SALEM — Ben DeSaulnier has grown in his four years at Southern Oregon.
The Philomath High grad has altered his game to become a more well-rounded basketball player while continuing to play to his strengths.
The Raiders’ top scorer the past three seasons, DeSaulnier is closing in on second place on the school’s all-time points list as Southern gets ready to head down the back half of its conference schedule.
The 6-foot-3 guard and two-time all-Cascade Collegiate Conference selection said climbing the scoring list is special to him.
“I’m probably most proud of that accomplishment, only because there have been some really big names that have gone through Southern Oregon, super-talented guys,” said DeSaulnier, who led Philomath to an OSAA 4A basketball state title his senior year in 2014.
“It’s just, for me, more of a testament to all the years of hard work and shooting and staying after practice and that kind of thing. It does mean a lot to me. It would mean a lot more if we make it to the national tournament.”
The 23rd-ranked Raiders (11-7, 6-3 CCC) have some work to do if they want to get to the NAIA Division II tournament for the third time in the last four years and the ninth time in school history.
SOU, in Ashland, broke a two-game losing streak last Saturday with an 86-83 win at Corban in Salem.
DeSaulnier buckled his knees as he willed in a free throw in the closing minutes as the Raiders tried to hold onto what was left of a 17-point lead midway through the second half. The second foul shot was a no-doubter.
Free-throw shooting has been one of DeSaulnier’s many strengths as a college player.
In three-plus years, he’s shot 52 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-pointers and 79.7 percent at the foul line.
He had a field goal percentage of better than 50 percent each of his first three years. His percentage for this season slipped under 50 last weekend as he shot a combined 12 of 27.
“He’s really a good shooter,” said Brian McDermott, Southern’s head coach for the past 22 seasons. “He doesn’t have a classic form. But he does it the same way every time. And he’s so damn strong, he’s got big ol’ hands. It comes out of his hands so nice and easy. He’s as good a shooter as I’ve been around.”
DeSaulnier simply credits his shooting success to his teammates getting him in good positions to score and taking high-percentage shots.
“I like to be efficient as a player, and I think being efficient ultimately helps my team and getting into a position where we can win a game.”
The Raiders have done a lot of winning with DeSaulnier on their roster. They’re 79-39 (.669) overall and 45-22 (.672) in conference in those four years as DeSaulnier has started 94 straight games, including the final 12 of his freshman season.
Sharing those moments with DeSaulnier has been Kenny Meyer, the team’s only other senior and a close friend.
The two roomed together as freshmen and have lived together ever since, helping each other through the highs and lows of life as a college athlete.
“Being with him for this journey … he’s earned everything,” Meyer said. “He’s had fun doing it and he’s been a great teammate the whole time.”
The two have shared the team’s leadership duties along with junior Tristen Holmes.
DeSaulnier, who leads more by example, leaves the vocal leadership to the other veterans. He took on a mentor’s role when he became one of the team’s top players as a sophomore and has seen that role expand the past two seasons.
His on-court play has changed as well.
He’s much more than the one-dimensional outside shooter he considered himself when he entered the program. He believes he’s better in the post and knows how to get to the free-throw line.
DeSaulnier is often charged with defending the opposition’s best player.
He’s accomplished it all without playing a true home game the past three seasons.
A large-scale renovation of Southern’s athletic facilities has resulted in the school’s gym sports hosting contests at nearby Ashland High School. The project, initially scheduled to be done in 2016, is expected to be finished later this year, after basketball season.
McDermott says it’s a credit to DeSaulnier and Meyer that they haven’t complained once about the situation.
Both players had to learn a complicated offensive system under McDermott, who says DeSaulnier figured out the system and where his shots would come from on the floor relatively quickly.
High-level consistency followed, and DeSaulnier is now 120 points short of second in school history. He needs to average just under nine points in 12 remaining regular-season games.
DeSaulnier played his freshman year with Eric Thompson, the Raiders’ all-time leading scorer. Shea Thompson (2003-06) sits in second.
“It says it didn’t take him very long to figure it out,” McDermott said of his latest star’s climb. “You’ve got to be consistent to get up to the top levels of any lists, and we’ve had some great scorers. For him to be up in the top three is something else.”
DeSaulnier hopes to continue his basketball career overseas as a professional when he finishes at Southern.
He’ll lean on former Southern player David Sturner, also a Philomath alum, and former Raiders teammate Joel Spear, who took that route, in making some decisions.
When basketball is done, DeSaulnier hopes to become a firefighter and paramedic, taking additional training at one of several community colleges in western Oregon to reach his goals.