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Monarch Insider No. 13-Ben Finney

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: December 05, 2010
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Dec. 5, 2010

Monarch Insider #13: Ben Finney

Ben Finney: ODU's "heart" beats strongly

Brendan O'Hallarn -Monarch Basketball Insider

At the very end of Saturday night's loss to Delaware, I stared at the video on my computer screen glumly, like all the Monarch fans who watched the team lose its conference opener.

As he frequently does, Ben Finney caught my eye.

There were only about a dozen seconds left, and the matter was settled. Delaware was at the free throw line to score the final points in its 75-67 upset.

Finney stood in the rebound position nearest the screen. Before Delaware's Jawan Carter was handed the ball by the referee, Finney crouched in place and slowly shook his head, then stood up, put his hands on his hips in a mixture of fatigue and disgust.

This young man hates to lose. And on a night when he and every other Monarch struggled, Finney poured his guts out on the court to try to prevent it. Though his shot wasn't falling (1-7 from the floor), Finney grabbed five offensive rebounds in the second half. He scratched his way to nine points and a career high 12 rebounds.

Still, it wasn't enough. And don't talk to Finney about stats. His feelings about the game were telegraphed with the squat, the shake, and the hands on the hips. Let's pause for a moment to appreciate what Finney brings to this program. Local kid who committed to ODU to play his second-favorite sport (because ODU doesn't have a football team), Finney is your classic overachiever.

He doesn't have the leaping ability of Kent Bazemore. He's not as fast as Darius James. Not as strong as Frank Hassell. His shot isn't nearly as pretty as Trian Iliadis's. But in key moments of games, who jumps that extra inch to grab a key board? Who wins a footrace to a loose ball? Who muscles his way to the basket through stronger players? Whose shot - no matter how flat-looking - finds the bottom of the net in overtime? Finney.

And, aside from his basketball skills, Finney takes deadly serious his role as a leader, THE leader, for this veteran-laden team.

"Everybody on the team, I feel like they look up to me. I feel like I know how to talk to everyone on the team in a different type of way, to get them to respond," Finney said. "Darius (James) and I have been here for four years, we've been almost starting for four years, so we know what to expect and what we need to do to get better."

The leadership has come naturally. Being vocal hasn't. Though Finney was a captain of last year's team, he frequently deferred to seniors like Gerald Lee.

"Over the summer, the coaches gave us a piece of paper with our weaknesses and our strengths, and one of my weaknesses was I had to be more vocal," he said. "In order for us to be better and fill Gerald's spot, I had to be more vocal."

You might think, from the sound during games, that being vocal would come naturally to Ben. A piercing voice from the section behind the Monarchs bench urges the players, non-stop. It's Finney's mother, Desiree Finney-Jones, who clearly doesn't hold back in expressing herself.

"It's about time. I've been trying to get him to do this in a long time," Finney-Jones said. "Leadership. It's in him. Now he's finally found it. He feels comfortable out there, he does all the little stuff. Now he's talking more, too."

I find him compelling to watch. In the High Point game last month - really our only non-tense game of the season so far - there was Finney, rolling all over the court for a loose ball. We were up 27 points in the second half at that point.

Last Wednesday's electrifying Richmond game had fans buzzing about Bazemore's star turn, when he displayed his full arsenal of athletic talent in the last five minutes. But Finney stuffed the statbox in his own way. After scoring only two points in the first half, Finney missed a few shots to start the second. Then he was blocked (likely fouled) on two shot attempts in a row. Did he get discouraged? Hardly.

The next possession, he took a breakaway pass from Darius James and laid it in, plus the foul. Then he scored the next time down the court. Then he stole the ball on Richmond's following possession.

The gritty Spiders made a run to push their lead to eight. But Finney answered with a basket from eight feet behind the three-point arc. Does that shot drop if it doesn't absolutely need to? Maybe not. Just Ben, rising to the moment again. Finney has a big fan in the ardent ODU rooter who occupies the office above me in Koch Hall.

"Both Kate (my wife) and I think very highly of Ben," said ODU President John Broderick. "He was one of those student-athletes we met when he first got here and we have watched him become a terrific representative for ODU on and off the court. I have told his mother on several occasions what a great young man he is! My guess is people here will remember Ben as someone who epitomized what a student-athlete should be."

He may never be the conference's player of the year. His number in all likelihood won't be retired by ODU. But after four-years of blue-collar work, Finney has earned a special accolade from the ODU student fans. His is one of the pictures that fans hold up in the stands during games.

"He's awesome. He drains those threes, he keeps the game alive. He puts his heart out there. He's my favorite," said Monarch Maniac Jacob Zimmerman, as his rationale for holding up the Finney blow-up.

The relationship is mutual. Finney LOVES being a Monarch. "My decision to come to ODU benefitted me greatly. Every year from my freshman year, we've been getting better," he said. He also feels a responsibility to leave the team in good hands when he graduates, earning the first college degree of anyone in his entire extended family. "In order for the program to stay good, to keep stepping up and progressing, I have to tell the young guys and make sure they're getting it."

Finney has taken a special interest in one of the team's freshmen, Dimitri Batten. He sees a lot of himself in the confident local kid who's struggled a little bit making the transition to university ball. He asked to be roommates with Batten this season, and he's talked with him about everything from effort on the court, to juggling schoolwork and team responsibilities.

"When he came here, I told coach I wanted to room with him. I feel like by me talking to him every day, it helped him a little bit," Finney said. Batten, who the team is planning to redshirt this season, said the experience has been tough at times, but he appreciates having Finney as a mentor.

"His game, that's how I want my game to be. I look at him as my bigger brother," Batten said. "He's actually broken it down, told me it's not high school any more. I can come to him and ask him about anything. He said he's got my back any time, just keep pushing myself."

Brendan O'Hallarn, an employee in public relations at Old Dominion University, writes Monarch Basketball Insider. To see other stories, please see the Monarch Insider website, at http://www.odusports.com/ot/monarch-insider.html. If you would like to share your thoughts about ODU basketball, or have a story you'd like to see Brendan write, contact him at brendanwork@hotmail.com.

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