Jacob Tisdale: Hi Ben, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. A D1 basketball player’s schedule is surely a ton to handle, so it means a lot. How are you doing?
Ben Vander Plas: Things are going good… Good day of practice. Always good to get back to it after a day off and get back to work. But yeah, things are going good.
JT: We spoke briefly at media day about Charlottesville’s food scene. At the time, you seemed most excited by Chick-Fil-A and Chipotle — have you discovered any new favorites since then?
BVP: There's a couple spots. I'm a big breakfast guy. So recently, me and a couple of guys have been going to Tip Top a lot. That's been a spot for us. The Villa is pretty close to the apartment. I'm a big fan of that too. And then First Watch is always a good spot to go for breakfast. Those three have been pretty heavy in the rotation.
JT: I’m glad to hear you’re a bit more familiar with Charlottesville, and Charlottesville has certainly become more familiar with you. Have you noticed the steadily growing group of fans who arrive at JPJ with headbands and a mustache in homage to you? What is your message to them?
BVP: I've noticed a couple more people, you know, either wearing the t-shirts or bringing their own mustaches, headbands, jerseys, gear, everything like that. There's a group of people in the student section at the [previous] games I got to meet and talk to for a bit… The biggest thing I'm gonna say to everybody is just thank you. Just for embracing me. You know, bringing me in, I'm only here for a year and just to see everybody kind of treat me like family and support me. It's been really, really fun seeing the mustaches and the headbands, and the hair and everything from kids to adults with their mustaches. So a big thank you to everybody.
JT: In an era of NIL deals, one could argue that there’s hardly a more distinctive name, image, and likeness in college basketball than yours. How have you been able to leverage the new system in your favor?
BVP: NIL I think is just a really cool opportunity for student-athletes. A lot of times before, you would just kind of play basketball, or football — you’re a student and all. But you’re also a whole person. The NIL stuff kind of allows you to show people who you really are and do that type of stuff. So it's been a lot of fun to get out in the community and meet some people and then obviously with the mustache, the hair and the headband to be able to do some merch and stuff like that. It's a lot of fun to learn about that stuff and also show people a different side of you outside of the student-athlete.
JT: Turning to basketball… Before the season started, you mentioned conditioning being a focal point for you this off-season. After a season where you’ve played big minutes at center against ACC opponents, what can you say about the job head strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis and the conditioning staff has done preparing you for the task?
BVP: Coming into the season, I actually was trying to lose a bunch of weight to get in shape to be able to guard more fours and threes. But how the season has been playing out, I’ve been playing with some fives. So in the weight room throughout the season, Coach Curtis is just focusing on keeping my strength high and just keeping me healthy to be able to fight around with the big guys. So it's a little bit of a different challenge than losing the weight and getting more light on the feet while still keeping that strength on so I can go with the big guys. It's interesting, it's a little bit of a challenge, but you know, [Curtis] is the best in the business so [he’s] a good guy to be working with.
JT: Despite Kihei Clark’s best efforts, you are the oldest member of the Cavaliers. Tony Bennett called you a “connector”. How do you offer leadership to a program you only joined this season?
BVP: I think a big piece of it is just the experience in college basketball, just kind of seeing the length of the season, the ups and downs and everything that goes into it… seeing things that work, things that don't. From the locker room perspective, it’s just how you interact with guys. Who can push guys in certain instances and just like how to keep spirits high and things like that. How to keep guys together. And then in the actual game, just being an experienced old guy, staying calm with whatever is thrown at you. Kihei does a nice job and I try to do the best I can. But yeah, a big piece of college basketball is the culture side of it. And obviously, the culture here is great. They know what they're about and as I'm getting acclimated to it I keep pushing guys that were already here and you know, like you said, being that connector and doing whatever I need to do to help the team win and to help guys get through stuff.
JT: With five seasons of college basketball under your belt, featuring a March Madness run in which you topped Virginia, plenty of recognition for academics as well as athletics and a passionate fanbase behind you now, what’s left on your checklist for your collegiate career?
[Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted before Vander Plas suffered a fracture which marked the end of his season and collegiate career, prior to the ACC Tournament.]
BVP: Winning. I mean that's, that's number one. Obviously, it’s my last season with however many games left. I think “Don't leave anything in the tank. Have fun every single day.” And I think that if myself and the team can kind of take that approach, we're gonna be able to do some special things and make some memories. I think we all have one big goal in mind, at the end of the season, I think it really comes down to every single day coming into the gym, enjoying what we're doing and just getting better. Like I said, just leaving everything out there, emptying the tank one after another. I think that's the biggest thing for me.
JT: Thanks Ben, best of luck to you.
BVP: Appreciate you having me.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and content.