EXETER, NH – At this time last year Ben Eckstrom was halfway through his junior campaign at Olean High School where he would help the Huskies’ basketball team to a perfect 27-0 season and a state title while leading the team in scoring.
Eckstrom continued to rack up accolades throughout the season and was named Big 30 Co-Player of the Year and gained attention from some of the top prep schools in the nation, including Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire which he committed to after his season in Olean.
Phillips Exeter has long been known for its academics, but has emerged as a basketball powerhouse in the northeast and was recently ranked the number one high school basketball team in New Hampshire in the USA Today High School Sports’ Super 25 Computer ranking.
The junior guard told the Olean Times Herald earlier this year that Phillips Exeter was “the right fit for me because if I’m going to play Division 1 basketball, it is going to be in the Patriot or Ivy League, and I think Exeter will prepare me most for that both academically and with basketball.”
Eckstrom’s first six months as a student-athlete have been challenging.
“Going in I didn’t really know what to expect,” Eckstrom said in an interview with TAPinto Greater Olean. “Everyone told me it was hard but I kind of brushed it off and figured it was all hype but it has turned out to be the hardest thing I have ever done.”
Eckstrom, who reclassified to repeat his junior year and spend his next two seasons in New Hampshire competing for a New England Preparatory School Athletic Council championship, said he had to adjust most to the speed of the game.
“Before it was clear who was athletic, who could dribble, who could shoot, who could jump,” he explained. “Now everyone has athleticism and skills.”
Eckstrom compared the level of play to that of a college where the game is no longer about putting the ball in the hoop but more about making the right play when the ball is in one's hands and rotating perfectly on defense and all the little things he never was forced to think about before.
“Overall basketball IQ is something I have improved most,” said Eckstrom. “My ability to read defenses and shot selection has improved as well as my defense.” Eckstrom added that competition is more serious now that he is competing against other future Division 1 athletes every night.
Eckstrom said he was privileged to play for a coach at Olean High School like Jeff Anastasia, and was happy to see him break the all-time wins record with 545 wins, making him the winningest head coach in all of Western New York.
As for Eckstrom's new team, Phillip Exeter is 6-4 this year and looking to pick up momentum heading into last half of the season.
“We still have the same goals we did when we started the season and that’s to win the New England championship by getting better one game at a time,” said Eckstrom. Looking ahead at his own future, Eckstrom was clear that he will be choosing where to attend college “not just the right fit athletically but academically” as well.
(TAP's Jason Klaiber spoke with Eckstrom's former coach, who just set a record as the
winningest coach in Western New York. Click here to read the story.)