Playing for a small Class 2A school in the hardly-watched Metro Suburban Conference didn’t matter.
Neither did a COVID-19 basketball shutdown in 2020, an abbreviated 2021 high school season or not playing for a high-profile club basketball program.
Timothy Christian’s Ben VanderWal, once the most under-recruited prospect in Illinois, would eventually be noticed. It was just going to take some time.
Just over two months ago the 6-6 senior didn’t have a single Division I offer.
“I was definitely frustrated,” admitted VanderWal. “Every kid wants their offers and believes with all the work they put in that they deserve them.”
VanderWal says there was no reason to start doubting himself. He believed his time would come. This was a player who continued to produce, week after week, with a combination of toughness, heady play and stretching the floor as a three-point shooting threat.
“I had the right people telling me the right things,” said VanderWal, who averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds a game as a junior. “I just believed that I would keep working my butt off until it happened.”
He parlayed a strong weekend with Timothy Christian during a late June live period, along with some stellar play with his Breakaway club team in July, into a bevy of offers. By the end of July he had 15 Division I offers to choose from.
Yes, VanderWal believed. But he also remembers his “I can’t believe this happening” moment.
While VanderWal did pick up a couple of offers following his June weekend with Timothy Christian, it was a weekend in July that provided that moment of validation. Following a weekend in Atlanta, where VanderWal shined with his Breakaway team with college coaches watching, he picked up a half dozen more offers.
“I remember going up to my parents after having a good weekend in Atlanta and getting six offers in 48 hours and just saying, ‘I can’t believe this. It’s finally happening,'” said VanderWal. “There was such a sense of relief.”
After sorting through all his options, VanderWal set four official visits, He visited Bucknell last week and Furman this past weekend. He had plans to visit William & Mary and Yale, but there was no need for any other visits. Furman had solidified a growing feeling he had.
With each phone call he had with Furman head coach Bob Richey and his staff, VanderWal said he would get off the phone and “his mind would be rolling about Furman.” There was an obvious connection that was growing and that was cemented while on his official visit.
“That family feel,” VanderWal said of the difference he felt with Furman. “The whole program felt like one big family. And that feel extended to everyone — from the players to the coaches to the support staff, strength and conditioning people. There was this great connection between everyone in the program.”
That connection he felt started with Richey and his coaching staff through the recruiting process.
“There isn’t always a whole lot of transparency in recruiting,” the obviously astute VanderWal said. “But with Furman they were so transparent. I always understood where they were at in the process with me and my recruitment. They were so personable and genuine.”
VanderWal was also impressed with where the program is headed after averaging 22 wins a year over the past four seasons.
“The program is trending in the right direction,” said VanderWal. “They’re winning, getting better and better each year. They want to operate at a different level. I knew Furman was my place. I’m so pumped.”