You can take the basketball player out of Baltimore, but you can’t take the Baltimore out of the basketball player. At least that’s the conclusion budding mid-major star Ben Stanley has come to since leaving Charm City in 2016.
The former East Baltimore resident is putting together an all-conference season as a redshirt sophomore at Hampton University, even keeping the Pirates’ ship on course in December when star guard Jermaine Marrow was lost with a broken thumb.
The 6-foot-6 power forward is leading the Big South Conference in scoring at 21.5 points per game, in a league that boasted the nation’s top scorer last year in Campbell’s Chris Clemons (30.1 points per game) and No. 8 in Marrow (24.4). But the redshirt sophomore also paces the conference in field goal percentage (.587), is second in rebounding (7.6), third in blocked shots (1.2) and fourth in minutes (32.7). He has already had 11 20-plus scoring games this year, including a career best 40-point night against Howard in December.
“He’s a hard worker and he has a strong belief in himself and what he can do,” said Hampton coach Edward “Buck” Joyner. “Now he’s just enjoying the fruits of his labor. I don’t think any of us saw this coming. We knew that there would be a boost [from his freshman year], but we didn’t know it would be like this.”
Stanley has taken a long road to his kind of success in college. He attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Baltimore from 2012-2014, then played one year at magnet school Baltimore City College.
“It’s a tough place,” he said. “I grew up in East Baltimore and you go to any gym there and it’s competitive. You see a lot of guys that have a certain kind of dog in them, in their game. Coach Buck always preaches that toughness is getting the job done. It’s not a guy knocks you down and you get up and hit him. It’s getting the next three rebounds after that. I understood that.”
Stanley got on Joyner’s radar in Baltimore, but when the youngster reclassified to the class of 2017 and transferred to Millwood, a private school in Chesterfield just outside of Richmond, Va., the Pirates’ interest was piqued with a treasure in their backyard.
“We got a really good look at him and that’s when we really went after him,” Joyner said. “At the time he was playing center and we thought he was a multi-positional kind of guy. We liked his energy and definitely his athleticism.”
Stanley’s trip to the suburbs of Richmond was sudden and involved an epiphany of sorts. In the summer of 2015, he was playing with Maryland 3D’s AAU B-team at a camp when coach Brandon Jones and members of Team Loaded in Virginia saw him play.
“I was so excited, they asked me to leave on their team bus and go down to Richmond to play right after they saw me,” Stanley recalled. “Team Loaded was big time and I had never played on the circuit. I called my mom and left a message and she was so mad. She was like, ‘No, you’re coming [back home] first, then you can go to Richmond.’ I went back to Baltimore and she had faith in me to let me go.”
Faith is a family theme for the devout Stanley, his single parent mother, Tonya, and older brother William. Stanley would ultimately travel on to Las Vegas with Team Loaded that summer, an eye-opening experience.
“After I was playing the [Adidas] Gauntlet [summer tour], I was seeing guys do things I had never seen,” he said. “There were guys my height and taller bringing the ball up the court and I knew I was nowhere near where I needed to be.”
Not only did Jones coach Team Loaded at the time, he was entering his first year as the coach at Millwood. He encouraged Stanley to join him, and Stanley reclassified to junior status. He had already drawn offers from Maryland-Eastern Shore, Longwood, Wagner and Hampton, and then his senior year he averaged 14.4 points and 5.4 rebounds, settling on Hampton. His mother moved to Newport News, Va., to be close.
Because of that long list of high schools and the accompanying transcript issues, Stanley had to sit out his freshman season. Once he began play last season, that chiseled 225-pound frame was even more so. Joyner said Stanley had the body of a college junior when he was a senior in high school, and he discovered even more about him once Stanley was on campus playing.
“Ben averaged four points his freshman year, but he’s probably the most confident four-point scorer I’ve ever seen,” the coach laughed.
In his 11th season at Hampton, Joyner has three NCAA Tournament appearances under his belt, and has built consistent winners relying on versatile, interchangeable players at most positions. Stanley fit the bill. In the preseason, Joyner talked about how Stanley could guard any position on the floor, a cherished trait that might not apply any more.
“We don’t make him guard every position anymore, we have to save some of that energy,” Joyner said.
Hampton is 6-9 this season entering its game against Longwood University Jan. 11. The Pirates won their first two conference games with Marrow back alongside the emerging Stanley. A 6-foot senior guard, Marrow is Stanley’s roommate and mentor, and Stanley learned a lot in the six games he carried the team with Marrow missing.
“It’s a lot tougher when the game is on your shoulders and you’re the reason we win or lose, and not just the complement to us winning or losing,” Joyner said. “He understands now what it’s like to be the leader and the target of the other team’s scouting report.”
“Yeah, it was different when I was about to do a move and the coach on the other team is yelling out what I’m going to do,” Stanley said. “Jermaine teaches me a lot. During the game and after, he coaches me up and shows me on film how defenses load up and the right things to do. It’s easier having a person like him helping me.”
Basketball courts have always provided Stanley with help, all the way back to the eighth grade and the court at the 33rd Street YMCA in Baltimore. AAU coaches took him under their wing and their efforts and lessons have always stayed with him — charmed him, if you will.
“I love Baltimore to death, I really do,” he said. “I’ve always had a passion to go back and help, maybe through politics or working in the government.”
A political science major, Stanley had at one time planned to go to law school and fast-track that help for his home. Now, basketball, the ticket that got him to Hampton, may hold up that plan. Stanley will certainly have options to play professionally, if not domestically then overseas. And that’s just a bigger platform for him to make more dreams come true in his life, and, he hopes someday in his hometown.
Photo Credit: Nelson Cheeseman