Athlete of the week: Ben Erickson, Elk River, basketball: Roughing it

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Ben Erickson settled into a  comfort zone his first three years on the Elk River varsity. Mostly he’d snipe from the arc while other guys did the dirty work inside.

But for his senior year, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound veteran had to re-tool his game  both as a performer and leader, being not only the squad’s lone veteran but also the closest thing the Elks had to a  “big man.” He’s doing the heavy lifting this year.

“Ben’s role changed a lot this year,” said coach Randy Klasen. “He’s playing down low and has to get a lot more rebounds and guard bigger players. He has to be a leader, too, because he’s the only guy we’ve got who’s been there before. He’s not too vocal. He’s a leader by example.”

Ben Erickson ranks fifth in Elk history with 88 three-point shots, 15 of them this year, but he's more of an inside man now. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

Erickson, who already had a pretty good career going, is adapting nicely, leading the Elks (4-6) with 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, along with .495  field goal shooting and .844 free throw shooting. His stats have taken a big jump. He averaged 9.6 points and 2.1 rebounds as a junior and 7.5 points as a sophomore.

“I’m enjoying it, actually,” Erickson reflects. “I feel a lot more involved in all aspects of the game, now. I never had to rebound much or guard bigger guys. I think I’m holding my own.”

His current career totals are 696 points, 260 rebounds, 81 steals, and 99 assists. His 88 three-point shots rank fifth in Elk history, and his accuracy outside the arc (currently 34.5 percent) has always been solid.

Erickson’s new teammates are mostly juniors and sophomores whom he had not played alongside before. (Six of the nine seniors were cut.)

“I knew a handful of them but not too well,” he said. “They are nice guys and I think they have a lot of potential.”

About morphing into a leader, Erickson feels he had good role models.

“My first three years, we had guys  like Jack Gavin and Travis Banken, guys you really looked up to,” he said. “So it really hasn’t been too hard a transition for me.”

And what about the transition to playing down low and jousting with large, sweaty bodies every night?

“Last year I was basically a shooter, sitting on the wing, and somebody when penetrate and kick the ball out to me,” he said. “Now I’m down on the blocks with my back to the basket. It’s a lot different. It’s challenging. I’m guarding people four, five inches taller, and they’ve got three years on me (at the position). But it’s not as hard as I thought it might be.”

Erickson, who had low-post experience on his summer team, says rebounding is mainly desire: “With the big guys we have in our conference you have to really determined to go get the ball.”

Meanwhile his points are coming not by posting up head-to-head but on fast breaks, on the open floor where he can out-quick bigger guys guarding him, at the line (a blazing 27-for-32) and still occasionally outside the arc (15-for-43).

Klasen says Erickson has only average speed and leaping ability for a NWSC player but has always been a sweet shooter “with a good understanding of the game, too” even in ninth grade when the coach brought him up as a top sub.

Career highlights so far include his game-winning 3-pointer against Centennial last year, and scoring 20 in a win over Anoka at the Target Center last year, and his career-high 22 points in a season-opening win over Buffalo this year.  The Elks have been 16-12, 12-16, and 17-11 in his three previous seasons.

With this year’s unusual circumstances, Erickson said his only goal is “to get better as a team every single day, and be ready for sectionals.”

The Erickson scorecard

Ben Erickson

Personal file — Age: 18 … Family: parents Russ and Liz; sisters Allie, 20, and Megan, 15 … Sports: basketball, golf (JV) … Other activities: Link … Academics: 3.6 GPA … College plans: U of Minnesota, Global Studies and Political Science

Favorite stuff — Class: Government … TV show: “House” … Movies: “Gladiator” and “Braveheart” … Food: enjoys “trying new things” in restaurant visits with his grandmother … Drink: the cherry limeade at Sonics … Team: Cleveland Browns … Kickback: video games, movies … Place he’d like to visit: the pyramids in Egypt

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