Georgia Tech’s NIT appearance has ancillary benefit for Ben Lammers

After Georgia Tech centers Ben Lammers scored a breakthrough game earlier in the season, forward Charles Mitchell did his teammate a favor. He brainstormed for a nickname for Lammers, the quiet sophomore from San Antonio, Texas.

“I think ‘Big Tex’ was one of them,” Lammers said. “’Windex,’ maybe. You can probably ask him.”

Any others?

“Some of them are pretty clever,” he said. “And some of them you can’t repeat.”

Lammers may or may not end the season with a suitable nickname, family-friendly or otherwise. But Tech’s extended season – which continues Monday night with a second-round NIT game at South Carolina – has provided more christening opportunities. More notably, as the season extends, Lammers’ game can continue to flourish in the greenhouse of the postseason.

“He’s come along a lot,” guard Marcus Georges-Hunt said. “I think it just comes with confidence. He has a lot of potential.”

While uncertainty about the team’s future with coach Brian Gregory lingers, this much is clear – the 2016-17 Yellow Jackets will depend heavily on Lammers, as well as guard Tadric Jackson and forward Quinton Stephens. Undoubtedly, the matter of beating the Gamecocks and trying to reach New York – site of the NIT semifinals and finals – is Tech’s most pressing matter. But Gregory recognizes the value it has for returners.

He compares it to the value that football coaches place on bowl games and bowl practice. Beyond the NCAA’s big show and the second-tier NIT, there are three additional tournaments that offer postseason action – the CBI, CIT and the first-ever Vegas 16.

“Those guys are smart when it comes to, If we’ve got a chance to play in a bowl game, we’re going to do it,” Gregory said. “With basketball, if you have a chance to play in the postseason, I think it only benefits you.”

Lammers’ numbers are modest – he is averaging 3.7 points and 4.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game. He has proven an able shot blocker. Prior to the first-round NIT game against Houston, his 1.3 blocks-per-game average (now 1.4) was 10th in the ACC. His past four games offer a taste of what he can become. He scored 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting with 15 rebounds with five blocks. He accumulated the numbers in 57 minutes, or about how much he might play over the course of two games next season. Chop it up, and that would be 9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in a game while shooting 82 percent from the field.

“He’s 15 pounds from being a tremendous, tremendous player, and you saw it today,” Gregory said following Tech’s win over Houston last Wednesday. “He’s got great hands, he can block shots, he rebounds in traffic. Fifteen pounds and me (continuing to tell) him that he’s got a chance to be great and him believing me, because he can do it all.”

Lammers, who holds 230 pounds on his 6-foot-10 frame, recognizes the progress and, credits, among other things, Gregory’s efforts to build confidence in himself.

“You can definitely see some growth, I feel like,” Lammers said.

While he can be more aggressive on offense, he goes strong to the rim when he does attack. He has also become an effective shot blocker both in straight-up man-to-man situations and on help defense.

At the beginning of the season, Georges-Hunt said that Lammers was a little scattered in his ability to help when opponents beat his teammates going to the basket.

“But now, it’s like, if my dude gets past me and Ben’s in the game, nine times out of 10 he’s going to be right there to have my back or to block a shot,” he said.

Monday, he’ll have to help the Jackets deal with a rugged South Carolina team that is ranked in the top 15 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (as is Tech) and defends the paint well. If the Jackets win, they’ll play at the Washington-San Diego State winner on Wednesday night in a quarterfinal.

At some point, the offseason will start and the Jackets, who lose 62 percent of their minutes and 76 percent of their scoring to graduation, will look to the man some call “The Laminator.” (Lammers: “I don’t mind it. It’s good.”)

“The sky’s the limit for him,” Georges-Hunt said. “I can’t wait to see what he looks like after the summer.”