"I just loved everything about West Virginia," Maciej Bender told BlueGoldNews.com after getting a few minutes from his busy schedule at Mountain Mission school. "The chance to play for a Hall of Fame coach in Bob Huggins, and getting to know all of the coaches was really important. On my visit there, it really did feel like a family. And the fans there are great too."
Bender, who has been in the U.S. for three seasons, took some time to get his footing after coming over from his native Poland, where basektball, as it is in many European countries, has a different style.
"It was hard for me at first," he admitted. "Here, the game is so much faster, and everyone is stronger. I had to work on that a lot. But we have open gym here every day, so there are a lot more chances to work on my game. I have improved my strength, and I think my shooting has improved a lot too."
College coaches clearly agreed, as Bender was on the radar of an increasing number of schools with each passing week. However, WVU, in the form of assistant coach Ron Everhart, was in on the talented 6-11 frontcourt prospect early, and that eventually paid off. Clearly, having that early contact helped Bender feel more at home at WVU, as did his location at Mountain Mission school Although not within the state's borders, its Appalachian location is similar in culture and feel to that of West Virginia, so it wasn't as if he was headed to a big city locale, or a place with an entirely different background.
"I feel much more comfortable here now," Bender said of his current status at Mountain Mission, and of his commitment to WVU. "Everyone has been very good to me here."
One tough thing for Bender is his scarcity of in-person family contact. He notes that he's able to see his family "a couple of times per year" and was able to connect with his father when playing with Poland's U18/19 team in the European Championships, but that it is tough to carve the time out of a busy basketball and academic schedule to do so. Christmas this year will offer another opportunity, and he plans a lengthier visit before enrolling at WVU.
"I do play to go home after graduating for about a month, and then I will enroll for the summer at West Virginia," he confirmed.