After a successful career at Augusta State University, Ben Madgen joined the reborn Sydney Kings in the NBL, going on to earn Rookie of the Year honours in unconventional circumstances. The shooting star was good enough to fill us in on the ups and downs of his first season in the league and on what to expect in season 2011/12.
How is the body treating you now?
It’s 100% now which is good.
Tell us a bit about your transition last season from end of bench to go-to scorer in the starting lineup?
It was definitely a challenge at the start, coming from college it’s a different style of game. But then I got over here and the teammates were great, so it was easy to work hard. There were 11 guys, but I didn’t see myself as the 11th man – I just thought if I can work my way into the 10, into the rotation, and I felt like if I could get some court time and show the coaching staff what I could do, then hopefully it would look up for me. And that’s what happened.
Was there a particular turning point where you could see things shifting for you?
Yeah, well we had 11 players obviously and after the third or fourth game, I sat, Benny Knight played so after that we had two weeks before our next game. We had a lot of practice. So in that two weeks I said to myself, I’m going to work hard and make the side and make sure that I never have to sit again. After that two weeks I worked harder than I’ve ever worked before and got in and in that first game back I played alright, against Wollongong and I kind of got steady minutes ever since then.
The game on 5 December against New Zealand where you scored 19 points (7/10 shooting) was a big one.
Yeah, that was the game where I kinda got the opportunity to put some points of the board and got an opportunity to show what I could do.
People in my area of the stadium saying “give Madgen a go!”
That support was great. Everyone was coming up to me after games and being positive with me and that really helped.
By the end of the season how did you see yourself in terms of your role on the team?
I felt like I could do my bit, but it was really whatever we had to do for the team to help us win. Julian was really our main focus, and we’d all just try and get it into Jules. And if they’d double down or collapse on Jules (Khazzouh), I’d just try and hit my open shots from the outside. And try and create a bit. I definitely became a lot more aggressive in the second half of the season, because it’s easier when you’re getting more minutes to be a bit more aggressive. You’re not so worried about missing shots, you can just play your own game. So I think I’m not so much a go-to scorer, but just trying to play my role and help the team.
During that losing streak last season, what was the mood like in the team?
Obviously no one likes to lose! The team stuck together really well though. The coaching staff was really positive. We knew it was our first season back. We’d only been together for a couple of months. This season at least five of us have played together before so it’s a lot different. So we always knew it was going to be hard – not that hard, 14 games… But there were games were we weren’t being blown out, so that’s the positive. We were up in a lot of games in the fourth. So, even though we were losing, it didn’t feel like we were that far behind. So we knew it was going to turn. And then we ended up winning 7 out of 10 at the end of the season. It slowly started to turn. We started to win some games that in the past we’d lost in the first half. We lost five or six games by under five points or so, so it could’ve been a lot different. So we stuck together really well and knew it was going to turn around for us. We knew it was coming soon!
Last season was there a player that you found to be particularly influential or that you learnt from?
Definitely. When I first got here, Lukey Martin, we shot around a lot every day. Julian definitely. Mark Dickel helped me out a lot. Before practice he would work me out a lot. Because I like to get in before practice early and he was definitely like a coach, helping to coach me and helping with my ballhandling and things that I need to work on. So he was a huge influence on me.
You recently re-upped for two years. What was the thought process there? Did you consider going back to Adelaide? Was your friendship with Jules a factor?
I’ve made some great friends on the team and the Kings gave me my first shot at the NBL when I kinda got overlooked after college. I thought I had a pretty good college career and didn’t think it was really going to be that hard. It turned out to be pretty hard. It’s a hard league to break into – not too many spots. And because we’re building for the future, I wanted to be loyal. We’ve got some great players that came back like Jules and Lukey and we’ve got some great players coming in. I feel like in the future I’ll be able to say that I was part of something where we finished last and now we’ve finished top. So, that’s the plan.
Getting invited to the Boomers squad – how was that for you? What are your ambitions in that direction?
It was a fantastic opportunity for me. My preparation going in was not what I wanted it to be. I had an elbow injury and then pneumonia. So I pretty much had just two weeks to get right. I passed the fitness test but still didn’t feel like I was 100%, but it was a great experience. I learnt a lot from Brett Brown especially. He’s a great coach and really knowledgeable. And just playing against the great players in Australia, it really made me think about the things I need to work on to be able to play at that next level. For the future, hopefully I’ll have a good season with the Kings and make some plans after the season and see what happens. But just to be invited and recognised was a huge thing for me.
