Approximately 190 kilometres east of Toronto, along Highway 401, is the small town of Belleville. Though not exactly known for its sporting heroes, it is the place where hockey legend Bobby Hull spent his formative years. But that was a long time ago. In 2005, there is a new buzz in Belleville’s sports world. This time it’s on the hardwood, not the ice. Basketball phenom Jamie Vanderbeken is the guy in the spotlight as one of Canada’s top young ballerz with no shortage of attention from the best NCAA Division One contenders. From the Big 10 to PAC-10, the line is forming to secure the college years of the big 18-year-old.
They’ll have to wait on him though. The 6-10, 235-pound centre has opted to put off higher education for one more year. Instead, he will continue to hold down the centre position for his high school, Quinte Secondary School (QSS). “I just wasn’t really ready to leave home yet,” Vanderbeken says about forgoing the jump to the U.S. “It’s a big decision having to find a school and leaving for pretty much four years. It’s a bit different from going up the road to the University of Ottawa or a place in Toronto.” He is being patient, and with his talent, he can afford to be. Estimating his fielded interest from more than 50 American schools; he says he is still waiting for the ideal situation.
“It takes a while to go through all the schools to see what they have to offer, where my role would be on the team.” But he doesn’t expect to be an impact or dominant player in his first season of college ball no matter where he ends up. “First-year college, I’m not looking for a starting role,” he says. “I’m not looking for 30 minutes a game, I just want to contribute.”
Vanderbeken doesn’t want his courtship to drag into his fall season and be a distraction at QSS. He says he’s looking to sign a letter of intent during the early-signing period in mid-November but will do so only if he’s comfortable. If he hasn’t identified the situation he desires by then his next chance to commit will be the April 12 to May 17 late-signing period.
In prepping himself for his last season before post-secondary ball, he continues the dedication and desire that put him where he currently is. “I just get in the gym and weight room as much as I can,” he says. “If you’re not on the court, you’re not going to improve so I try to get as much court time as possible.” His coach, Jim Fleming, can testify to the hard work that Vanderbeken has shown time and time again. “I’ve had to go work out (at the school) at six in the morning and Jamie has been in there regularly, and even when there are times I don’t feel like coming in, Jamie’s bugging me to come in,” Fleming confirms. “He always wants in the gym.”
The towering big man is working on more than his back-down moves. In fact, he is far from what you might expect of a player his size. A lot of his game resembles a smaller player with his soft hands and shooting touch. “For being a big guy, everyone thinks you should be in the post banging and all that, but I think what sets me out from the rest is the ability to shoot and dribble,” Vanderbeken explains about his playing style. “I like to think of myself as a fairly good shooter, I can step out and hit the three. I think that’s my best attribute right now being able to mix it up a little, go inside, go outside, a little bit of everything.”
Vanderbeken has the determination of a perfectionist. He is never satisfied with a performance he deems less than his level. You’d think a guy averaging 25 points, over 12 boards, 5 blocks and 5 assists over his last campaign would have little to worry about. However, he gets down on himself when not ballin’ his best and demands better. “Jamie’s tough on himself,” Fleming says. “Sometimes I have to call a timeout and bring him off and settle him down.”
Last season Quinte Secondary School finished with a solid 26-8 record but lost their two games at provincials. Fleming says he hopes the team can win the Bay of Quinte, though he admits it will be tough with Nicholson Catholic College in their league. Nicholson won provincials at the “AA” level last year and poses a threat. If QSS can get by them, they might achieve their coach’s goals of winning KASSAA (Kingston Area Secondary School Athletic Association), and having a good showing at the provincial championships.
The coach’s expectations for his star player are equally high. “I’m expecting him to step up as a leader,” Fleming says. “Stat-wise, I’m expecting him to average right around 30 points, at least 10 boards and probably 10 blocks, a triple-double.” In July, Vanderbeken participated among the 126 players at the Nike All-American camp in Indianapolis for the high school elite. In his opinion, the game down there is a lot more competitive, physical, faster and the athletes are better than those in Canada.
“I like to think of myself as a fairly good shooter, I can step out and hit the three. I think that’s my best attribute right now being able to mix it up a little, go inside, go outside, a little bit of everything.”
“It was hard sometimes, showing myself, because I didn’t touch the ball as much as I’d like,” he says. “I just have to keep doing what I do, pass the ball, rebound and run. All the schools recruiting me already know that I can score so it wasn’t absolutely necessary for me to score all the time down there, but just to show my all-around game and everything else I can do.
He was the top centre at the Nike All-Canada camp, which provided less intense competition, allowing him a better chance to assert himself and his skills to garner all the attention. “I felt I did pretty well,” he says. “I scored points, got rebounds, assists; I ran the floor, just played my game.” Though his skills rank well with Canada’s top prospects, and a couple of Canadian universities have contacted him, he says his “dream’s always been to play down south, so if I have the opportunity, why not take it?”
It’s the path taken by current NBA stars Jamaal Magloire and reigning MVP Steve Nash, and could prove to be the right way for the young man from Belleville. It may be a long time from now, but it’s never too early to think about it. “I think the sky’s the limit,” Fleming says. “There’s no doubt in my mind he can play at the (Division One) level. To take it to the next level (NBA) depends on how much Jamie wants it.”
“Of course that’s every aspiring basketball player’s goal to make the NBA,” Vanderbeken says. “How reasonable that is I don’t know. But if I go with the right program, and I have the right development, it could happen someday.”