Whether it was on the court or in the locker room inside Charles Kates Gymnasium — or even around the Ashland University campus — the view of Ben Haraway is consistent.
“When I have a bad game or an off-shooting night, Ben is the first one there always looking out for me and picking me up,” said AU junior guard Roderick Caldwell. “When I first came here on my recruiting visit, Ben was here greeting me with open arms. He's a loving and caring person who is happy all the time and just wants to win.”
Haraway, a 2014 Norwalk graduate and one of the greatest players in area history, just finished up his collegiate career on Saturday as a standout for the NCAA Division II AU Eagles. He helped Ashland to just its second NCAA Tournament appearance in 28 years.
In just three seasons at AU — after transferring from Malone University in Canton — Haraway became on of the top scorers in program history for the Eagles, and one of the top players in the entire GLIAC this past season.
But similar to his days on the hardwood at Norwalk, Haraway was a player measured by much more than statistics and awards.
"Tough place to start with Ben and what he’s meant,” said AU assistant coach Brook Turson, a 2010 Plymouth graduate. “But he's the heart and soul of this team.”
Behind the numbers
With no hesitation, Ashland head coach John Ellenwood offered the same assessment as Turson previously had.
"Ben is the heart and soul of this team, especially this year,” said Ellenwood, who is 171-110 in 10 seasons at the school. “The last few years, we've had some great people go through, and now it's been Ben's turn. He's the most coachable, fun, energetic, competitive young man that I've coached. He does an outstanding job of being prepared and is very mature.”
Haraway said the ability to transition his talents from high school to college was about having the right attitude.
"It's really a grind,” he said. “When our opponents know how good of a team we have, we always get their best shot. And at the college level, it's just so physical and the season is so long ... it can start to wear you down. You have the right mentality and attitude for it.”
Ellenwood knew Haraway could shoot and score the basketball at both Norwalk and Malone. But after he spent a year transitioning to the Eagles program in 2015-16, the coach said Haraway grew exponentially elsewhere in his game.
"Ben became an elite defender,” Ellenwood said. “When he got here, he had all the tools to become an elite defender, and he really has been. And I think that's something he's taken a lot of pride in — locking other people down. I think when he was in high school, Ben could get away with his length and athleticism on some other kids.
“But when you get to college, you have to really lock people down,” he added. “When Ben got here, that was really emphasized. He became an absolute weapon on both ends of the floor. I think that's the biggest change in his game from then to now.”
Becoming a scorer
Haraway’s offensive game is often looked through a prism of him not really being a scorer.
Yet when looking back at his high school and college career — he’s done plenty of it.
"It's funny because starting off in high school, I really wasn't that much of a scorer,” Haraway said. “It wasn't until the second half of my junior year that I really started becoming a consistent scorer.
“n college I guess you could pretty much label me as a scorer — because I have different ways of creating my own shot,” he added. “But at the same time I try to be unselfish out there and always make the right play.”
In 30 starts this season, Haraway averaged 12.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He also had just 33 turnovers in the 30 games as a primary ball handler — and led the team in minutes played (1,031).
Those numbers aren’t eye-popping, aside from the assist-to-turnover ratio. But it also didn’t stop the GLIAC coaches from voting him as a first-team selection this past season.
“Sometimes I think he gets undervalued, just because of the talent we have here,” Caldwell said of Haraway. “He’s one of the best guards I’ve ever played with, because he can finish, shoot, dribble and do it all.
“Ben is a good shooter and driver, and can really do everything on the court,” he added. “I think he gets undervalued — but he's been great for us."
Haraway’s growth as a scorer was highlighted by a Jan. 26 game at Wayne State in Detroit this season — Ellenwood’s fondest memory of him.
Tied at 61 with 11 seconds left, the Eagles called timeout to set up the final play.
“We're in the timeout, and you could just see him on the edge of his seat and he's like, 'Give me the ball,’” Ellenwood said. “He just wants that big moment. That's what makes him successful. Some people are nervous in that big moment, and Ben thrives on it.”
As time was winding down, Haraway took a tough, step-back jumper that he drained from 18 feet with 1.3 seconds left to give his team a 63-61 road win.
“He wanted the ball there. I think a lot of people shy away from that, and that's just not in his blood,” Ellenwood said of Haraway. “That is the thing I will always cherish about him … how big of a competitor he is, but yet how great of a teammate and how coachable of a player he is.
“You don't get guys like that very often, and it's been a special time coaching him the last four years,” he added.
As the point guard of seven teams at Norwalk and Ashland, Haraway’s teams never finished worse than nine games above .500.
As the floor general for the Truckers, Norwalk went 91-9 in 100 games over four seasons from 2011-14. Six of those losses were in his freshman season. That stretch also included 57 consecutive regular season victories — the ninth-longest streak in Ohio history.
During that time, Norwalk won four Northern Ohio League titles, two district titles, and the regional and state championships (Div. II) in 2014.
He scored 1,184 points at Norwalk (fourth all-time) and had 507 assists (first). He scored 256 points in 16 tournament games (first), while his 551 points in 2013-14 is second at Norwalk.
After scoring 49 points in two games, including a Div. II state championship record 15 free throws in the state title game win vs. Columbus Watterson, Haraway was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2014 state tournament.
In his lone season at Malone University, Haraway averaged 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists to earn GLIAC Freshman of the Year honors.
At Ashland, Haraway was second team GLIAC last season and first team this season. During his three years at the school, he helped the Eagles to a 62-27 record (.696) and just the second NCAA tournament appearance since 1991.
Ashland’s 23 wins this season are tied for the sixth-best in program history.
"I knew it was a good program that expected to win every year,” Haraway said of Ashland. “I just loved that about it, and I could see when I first got here it was a winning culture. I think we had the potential to win every game we played.”
In three seasons, Haraway finished with 1,060 points — tied for 26th all-time in AU history. He scored 1,379 career points in college.
Soon, he will graduate with his Bachelor’s degree in accounting as well as his Master’s in Business Administration. In June, a job awaits him at the accounting firm KPMG International — located in the shadows of Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
“Ben has been such a great representative of what our area has to offer from a basketball standpoint — but probably more importantly from a personality standpoint,” Turson said. “He's an unbelievable guy, and I really think that's the right word.
“He’s had an unbelievable impact at Norwalk and Ashland,” he added. “Ben has been led down the right road, not only by our coaching staff, but also his family, Coach (Steve) Gray and the people who impacted him at Norwalk."