A Basketball Journey: Retracing the steps of Ben Lawson’s trip over the pond

WKU forward Ben Lawson (14) and University of Texas at El Paso center Kelvin Jones (54) fight for rebounding position during the Hilltoppers 65-62 win over UTEP Thursday Jan. 26, in E.A. Diddle Arena.

Matthew Stewart

Many college students attend an institution in their home state. There are some that will go out of state to obtain a higher education. Some students will even leave their country to go to college.

In the world of college athletics, there is an increasing number of foreign athletes in the United States.

WKU has been home to one of these athletes for the past four years in former basketball player Ben Lawson.

Hailing from Hitchin, England, Lawson’s athletic career began at an early age.

“[My parents] definitely pushed me to be in sports,” Lawson said. “I did everything from gymnastics, to tennis, to soccer and rugby, and rugby soon emerged to be my favorite sport. It even took over some of the other ones eventually,  and that became my prime focus for a long time.”

Lawson, who stands at 7 feet 1 inch now, was tall even at a young age which provided advantages in the game of rugby.

“When I was really young, I was really good because I was bigger than everybody. I’d like to say, when I was around 14, I think I had a good feel for the game,” he said.

By the time he was 16, Lawson had stood at 6 feet 6 inches.

“The positions I played in rugby, the average height was around 6-foot, 6-1 and I got to about 6-6 and [the coaches] were like, ‘this is about the time where you’re going to have to move to the big uglies, the nasty packs where they turn your ears inside out,’” Lawson said. “I kind of decided that I didn’t want to do that. I had been playing basketball with my friends a little bit, and they pushed me to play, so I went with it.”

In England, the decision to go with the sport of basketball made perfect sense for Lawson.

“The last two years of high school you can go to specialized schools, and there was a sports one, and initially I was looking at it for rugby, but I got to the point where I was like ‘let’s just give  the basketball a go,’” said Lawson.

“The coach there was really helpful. I had never really understood if I had the opportunity to come to America. I never really acknowledged that was even a possibility. At the start I was rough. I couldn’t even shoot the basketball because in England you just don’t know how. It was rough; he had to teach me the form of my shot and everything, so I was lucky that I had played all my other sports because I got all the footwork from tennis or soccer. It probably gave me a lot of dexterity to my game.”

After attending school at Oaklands College and working on his game, Lawson was given the opportunity to try out for the Great Britain national basketball team.

“Toward the end of my first year, I had the tryouts, and it was a rough one. Everyone there had been playing for a couple of years, but they saw my potential. They saw the size. They saw I could shoot the ball by that point a little bit. They were actually in need of a four man that was a stretch four. I was really lucky that that’s what they were looking for, and they thought I fit the position,” Lawson said.

By the age of 18, Lawson was 6 feet 11 inches and was not done growing. His size and potential to excel in the game of basketball opened new doors for him as an athlete with the opportunity grow as a player and possibly have the game take him to new levels.

“That first time when they accepted me into the national team,  it gave me that confidence that I could actually do something with this. In the long run, I think that’s probably what made me make my decision because I could see other people on the team that were looking at going. I kept thinking that if I keep working as hard as I am, why can’t I be one of those guys?” Lawson said.

Lawson played for Great Britain’s national team three times in the FIBA European Championship, playing in the 2013 under-18 tournament and the 2014 and 2015 under-20 championships.

“There was a lot of schools in Canada, and that was the initial look because nobody knew about Ben Lawson from Hitchin,” Lawson said. “And then I got with a recruiting agency, and they found me a lot of schools like the College of Charleston and Pepperdine. Then it just started becoming a real clash because I was trying to do the national team because I’m very patriotic, and I want to be a part of that.”

During his recruitment, Lawson had a national team tournament that ended on a Friday, leaving him only two days to visit schools.

“This was my only visit,” he said of WKU. “It could have been very different if I had more time and visited other places,  but me and my mom just fell in love with this place as soon as we saw it.”

Once Lawson made his 4,000-mile journey from England to Bowling Green, he fell in love with WKU immediately.

“I stepped on campus, and it was absolutely beautiful,” Lawson said. “We met the people of Bowling Green, and they were just tremendous. Everyone was so welcoming.”

WKU has been a good fit for Lawson. Lawson ended his career as a Hilltopper as the fourth leading shot blocker in school history with 185 blocks and joined WKU great Jeremy Evans as the only two Hilltoppers to have three seasons of at least 50 blocks. In his time on the Hill, he shot .575 percent from the field.

And while Lawson was able to have an impact on the court in his four years at WKU, the relationships are what he says he will cherish the most.

“I did meet my girlfriend here, so I can’t say that that’s a bad thing,” he said. “I have had the honor of having probably over 40 teammates,  so I have made so many friendships over the years that it’s invaluable.”

Lawson said he plans to continue his basketball career now that his time as a Hilltopper has come to an end. Only time will tell where the game of basketball will take the talented, humble young man Bowling Green has come to know as “Big Ben” Lawson.

“Hopefully it can be in the NBA,  but overseas is just going to be back over the pond there to my family, and that would be a nice little adjustment for me,” he said. “We are trying to get as many NBA workouts and maybe a summer league team in there, so I’m excited for it.”

Reporter Matthew Stewart can be reached at 859-797-3140 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MES_WKU22.