Aussie Janssan a Nice Fit With Tigers
EXCHANGE STUDENT: Senior PG Ben Janssan Averaging Nearly 13 a Game for Centralia Boys Basketball Team
By Aaron VanTuyl
The Hub City’s resident Australian, Ben Janssan, certainly fits the bill.
Tough? Sure. Upon hearing that he may need stitches on a split chin suffered against Port Angeles, he scoffed and suggested a “big Band-Aid.”
Cool accent? Definitely. “The people are really interested in me,” he said, admitting with a laugh that the accent may help. “They love to talk to you and get to know you and stuff.”
Curious food habits? “He eats this thing called Vegemite,” said teammate, classmate and buddy Tyler Ashmore. “And it’s the nastiest thing I ever ate, but it’s like Nutella to him. They love it.”
It’s safe to say Janssan is a welcome addition in Centralia.
The 6-foot-3 point guard and foreign exchange student arrived in town in August, staying with Neil and Michelle Sharp. He’ll be around until July, finishing his senior year and graduating from Centralia High School.
This isn’t, however, his first trip to the United States or, for that matter, Centralia. He played on the Australian touring teams that went through Lewis County in 2014 and 2016, and scored 22 points for the Modbury squad that beat Centralia last December while hitting a whopping 20 of 40 from behind the 3-point arc.
Needless to say, his first stint at an open gym around the start of the school year drew a little attention.
“I saw Ben at open gym, and thought he was a pretty good body out there,” Tiger coach Kyle Donahue joked.
He’s been a big part of a team that returned just one starter — Ashmore — but has played everyone close this season.
“He’s a great point guard,” Ashmore said. “He can put up maybe 5 points and still be the most impactful player in the game, just because of how good a player he is and how smart he is on the court.”
He’s averaging close to 13 points a game and has provided quiet leadership on a team rife with players seeing consistent varsity action for the first time.
“We’d be a different team,” Donahue said, of playing without Janssan. “We have stuff that when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s able to create, and he makes everybody on the floor better when he’s trying to get them the ball and pass the ball.”
He’s also been been a hit coaching and refereeing games in Centralia’s Saturday Basketball program, Donahue said.
“He’s a really good kid,” the coach said. “He’s a nice kid to be around.”
Ashmore, the Tigers’ high-scoring senior forward, and Janssan became quick pals based on their mutual interests: basketball and music.
“Of course, the first time I see him, you don’t want to become friends with him too soon — you want to see what he had,” Ashmore said, of the pair’s initial open gym run. “But then we became immediate best friends.”
Janssan hails from Adelaide, the state capital of South Australia, which boasts a population of around 1.3 million. There hasn’t been any major culture shocks, he said, and he’s enjoyed traveling around the west coast with the Sharp family.
“I’ve travelled a little bit, but it’s really nice here,” he said. “I like the people. Everyone’s really nice, and welcoming, and caring. My experience in the States has been really good so far.”
His goal, though, is to stick around and keep playing ball next year.
“He’s a great kid. He’s an incredibly hard worker, he loves the game of basketball — I know he has ambitions to want to play beyond this level,” Donahue said. “I think he’s in here at 6:30 (every morning) putting up shots, working every morning and trying to get better.”
The ideal fit, he said, would be somewhere relatively close to the Hub City, so he could keep up the relationships with friends he’s made here.
Before that, though, he’ll finish out the season with the Tigers. He’s picked up on the basketball culture in Centralia, and the importance of the Battle of the Swamp rivalry games with W.F. West.
The teams play in Chehalis on Jan. 12 and in Centralia on Feb. 2.
“The Chehalis games should be fun,” Janssan said. “I know Jordan Thomas transferred over to our rival school, so that’s going to be a fun and exciting game.”
Thomas, like Janssan, is a big, athletic point guard; Janssan, coincidentally, wound up with the No. 24 jersey Thomas wore last season.
“We’ll see what we can do. The aim is to try and beat them, but they’re very lengthy, and very athletic by the looks of it,” he said. “So it should be a very fun game. I’m looking forward to it.”