Were there any guys in particular that surprised you at Boomers camp that you didn’t know certain things about?
Yeah, there were a few guys from Europe like Dave Barlow and guys like that. They were great guys and very professional. I definitely remember Barlow being a great guy and very professional. He eats right – everything he eats. He definitely looks after himself and that’s probably why he’s playing Division 1 in Spain. I just took a few things from those guys. Everyone there was great. There was a guy there from the AIS who was about 16. There are some great players in Australia.
On that note, who has been your toughest opponent in Australia?
That’s tough. Obviously playing the 2-guard there’s Kirk Penney, he was very good. James Harvey was good when we played them. There are a lot of great players. I love playing the 2-guard because you get to play against a lot of great scorers, and everyone has their own little ways of coming off screens etc. So against everyone you’re learning. Being my first year in the league, pretty much anyone I played against was very good. Every night was a challenge!
Are there any particular aspects of your game that you’ve worked on in the off-season?
Yeah, ballhandling was a big one for me. In this league I’ve mainly played off the ball. I played point guard a little bit in juniors. I got away with it a lot more in college but we had some very good point guards and it was a very much a slow-down pace. But in this league with the 24 second shot clock and all it’s good for everyone to really be confident with the ball. I could always dribble the ball a bit, but I wanted really to be supremely confident when I dribble the ball. So I worked on that a lot. And just kept working on my shot and finsihng around the basket. Getting stronger – I worked a lot on my core, with a personal trainer. To get better at finishing when I get to the basket. Body and ballhandling.
You’re known as a shooter. Is there a part of your game that you think is underrated? I see you working very hard on defence.
Defence is another thing I’ve really tried to work very hard on. Last year I noticed, that it’s a very wide open game here and you can get exposed a lot more if you’re not on top of your defence. You cant really lapse. I just try to get better at that each day.
You’ve won a lot of awards in your time, both in college and as NBL Rookie of the Year – which has been the most important for you?
Oh… that’s tough. I’ve had some nice ones. The ones in college were great and here, I mean, I just value all of them. It’s just a great honour to be recognised. You can’t really pick one out. Each year in playing basketball has just been special in different ways, so you can’t really single one out.
Did you have an inkling before the season that you could win Rookie of the Year?
Na. That was a big honour and a surprise. My main goal was to break into the rotation and help the team win. I’m not really big on individual achievements, I’m much more about the team succeeding, so I’d much rather the team win and I only score five points or something. It was a good honour and it helped people to recognise me with the Boomers and stuff like that, so it’s definitely a positive. But there were a lot of guys playing really well, like Coops was playing great until he went down, so he definitely could’ve won it. And there are a lot of other great rookies in the league. So it was definitely a great honour.
Any personal goals going into this season?
More team goals, than personal. But just to win. We’ve got to win. I know Sydney has a lot of pride in being a winning franchise, so we’ve got to make the finals. In terms of personal goals, just to keep helping everyone get better on and off the court and just to work hard.
What do you know about the two imports, Kevin Ratzsch and Jerai Grant so far?
I’ve seen Kevin only one day yesterday and what I’ve heard of him and what he’s shown – he works really hard, which is great. That’s what we need. He’s the type of guy who does whatever we need to win. The coaching staff have been great in signing him and Jerai as well. I’ve only seen a few highlights of him, but he looks great – very athletic and he looks like he’s going to be a real crowd favourite. Hopefully, I’m sure he’ll give us a few plays that are going to fire up the team and help us win a lot of games this year.
What about Anatoly Bose? You’ve played with him on the Boomers this off-season.
He’s a great player. He had a great college career too. Top 10 in the nation in scoring. I played with him a bit in 2009 in Serbia at the World University Games too, so we’ve known each other for a few years. We’re good friends. I’ve been matching up against him in training since he got here and we’ve been having some good battles. He’s going to have a good season. I’ve got tabs on him for Rookie of the Year, he should make some noise this year.
You’re a big Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas Mavericks fan.
Yeah! I shed a few tears when the Mavs won…
Finally, what are the five CDs you’d take with you onto a desert island?
Muse – any Muse album
Something by the Beatles
… I’ll have to get back to you!
It was game time, as the Kings were about to take on Drake University and Madge was pulled away by the coaching staff to the locker room. We will find out those other CDs on his wishlist some other time. Many thanks to Ben for cutting into his warmup schedule for this interview.