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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 24 2009

Bison basketball: Whole new world: Woodside team’s leading scorer, all-star

At 5-feet-10, 185 pounds, Ben Woodside has never been considered a big man. But he felt like a giant when he first moved to France to play professional basketball.

His team provided him with a car – a smart car not much bigger than some elaborate golf carts.

“It was the scariest driving experience I ever had,” Woodside said. “It felt like if I ran into a person on a bicycle, I would be the one getting injured. If a semi passed me, it shifted the entire car. I didn’t feel safe in it at all.”

But make no mistake about it, Ben Woodside – the all-time leading scorer in North Dakota State men’s basketball history – is secure as a first-year professional basketball player in France.

Now driving a larger European car and earning more than $100,000 a year, Woodside has become the leading scorer for Gravelines and the fifth-leading scorer in the Pro A Division – the top professional league in France.

Averaging nearly 17 points in league games, Woodside is also averaging 13 points in four EuroChallenge games – a tournament format that has had his team playing in Russia, Germany and Montenegro.

On Wednesday, Woodside will be in Paris to play in a French-league all-star game – a culmination of his play for the last two months.

“I have a way better feeling for the game over here,” Woodside said. “Now, I feel extremely comfortable.”

As comfortable as living in the two-story, three-bedroom townhouse the team provides him. It came furnished with couches, tables and chairs. But Woodside hasn’t found the time to hang anything on the walls.

“People joke about being in a prison cell,” said Woodside, who thought he would have more spare time than the usual one day off on Sundays.

When he’s not practicing, playing or traveling, Woodside watches the TV series “Lost,” ESPN America, reads the Bible or uses his computer to routinely talk to family and friends.

There are times teammate J.K. Edwards invites him over for dinner. Edwards, a sixth-year overseas player from Nevada-Las Vegas, and his wife are expecting their third child.

Living in Gravelines, a town of about 10,000, Woodside admits there isn’t a lot to do – other than an occasional trip to Belgium or a five-minute drive to the English Channel.

“I come home with myself every night … I had to adjust to that,” Woodside said. “Now it’s normal. That’s fine with me. I can stay focused on basketball.”

Woodside’s ultimate focus is the NBA. He hopes for some more tryouts next summer. In the meantime, he’s becoming a crowd favorite in Graveline’s 3,500-seat arena.

It may be small but it’s loud with banging drums and air horns – so loud Woodside says he can hardly hear his teammates.

“In my entire basketball career, I’ve never encountered fans like this,” Woodside said. “They define craziness. When I go over to thank them after a game, they are literally sweating from pounding on the drums for so hard and long.”

Woodside’s parents and sister from Albert Lea, Minn., were part of that atmosphere for two games over the Thanksgiving holiday.

They got to see Woodside scored 19 points in a win and 17 points in a loss. Much like he did in his four years at NDSU, Woodside is making 51 percent of his field goals and 39 percent of his 3-pointers.

He still knows how to draw fouls – making 38 of 47 free throws in 10 games. And he’s dishing out nearly four assists per game.

In one online video on his blog , Woodside penetrates and somehow lofts a shot over the outstretched arms of a 6-foot-10 defender, banking his shot in high off the glass.

“The league that I’m in is very, very fast and very, very athletic,” Woodside said. “It’s either a layup or a 3-pointer. A lot of screen and rolls. I’m penetrating and either scoring or kicking it out.”

In two of his first three games, Woodside scored only seven and five points. Take away those games and Woodside would be averaging 20 points per game.

“I can learn and I can adjust when I have a game like that,” Woodside said. “All I know is I’m really enjoying it over here. Bottom line … I had to adapt.”

Even if it meant driving in an oversized golf cart.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549