"Maciej isn't comfortable in the spotlight, and I've told him he'll have to get used to that," Mountain Mission assistant Justin Dempsey said of the 6-11 center. "He's a great kid, respectful and works hard. The best thing I can say about him is that I hope sons of mine would be like him."
His reticence shows up in interviews, where Bender is clearly still getting used to being the focal point of attention. That's out of the ordinary for stars at prep schools, who often have analysts and coaches pursuing them from stop to stop, but it's the primary component of his makeup. He has put all of his effort into getting used to living in the U.S. and developing his basketball game, and hasn't yet been exposed to the crushe of exposure that is likely to come. It's refreshing, however, to see a player who doesn't have an ounce of self-promotion in him, and who wants to make sure that people understand his reticence isn't an attitude that he's putting on for those speaking with him.
Fortunately, he doesn't have to do any talking about his game -- his skills are evident. While he's not a highlight guy -- there aren't going to be a lot of flashy dunks or behind the back passes, nor roars of celebration after a good play -- his across-the-board talent stands out. He is an offensive threat from anywhere on the court, and Mountain Mission uses him from the high post to the blocks to the corner and the wings, running him through jsut about every offensive spot. He screens well, runs the pick and pop effectively, and is a deft passer who doesn't look to score first. His release on the limited shots he does take is smooth, and he runs the floor well.
Defensively, the Crusaders use him at the top of a 1-3-1 zone that smothered their opponent, First Love Christian, and produced a 37-9 halftime lead. There, Bender's wingspan was an obvious asset, but he also did well in getting down from that location to help on the boards. Playing in front of West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, Bender showed the overall floor game that make him an excellent stretch four prospect for the Mountaineers.
"There wasn't any pressure playing in front of Coach Huggins," Bender said after a typically efficent game in which he totaled 10 points, six rebounds, a blocked shot, a steal and an assist."I've been working on my strength -- back home I was weak -- and on my physical game. West Virginia has a [strength] program for me, and it's hard."
Part of that was on display early, when he posted up and hit a smooth jump hook to get Mountain Mission off and running. Later highlights included taking the ball against a press and dribbling 3/4 of the length of the court before dishing to an open teammate, a long jumper off a pick and pop and a blocked shot where his reach surprised a First Love opponent who thought he had a clear look at the basket. Overall, though, it was the sum total of his game -- the way he moves, runs through offense and that silky release on shots -- that should have close observers excited about his potential.
"He doesn't get big numbers becasue he doesn't play a lot, maybe two, two and a half quarters," Dempsey said. "We have ten guys here, and they all need to play. But he's very productive when he's on the court."