Work behind the scenes fuels Panoam’s rise under bright lights

February 7, 2021

Bentiu Panoam

Long before Anchorage’s Bentiu Panoam was making winning plays in games for the University of North Dakota, he was winning the day in practice.

From scout team to drills to scrimmage, the senior guard played with guts and gusto like something was on the line. There was. He wanted to be ready for the time when the coach called his name.

His preparation paid off this season as Panoam has stepped into a starting role and stepped up in the big moments for the Fighting Hawks, pumping life into his team and his career.

“The confidence comes from getting the reps up and doing it in practice and when game time comes and you see a couple fall, you become that player,” he said. “You can’t come into college half stepping. I don’t think I did that at all. It may look like that on the outside, but the outside doesn’t see the work every day. They just see what highlights get posted.”

Panoam, of Bartlett High fame, is averaging a career-high 6.5 points per game and has emerged as one of the top 3-point shooters in the Summit League.

Since he was added to the starting lineup in mid-January, North Dakota has gone 3-4. Compare that to the team’s 3-11 record when he wasn’t a starter. His fingerprints were all over wins against North Dakota State, Western Illinois and Denver.

In the win over Denver, Panoam scored five of North Dakota’s 10 points in overtime, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:59 left in the game.

“It’s fun playing in big moments and making big plays,” he said. “When you are a kid playing outside and counting down in your head making up game scenarios and hit the shot and kind of go a little crazy in your driveway, that is for sure the feeling when hitting shots or making plays in crunch time. Just times that emotion by like 100 on a big stage.”

Panoam has reached double figures five times in his last nine games. He is firing 3-pointers at a .345 clip on 29-of-84 shooting. His 17 3s in Summit League games ranks top-10 in the conference.

He looks like an entirely different player compared to the last few years, but he’s not any different behind the scenes.

“My energy hasn’t changed from being on the bench to playing,” Panoam said. “I have done everything with a purpose since I’ve got here. I learned from my high school coach Steve Drussell to do everything with a purpose.”

Panoam believes his success is based on consistency. The reason he’s thriving in games is because he thrived in practice. It’s not like he suddenly poured on the intensity once he became a starter. It’s always been there.

“Being on the bench for me did not bring me down because during that week before I was on the bench, I was working my tail off, doing what everyone is seeing now,” