an international flight was grounded for 2 hours, whilst waiting for the college coach we were dining with to arrive to board. The trip was in order to sign who would be a future NBA big man. The dash to Australia was during the college season so when his game finished late, the coach still needed to get the flight to spend a few days in Australia, in order to get the verbal commitment and return back in time for his team's next game. I won't go into detail here but "miraculously" the flight was delayed for several hours in order to allow the coach from this big program to board. This was one of those signings that just had to be made and the coach needed to be on the flight for that to happen. The program recruiting the player was a Pac 12, high major program and the athlete had developed a chip on his shoulder just a few years prior when he was cut from his state team. The athlete developed a chip on his shoulder and in doing so took control of his own development, with close-knit supporters, and WENT to work on his skill development. He was now obviously an extremely sought after High Major prospect. The player he was recruiting may or may not now be an NBA Champion *wink*. It's a cool story, and who the athlete was doesn't really matter, what does matter is big guys can bloom late, very quickly too.

Coaches that don't want to be in the stories of "I was the guy that cut him when he was in under xx" once they make the big time need to ensure they have a clear crystal ball and add value to the athlete's journey. As a basketball community we need to embrace, inspire, nurture, support talented, driven big men and high-level athletes.

Story and rant over, back to the article.....

PICTURED: Standing at 6'11'' this highly skilled big is a unique, high-level prospect for sure. It is his drive and work ethic to continuously improve that really sets him apart.

We think when his journey unfolds Benjamin Griscti's story will be similar in many aspects to the athlete above, how much so time will tell. For Ben, the game seems to come easy. He is super skilled for his size, moves like a big guard, excellent handles for a big, and deadly 3 pt shot. As his level of aggression and desire to take over games grows his output will meet his limitless ability and talent.

Ben is a player that has run the gamut of highs and lows through his career so far in similar ways to the Aussie NBA big man referred to above, and each of Featured Athletes has experienced. From the highs of making national squads, making state teams, playing in some historically successful teams, to missing out on state teams and squads. Success is not a straight line and almost never is. What has been so impressive with Ben is his ability to have "tunnel vision" when it comes to his goals and the work he is willing to do to achieve them.

PICTURED: In 2018, 15 year old Ben with Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz). We feel there will be a number of athletes from SA with NBA potential over the coming years. Ben may well be one of those guys with his skillset, size, basketball IQ and work ethic.

Since a very young age he has set clearly defined goals and interestingly when we recently reviewed the goals he had set at u16 division level he can tick almost each box. At that time he was a kid playing U16s division 2. He had set 9 very big goals. I won't go into too much detail here beyond that but he can now tick all of those goals, with more remaining. Play Division 1 College basketball. His growth and development in the game continue to be on a trajectory that astounds and his prospects are extremely high, with a very high level of Division 1 college interest flowing in for Ben. Wherever he goes the program will get a super-smart big, that loves to put in extra work, a team-first player that has an impact by stretching the floor with a great and quick 3 pt shot. And, he still has immense upside.

We have no doubt that over the coming 12 months Ben will tick off that goal he had as 14 year old, of playing D1 ball. With strong interest coming in from teams from the Big West, America East, Ivy League, and a few more already we think Ben is only just tapping into his potential.

Whilst most kids took a break over the summer holidays Ben took up an offer to join the Adelaide 36ers as a training player. Getting involved with the scout teams, taking part in workouts, competitive drills and playing with the development program the club was running affectionately called the "Young Guns". At trainings he was working and against some high-level pros; guys that have played Division 1 NCAA in high major programs, NBA Summer League, Europe and the NBL. Ben certainly held his own and continued to grow and develop.

VIDEO: Ben caught during a news report on former Marquette, SMU, and National Junior player Harry Froling, whilst U of Arizona grad Daniel Dillon takes it to the hole, guarded my former Murray State player Jerami Grace. Ben getting exposed to competing with and against elite adult players in the NBL in his summer holidays.

Since that time he has continued to go from strength to strength and during the COVID 19 lockdown has continued to develop his game with individual skill workouts and strength and conditioning as well as just the natural physical development and growth you see in 6'11'', skilled, 17 year old. We are so excited to see what he does as games resume over the coming weeks and months.

VIDEO: Quick video we put together to show Ben's size and quick jump, moves very well in small spaces.

