Bennedict Mathurin versus the ceiling
A “damn strong” draft prospect from Arizona
BY HENRY ABBOTT
I’m writing a book about P3 called BALLISTIC. This week, that has meant spending quality time in P3’s sports science-infused headquarters in Santa Barbara, where a huge number of NBA prospects (Bill Duffy clients like Chet Holmgren, E.J. Liddell, Leonard Miller, Christian Braun, Jalen Williams, and many others) have been intensively preparing for next month’s draft.
Draft experts have had plenty of smart things to say about Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin. The Athletic’s John Hollinger calls Mathurin the fifth-best prospect in the draft. He raves about his shooting, and highlights a play where Mathurin entirely denies a pass to a smaller guard desperate to receive the ball. Hollinger also notes that Mathurin has good size and “plus athleticism.” It’s that last thing that stands out in this building. If he had competed, I imagine Mathurin would have done well on the vertical jump and sprint tests at the combine in Chicago, but tests like those would miss his Jimmy Butleresque solidity. P3 founder Marcus Elliott uses the phrase “damn strong” to describe Mathurin. It’s obviously true.
Before it was a gym, P3’s Santa Barbara location was a nightclub. The hard work happens in a 50-by-60-foot open space that was once a dance floor.
On my first few visits, I failed to notice that a little patch of the rafters is covered in the kind of textured aluminum you typically see on flatbed pickup trucks. It’s up there a dozen feet in the air, as a target. A rack of medicine balls sits on the floor nearby.
Mathurin strides over, grabs a red 30-pound medicine ball off the rack, puts it between his feet, and pauses, looking at the ball. There are players working out all around him. His trainer, Jon Flake, who’s at the far end of the building, hollers something hard to hear over the blasting music. Mathurin puts the red 30 back and uses his foot to nudge over a green ball with the number 50 on the side—the weight of a sack of concrete, the biggest bag of dog food at PetSmart, or (as I just looked up) an average American seven-year-old. For a thing to throw, it’s heavy.
Very often, when doing this drill, they put a foam mat on the floor. It’s not for the athletes; it’s for the equipment. Heavy medicine balls falling from a dozen feet up have a tendency to explode. The forces are big all around.
Every athlete at P3 has different assignments, based on their needs. Another player, who is working on balance and stability while being explosive, throws the medicine ball off one leg. Mathurin is throwing off two.
He starts by holding the ball high above his head, drops it almost to the floor with two hands between his ankles—almost like a kettlebell swing—and then explodes up, ending up on his tippy toes, with both hands pointing to the sky where … the ball just doesn’t touch anything. It lands, sadly, a few feet away. A miss.
And then another miss. And a third. Then a fourth. A fifth. It’s a workout already.
“The ceiling, dude!” Flake is high energy and smiley, but mostly demanding. He knows Mathurin is an incredible athlete—his job is to see how much better he can be. “Hit the ceiling!!”
Maybe he’s kidding; maybe he isn’t. Still, Mathurin starts reaching for the nice, red, comfortable 30-pound medicine ball.
Flake finds it unthinkable. “No-no-no-no-no-no-no! You got it! Gonna make you work a little bit!”
Mathurin gets a kind of wild-eyed look at the bottom of his sixth swing, when the effort really kicks in. The motion is a little like high-jumping with a seven-year-old on your back. He misses again, and unleashes his first groan. “Aggghhhhhhhhh!” You get the feeling he’s not used to failing tests.
Nearby, Turkish forward Tibet Gorener—who played with Mathurin at Arizona—is about to start a core drill.
“Yo, yo, yo, yo!” hollers Mathurin. “Come here, come here.”
Flake, who was looking away for a second, is back. “Did you do it?” he asks Mathurin
“No,” says Mathurin. Quiet, serious, and just to Flake, he adds: “I will.”
Then he turns back to Gorener, points at the 50, and says: “Come do it!”
“No!” shouts Gorener. “I just did that, bro—I was just doing that!”
“You need to teach me. I want to see how you do it.”
Gorener, like he has to do everything around here, waves Mathurin out of the way and grabs the ball. Flake to his left, Mathurin watches with his hands on his hips.
Gorener just misses.
“Ohhh!” screams Flake. “That was higher than you!”
Ben shoots him a look. Maybe for the first time, he’s actually a little pissed. (Later, Mathurin will admit that this is how he gets himself motivated: “That’s me.”) They’ve been talking about how the taller Gorener has a higher release point. Rubbing it in a little, Flake adds: “I mean, if you were actually 6-6 you’d be able to.”
Mathurin’s listed height in college was 6-6, the same as Michael Jordan. At the combine last week, Mathurin measured 6 feet, 4.5 inches tall in socks.
He picks up the ball, takes some meditative chews on his gum, swings low, erupts, and nails it.
There’s an oooh! from somewhere.
Mathurin smiled while he was toying with Gorener, playing around with the 30. He smiles plenty. Right now, he has none of that. Just swings his arms, like he’s waiting for a train or … perhaps a little more celebration from the room? Something impressive just happened.
“Now,” says Flake, walking away, “do that four times in a row.”
Mathurin does it another time, then another.
“Congratulations!” says Flake. “You’re doing what you’re supposed to do.”
Then Mathurin smiles and hits two more, completing his first set. He heads to the next thing. A couple of minutes later, he’s back for his next set, and the ball hits the ceiling three times in row.
“YESSIR!” screams Flake. “Now don’t just tap it … hit it!”
“Hit it?” asks Mathurin. “I’m going to break the whole thing.”
“That’s fine!” says Flake. “I’ll wear that! We’ve got insurance.”
The ball touches again. Now it’s the last effort of the rotation. Mathurin has been assigned sets of five, but all the misses have tripled his effort. He barely misses the last one.
“Ohhh, you didn’t even get it!” yells Flake.
A few minutes later, back for his final set, Mathurin nails the first one. He has gone from tidy and together and poised to sweaty, embattled, determined. He hits another, activating some sunshine from Flake: “NICE WORK!! LET’S GOOOOOOO!!”
He has two left. Did the fourth one hit? “Just barely,” says Mathurin.
Flake is off helping someone else now. In fact, no one is watching.
Mathurin has one left. He heaves it to the ceiling, where it touches metal before plummeting to the ground. Done. Incredible.
Mathurin cocks his head, takes a breath, walks to the next station.
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