Ben Vander Plas knew the fact off of the top of his head.
The Virginia forward didn’t have to be reminded he could find his new coach’s name next to the NCAA’s all-time mark for 3-point percentage shooting. As a player at Green Bay, Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett shot 49.7% from deep — the best rate in Division I history for any player with at least 200 made 3s.
“He still holds the record,” Vander Plas, a sixth-year senior and Ohio University transfer in his first campaign with the Cavaliers, said with a grin earlier this month ahead of UVa’s season-opener.
It was then Vander Plas said one of the reasons why he was so eager to play for Bennett — a college teammate of Vander Plas’ father, Dean — was because he knew Bennett’s strong track record with veteran transfers and understood how Bennett could help him improve.
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The areas Vander Plas targeted were his jump-shooting and his defense.
“So being able to learn from [Bennett] and hear what he has to say about my jump shot,” Vander Plas, a first-team All-MAC choice last season, said, “has been really cool.”
Through four games — a small, small sample size — at UVa, those lessons from Bennett have yielded the 6-foot-8 236-pounder favorable results.
During the Cavaliers’ 86-79 win over Baylor on Friday, Vander Plas was 4-of-5 from the field and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc as part of his 14-point performance in support of Armaan Franklin’s game-high 26 points.
For the season, Vander Plas is shooting 52.9% from the field (9 of 17) and 46.2% from 3-point range (6 of 13) — two numbers up from the career 45.1% rate from the field and 32.2% rate from 3 he entered this season with.
To this point, he’s provided scoring and steadiness off the bench for UVa. Vander Plas sank eight critical free throws, going 8 of 9 from the line in the second half, to help the Hoos hold off Illinois on Sunday.
Vander Plas said he was quick to absorb all he could from Bennett about the Cavaliers’ defense, too, and that he felt like he took advantage of UVa’s strength and conditioning program this past summer to be better prepared on both ends of the floor to play against competition like he faced on Friday against the Bears, on Sunday against the Illini and will face in the ACC this winter.
“Especially with my role last year at Ohio,” Vander Plas said. “I was guarding the 5s, and I was playing more of the 5, so I had a little more extra weight last year, and so coming in here, right away I had to trim some of that off to get more mobile and a little bit lighter.”
Perhaps the increased quickness along with his experience has enabled him to get off to the fast start with his new team. He is averaging 9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.
“Good flashes,” fellow forward Jayden Gardner said after Sunday’s win over Illinois about Vander Plas, “and then defensively, it just takes time, being in the gap, closing out the shooters. It’s a transition but once you get used to it, you’ll come on.”