We wanted to talk chat to Ben about his journey so far and how he has managed, like all athletes progressing through elite pathways to have "tunnel vision", even when things don't always go as planned.

Over to Ben....

Q: Tell us about your journey so far team played in and how they have gone?

A: I started playing basketball at 8 years old when I joined the Sturt Sabres juniors program, this team went onto win 3 national championships and debatably the best juniors team the nation has ever seen. Throughout that time I made 2 state teams, in 2019 we placed 2nd in the National championships which was a great achievement for our state.

PICTURED: Ben's U16 team would dominate the prestigious national, invitational tournament considered to consist of the top teams in the country the Melbourne Classic. Ben a key player on this historic team that would go undefeated through the tournament with a dominance not seen at this level before.

Q: Like many Aussies you were a multisport athlete when you were younger. When did you decide that you were going fully commitment to basketball and what made you decide to do that?

A: When I was 14 I was playing football, cricket, and basketball, at the time I was average at all these sports and wasn’t committed on which one I was to pursue further. Although when I learned about the opportunities a basketball career could give me in life, it took over my life. I was lucky enough to meet 2 coaches that taught me how to work hard and how hard I had to work to get something out of the sport. Those 2 coaches are still present in my life, still helping me work hard and I am very grateful for them.

Q: Your junior team at Sturt was probably the best ever club level team out of South Australia in history and maybe, overall the junior age groups, the most successful in the nation's history (albeit I am sure that is arguable). Your role in that team changed and developed over the years, tell us about that and what you learned playing on a club team that was so good?

A: In U14’s we pulled off an upset in the Australian national championships to become the best team in the nation when we won it was the greatest feeling as 13-year-olds who worked hard for a goal and achieved it. Although there was a silver lining since I played only 2 minutes in the championship game, even though I was part of the team I knew I had more to offer. So when the U16 Classics came around I had worked hard to be ready for the tournament, and due to a late withdrawal by our usual starting centre I knew I had a chance to prove myself. The team dominated this tournament, winning every game by 20+ points, I was very proud of my performance throughout the tournament, holding my own and taking it to the best players in the country. After this tournament I started working even harder, making a name for myself, getting selected for 2 state teams. When U18 classics came around we knew that we were the best team but we just had to show it, we had a few close games but came out on top for the 3rd time. Playing in such a successful team isn’t as easy as it might seem, teams are training to specifically beat you, you have a target on your back and you have to work harder even though you are on top. I learned a lot from this team, leadership values, how to manage yourself in clutch situations, and more valuable aspects of the game.

PICTURED: Ben, with Sebastian Griffin (recent D2 NCAA commit) and Keanu Rasmussen (Currently at the Centre of Excellence in Canberra), celebrating after another Classics gold win, to be the best club team in Australia. This time in the U18 age group.

Q: As well as playing in successful club sides you also, historically, played in a side that won Silver at the U18 National Championships in 2019, along with many of your teammates from your club team. Tell us about that experience and why you think that team was so successful?

A: In the first training, with all 90 kids that signed up, the coach set the goal of winning the gold medal. He emphasised that he would choose 10 players who believe that the team could do it. Once the team was selected, we played in a few trial games to gain some chemistry since we were mostly from different teams. From these trial games it was obvious that if we focused and worked hard, the team could do anything. The week away was the most professional basketball trip I have been on, everything we did, what we ate, what time we got up, and went to sleep was organised to win a gold medal. We were well prepared for games, coaches scouting 10 hours a day, having a physio and a set out a game plan for every team, we found ourselves making the gold medal game. We fought our hardest, leading by 15 points at multiple points in the game although the second half did not go to plan. Despite the loss, we knew we gave it our all and the chemistry of the group was phenomenal, every player supported each other and we all were proud of what we achieved. I loved being in such a disciplined, professional environment and know that is what I want more of.

PICTURED: Ben in more winning teams, this time a team that won Silver at the U18 National Championships. A level not reached for SA in this age group in decades previously.

Q: You have been to multiple camps at the AIS (national camps, exposure tournament, Australian Development camps), fill us in on the detail?

A: I have been to a COE tryout, an NCAA exposure tournament, 2 Australian development camps and a National selection camp.

