CHAMPAIGN — First of all, a lesson in pronunciation. Benjamin is pretty straightforward. But it’s “BOHS-mens Ver-DAHNK.” A flat, American accent isn’t going to cut it. Phonetics matter.
“Ya’ll might have to work on the pronunciation,” Illinois freshman forward Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk joked during his first interview in Champaign last Friday during the Illini’s media day. “I’ve heard a little variation here and there. Ya’ll can call me ‘Boss Man.’ It doesn’t really matter to me.”
Secondly, find this man a good waffle.
“It really is the Belgian waffles,” the Lommel, Belgium, native quipped about the biggest change he’s faced since moving to the United States. “I’ve been having a couple here, and they’re just not the same. I’m waiting to find that perfect spot that’s got the right waffles to make me feel like home. That’s a big change. Also chocolate. Belgium’s got the best chocolate.”
So Bosmans-Verdonk’s first foray to the U.S. has meant some culinary compromise. It’s also required patience. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward arrived in Champaign in early July, jumped into workouts with his new Illini teammates and promptly suffered a leg injury that’s kept him sidelined since.
“Benjamin is on a recovery plan,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He’s cleared, but on a recovery plan. We’re just not throwing him out there 100 percent. That’s exciting because that day is coming near, closer.”
Underwood’s mantra throughout the summer and into early fall was not rushing Bosmans-Verdonk’s recovery. Mostly meaningless games in Italy weren’t reason enough to push it. Even the start of practice earlier this month didn’t move the needle. The way Underwood feels Bosmans-Verdonk can help this year’s team, it just wasn’t worth the risk.
“Physically, he’s very ready to play,” Underwood said. “He’s got a physicality about him I really like. He’s proven to be a very good rebounder, and he’s an extremely high IQ guy. His passing was one of the first things that was very obvious. He knows what he’s doing when he’s got the ball in his hands.”
So patience became the watch word of the summer when it came to Bosmans-Verdonk. Even as hard as that was for one of the newest additions to the Illinois program.
“There’s really nothing like being on the court,” Bosmans-Verdonk said. “I love this game. It’s something I want to do for the rest of my life, so it’s definitely tough being out. That just gives me more reason to stay with it, work hard for as long as I can with the things I’m allowed to do.
“When I get back to playing, I’ll be ready and I’ll make the most out of it. There’s really nothing I’d rather do than be on the court, give my all and do my thing.”
The upside of a summer off the court was it didn’t keep Bosmans-Verdonk from improving everything but his game. He got to spend extra time with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher, and the payoff has Bosmans-Verdonk in elite physical shape after his time in the weight room.
“I live there,” he said. “I’ve been in here so much even though I wasn’t really able to play. I’m in great shape, and I feel like I’m ready to play. They’re still holding me out for now just to be sure that everything’s 100 percent OK.”
Held off the court, Bosmans-Verdonk has been an avid observer during Illinois’ practices. Mental reps are the only kind he’s been allowed to take, and he’s focused on learning as much from that as possible.
As much as Underwood feels like he can get from his freshman forward, Bosmans-Verdonk has high expectations for himself.
“You’ve got to expect a lot from yourself to be able to do great things,” he said. “I’ll give it my all to contribute to the team the way they need me. Do my job and even more. You feel me?
“I definitely plan to have a big impact and be a valued part of the team. We’ve got great talent — we’ve got a great roster — and it’s my task right now, my job, to fit in great with the system and make it all work.”