Ben Teer experienced the cold, cruel side of college athletics last winter, and not just the minus-50 degree temperatures he endured while walking to classes at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Yet after learning from Nanooks men’s basketball coach Mick Durham that his scholarship would not be renewed by the NCAA Division II school for a second year during a conversation in the local airport as Teer awaited a plane flight back East to attend a friend’s funeral — the former Washington Academy of East Machias standout refused to accept such a sudden end to his career.
And with an effort as intense as any workout that led the 5-foot-9 guard from Jonesboro to a berth on the Bangor Daily News All-Maine team after leading WA to the 2010 Class C state title, Teer has earned a second chance — the opportunity to earn his way onto the roster at Iona College, a Division I program in New Rochelle, N.Y.
“I emailed every Division I coach and every Division II coach,” said Teer, who will have three years of college basketball eligibility left after sitting out next season under NCAA transfer rules. “I had to see what was out there for me because I’ve always dreamed of playing college basketball.
“For a long while I didn’t hear from anybody, but finally the head coach at Iona contacted me. He asked me if I had my release from the team and I told him I did. He told me he didn’t know what he could give me [for a scholarship] because he had two available and since I’d have to sit out next year he wanted to use his scholarships on players who could help out next year.”
So Teer plans to practice with the Gaels next winter, hoping to use that opportunity to earn a scholarship once he becomes eligible to play in the 2013-14 season.
“Considering where I was before this,” Teer said, “just hearing from Iona and getting the chance to join their team was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
Pursuing the dream
Teer was a four-year starter at Washington Academy who averaged 18.9 points, 7.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game as a senior to become the first player in school history to surpass 1,000 career points while leading his team to a state crown.
But when the recruiting interest from the collegiate ranks didn’t match his aspirations, Teer opted for a postgraduate year at Lee Academy.
The move paid off, as Teer subsequently was contacted not only by small-college programs at the Division III level but also by scholarship programs such as UAF and Charminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii.
“Ben has improved from a D-III player to a scholarship kid, and that is a tribute to him and his will and desire,” said then-Lee coach Andrew Papaefthemiou at the time.
Teer ultimately g ot a single scholarship offer from UAF coach Clemon Johnson, who during his playing days was the backup center for the 1982-83 NBA championship Philadelphia 76ers led by Hall of Famer Julius Erving and Moses Malone.
But barely a month after Teer signed his National Letter of Intent accepting the scholarship offer, Johnson left UAF to become the head coach at his alma mater, Division I Florida A&M.
Johnson was replaced by Durham, who had been an assistant at New Mexico State for the previous three years after 16 seasons as the head coach at Montana State.
Durham’s hiring in June was too late for for him to recruit for the 2011-12 season, so he was left to coach the roster — including Teer — that Johnson left behind.
Frustration, now hope
Teer played in 24 games at UAF last winter, averaging 3.2 points and 1.8 assists per game. He earned four starts, including back-to-back road games midway through the season when he had a career-high 14 points against Saint Martin’s at Lacey, Wash., and two points, seven assists and five rebounds against Southern Oregon at Monmouth, Ore.
“I felt like I proved myself in those games,” said Teer, “but [Durham] didn’t recruit me, the coach the year before did, and I guess he wanted his own players.”
The Nanooks’ 5-23 record reportedly has led to significant personnel changes — with Teer saying he was one of several players whose scholarships were not renewed . A spokesman for the UAF athletic department said via email that he was not at liberty to discuss student-athlete scholarship situations.
“Coach Mick never really showed interest,” said Teer, “and what really hurt was that after he let me go he recruited a freshman point guard and said he was looking for a point guard he could develop. Him saying that was kind of hurtful to me.”
But rather than dwell on that disappointment, Teer moved forward.
“I went to the NCAA website, then went to every conference in Division I and Division II,” he said. “Those sites would get me to each school’s athletic site, and from there I’d go find the name of the coach, then copy and paste his name and address to the email.
“I spent a whole day getting the Division I coaches and a whole day getting the Division II coaches. I never slept, but I was going to make sure I did everything I could to see if I could find someplace to keep playing.”
That email, which included a highlight video, went unanswered until Iona coach Tim Cluess offered the chance to join the Gaels, the top-scoring team in the nation last winter who went 25-8 and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
“When I picked Alaska Fairbanks, it was really because it was the only scholarship offer I had,” said Teer. “But I don’t think the way we played fit my style, while Iona is a fast-paced team and that’s all I played in high school and prep. It’s a so much better fit for me because they’re a transition team.”
Teer is one of two transfer point guards who will join the Iona program this fall along with fellow freshman Tavon Sledge, who played just 18 minutes in eight games last season at Iowa State.
“It’s just by the grace of God that I’ve found the right opportunity for me,” said Teer. “The big thing was that even when it was going tough and I wasn’t hearing from anybody, I kept my head up. I’ve believed I could play Division I basketball ever since high school even though other people doubted that I could. But now I’ve got another chance.”