PICTURED: Ben at his first Australian Development Camp in September 2018. Since then he attended many programs, camps and events at the Centre of Excellence (at Australian Institute of Sport) including C of E ID Camp (July 2018), NCAA Prospects Camp (September 2018), Australian Development Camp (January 2019), FIBA U17 Men's Australian team camp (June 2019)

Q: Describe “a day in the life” at these camps

Not easy to say the least, the middle day of these usually 3-day camps would consist of waking up at 6:30, breakfast at 7 then training from approximately 7:30 to 10:30, we would then either do a series of stat taking activities (height, weight, etc) or a film session. We would then have lunch around 12:00-13:00 and then back for training from 13:30 to 15:30, after that, we would have a break until 17:30 where we would train from 17:30 to 20:30. These camps seem physically demanding but for me, I focused more on mental strength, these coaches are teaching you and they need to see you apply that teaching throughout the rest of the camp, being physically drained you must keep mentally strong to get the most out of the camp.

PICTURED: Ben in a huddle with Australian Boomers (National Men's team) Assistant Coach and Centre of Excellence Head coach, Adam Caporn

Q: Beyond organised team stuff what kind of work do you do in terms of strength and conditioning and skill development?

A: For strength and conditioning I have a personal trainer that I train with twice a week, he gives me a program that I use at home for the other 5 days of the week. This training is mostly about building athleticism and getting strong in the right areas for basketball. For skill development I go to the local court for about 90 minutes per day either before or after school, at the court I do a combination of shooting and ball handling. As often as possible I also workout with the 2xcoaches I had in U16s at Sturt, our NBL 1 Coaches and we get in other top players from around the city to go against. It is particularly good when D1 college guys are back as we work out with those guys a lot too.

VIDEO: Video on Ben working doing what he works so hard at; Strength and Conditioning and Skill Development

Q: You spent last summer training with the Adelaide 36ers and playing in the “Young Guns” team. Tell us about what that experience was like, what you worked on during that period, and how you got value from it?

PICTURED: Harry Froling (Marquette), Ramone Moore (Temple), Alex Mudronja (St Mary's), Daniel Dillon (Arizona) and Obi Kyei and Ben shooting at Adelaide 36ers practice

A: As a 36er fan growing up, it was an amazing experience meeting Joey Wright and Jerome Randle, people I had looked up to for a long time. It gave me a real insight into what a professional team environment looks like, I was involved with everything from casual gym sessions to game-day preparation. During that time I worked on playing a much faster pace than I was used to, as well as creating a different hunger to the way I played. The guys I was playing against Daniel Johnson, Eric Griffin, and Harry Froling. This is their career, they play to fund themselves, and their families, I was playing against guys that want everything they could get, which was a great learning experience. The “Young Guns” team I played in was a group of amazing young and upcoming basketball players, we played against state league Division 1 teams and tried to prove ourselves to the coaching staff to be able to play at NBL level. I met some great guys in this team who accepted a school kid coming in, and they made my summer experience worthwhile and rewarding. After this experience I am certain that ultimately playing at the top pro level is something I'm determined to do.

VIDEO: Highlights of Ben playing exhibition games with the Adelaide 36ers development team

Q: What keeps you focused on your goals and “staying the course” (what do you tell yourself to overcome adversity)

A: The narrative of my journey so far has been not making teams, not being chosen, however I set a big goal as a 14-year-old to play Division 1 NCAA basketball. All this adversity just gave me more reason to outwork those around me and sometimes I think without this adversity I wouldn’t be in this position. So throughout my juniors I kept a tunnel vision of playing Division 1 NCAA basketball, so when adversity came across me along the way I just tell myself I never picked up a basketball to make a team, I picked up the game to work towards my main goal.

Q: What kind of college are you looking for and what are some things you hope to achieve and develop from the college experience as a student-athlete?

A: An accepting culture, a program that I can develop in to become the best basketball player I can be. A program that I can also focus on academics, as well as basketball. The opportunity to obtain a degree to use in life after basketball is a major factor for why I chose to pursue college basketball and become a student-athlete. As a player I have the major goal to play in the NCAA tournament at some point in my college career, I know I can be a major contributor to getting a program there during my tenure at the school.

PICTURED: More winning for Ben's teams, a trend we don't see abating. Here he and his U18 Sturt Sabres Division 1 District team enjoy their State Championship victory.


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