From ice to hardwood: Ben Hendriks traded hockey skates for basketball shoes before arriving at Ball State

<p>Ben Hendriks plays minor hockey with his team, the Meadowvale Hawks, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Hendriks played ice hockey until he was 12 years old before he decided to purely focus on basketball. <strong>Leslie Hendriks, photo provided. </strong></p>

Ben Hendriks plays minor hockey with his team, the Meadowvale Hawks, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Hendriks played ice hockey until he was 12 years old before he decided to purely focus on basketball. Leslie Hendriks, photo provided.


“Kssh, kssh, kssh. Thwack! Ping!”

The sounds of skates persist as the puck glides across the ice. Sticks clash before a player touches the puck and fires a pass to another. He effortlessly releases a shot that hits the crossbar and finds the back of the net.

“Thump, thump. Squeak! Squeak! Swish!”

A player dribbles the basketball up the court. His shoes collide with hardwood, and he releases a chest pass to his teammate, who then perfectly sails a 3-pointer that finds the hoop and its netting.

These were the sounds and scenes of Ball State sophomore center Ben Hendriks’ childhood. He grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, a little more than 17 miles outside of Toronto, and played both ice hockey and basketball until he was 12 years old.

Hendriks’ parents, Rob and Leslie Hendriks, both played basketball through college, but they made him pick up ice hockey because no one in his family had ever played the sport. He first put on skates when he was just 18 months old. 

“I ended up being good at it for quite a few years,” Ben Hendriks said. “It was sort of like ‘a first sport is your favorite’ type of thing. I kept up with it for a long, long time, and I fell in love with it.”

During the winter months, Hendriks would walk over to a frozen pond blocks away from his house and play with his friends while his parents watched him in the freezing cold. He also spent numerous evenings cheering on his favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens. 

Hendriks vividly remembers his morning routine as a young child — waking up before sunrise, arriving at the rink for 5:30 a.m. practice, lacing up his skates and participating in drills with his teammates. Immediately after hockey practice, he would quickly put aside his equipment and head straight for the basketball court.

As much as Hendriks loved hockey, his parents wanted him to pursue basketball a little more seriously. They felt it better suited his size.

“Hockey was his commitment,” Leslie Hendriks said. “Hockey was his love and passion, but we felt he needed to be exposed to other sports as well. Basketball seemed to be the natural one with our background in the sport.”

When playing hockey, Ben Hendriks said, he was nearly a foot taller than some of his teammates and didn’t want to risk injuring his knees. He made the decision to purely focus on basketball right before his teenage years.

Ben Hendriks (upper row, fifth from left) poses with his teammates and coaches of the Meadowvale Hawks in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Hendriks first put on skates when he was just 18 months old and was the first in his family to play the sport. Leslie Hendriks, photo provided.

“I was basically just looking out for my future and looking out for my knees,” Hendriks said. “My parents, obviously having basketball backgrounds, came together and said, ‘I think basketball might be a better opportunity for you.’ In hockey, you’re not supposed to be as tall as I am. In basketball, you’re meant to be a lot taller and a lot bigger.”

Hendriks spent his final three years of high school playing for Orangeville Prep of the Athlete Institute. He said he had played in Indiana a few times but never had Ball State on his radar. That changed when he received a phone call from Ball State head coach James Whitford right before his senior year.

Whitford was evaluating a handful of players following a youth tournament, and Hendriks was coming off of an elbow injury. He decided to take a chance on him based on his all-around potential.

“You could tell he had a really good chance to be a good player,” Whitford said. “We watched a few games, and we went in on him right away. It was a process all through the fall to try to get him, but I just really connected with Ben and his family. I think we really shared a lot of similar values.”

Because Hendriks’ parents were familiar with the culture of basketball and the travel it can require, Leslie Hendriks said, they knew their son would probably attend an American university. While it was a nerve-wracking moment crossing the border and making the trip down to Muncie, she said, she felt reassured with the support system Ball State provided. 

“Was it scary when we dropped him off in residence and turned away? Yes, absolutely, but we felt we were very comfortable with coach Whitford,” she said. 

Ben Hendriks has appeared in 14 games so far in his second season as a Cardinal, and while Whitford said he has plenty of room to improve, he praised his overall versatility.  

“He runs like a deer,” Whitford said. “He’s a great athlete for a big guy, and he’s got great hands — he catches everything. He’s really good on offense, and he’s an elite pick-and-roll player. He can roll it to the rim and finish, and he’s not that far away from also being able to pop in and shoot threes.”

Hendriks said he sees parallels between hockey and basketball, pointing to his involvement in the former in helping him develop in the latter.

“Hockey definitely helped me out with hand-eye coordination,” Hendriks said. “With my hands and feet, skates take a little bit to get used to and having to do different maneuvers we did on the ice. Everybody has their own opinion on it, but I definitely think that helped me out with my ability to move much faster and keep my speed.”

Although Hendriks said he wants to keep playing basketball after college, his Canadian roots and the countless trips he made to his local rink throughout his childhood resonate with him as he continues his Cardinal career.

Contact Connor Smith with comments at cnsmith@bsu.edu or on Twitter @cnsmith_19.




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