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Thursday, June 11, 2020

Highlands Alum Adjusts to New Position at Kentucky Wesleyan

Sisson Helps Panthers Play Best Basketball at End of Season

Photo Courtesy Kentucky Wesleyan Sports Information. Ben Sisson sets up to receive a pass in a game this past season. The 2019 Highlands alum helped the Panthers drive to the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Tournament championship game this past season.
Standing at 6-feet-5-inches and 215 pounds, Ben Sisson did not face too many players taller during his time playing for the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team.

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But the 2019 Highlands graduate knew that would change at the next level playing for the Kentucky Wesleyan College Panthers located in Owensboro. Kentucky Wesleyan is an NCAA Division II team in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.

Sisson moved to power forward but still played some center. Sisson averaged 3.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in his first season making. But Sisson did make 10 starts for Kentucky Wesleyan and scored 10 or more points three times.

Sisson's best game came Feb. 13 at Ohio Valley University (Vienna, West Virginia) in an 83-56 Panther victory. Sisson made six field goals and all three free-throw attempts to score 15 points and grab seven rebounds to go with two steals.

Kentucky Wesleyan finished the season 13-16 overall including a 9-9 mark in GMAC play entering the conference tournament as the eighth seed. But the Panthers knocked off top-seeded and regular season champion Hillsdale College (Michigan) in the first round, 80-72 then beat fifth-seeded Malone University (Canton, Ohio), 81-79 in overtime in the semifinals before losing 69-48 to third-seeded Walsh University (North Canton, Ohio) in the tournament championship game.

"We just kept working hard throughout the year," Sisson said. "We just peaked at the right time. Certain players improved throughout the year. By the time we hit the end of the season, we ramped up and made a nice little tournament run. That kind of shows the direction we're headed. Hopefully, we can carry that momentum into next season."

Kentucky Wesleyan completed its second season with Drew Cooper as head coach. The Panthers improved from a 10-16 mark including an 8-12 mark in conference play in the 2018-19 season under the former Thomas More College head coach. The Panthers did not make the conference tournament that year.

"Ben has the potential to evolve into a great leader for us," Cooper said. "At times during the season, he faced some uncertainty surrounding his place in our lineup and while we were going through that, he showed up every day, worked, improved and had a tremendous attitude. Surely enough by the end of the season, he was an important piece in our rotation playing his best basketball and we as a team were playing our best basketball. His athleticism and toughness made him very valuable to us. We're excited to have him for three more years and think the sky is the limit for him as he develops."

Sisson had to make the usual adjustments to the speed at the NCAA Division II level. Kentucky Wesleyan plays mostly man-to-man defense and a four-out-one-in type offense.

"You have to play locked in 100 percent at all times, especially defensively," Sisson said. "If you fall asleep for a second, you're guy can back-door cut. Anything can happen. In high school, there's not as much motion. I think moving forward, it should be a lot better."

Kentucky Wesleyan opened the season with a 90-51 loss at third-ranked Bellarmine University in Louisville. Sisson guarded former Newport Central Catholic standout Ben Weyer some in the loss.

"Ben got really hot from three (on his way to 19 points on five triples)," Sisson said. "He's a really good player. They came out, blitzed us and never looked back."

In the off-season, Sisson wants to become stronger and quicker in addition to improving his jump shot, three-point shooting and ball-handling. He admits his bread-and-butter is still his post moves so he wants to improve those as well. Sisson did not attempt any three-point shots last year.

Kentucky Wesleyan graduated two players from Northern Kentucky. They are St. Henry alum Adam Goetz and former Covington Holy Cross player Tyler Bezold.

"We just need to keep guys together," Sisson said. "As each group of guys stay together for two, three, four years, we learn to play with each other. We learn the system really well. That's when we're going to start getting good."

Sisson credited Highlands High School for giving him the foundation to succeed academically at Kentucky Wesleyan. Sisson is majoring in History.

Sisson had to adjust to online classes once students had to go home as a result of Coronavirus 2019. But Sisson said that was not an issue.

"My teachers were pretty cooperative communicating through email and things like that," Sisson said. "They would just give us assignments to do. You had to get them done as soon as possible."

The Panthers own eight Division II national championships with the most recent one coming in 2001. That is still a record for Division II.

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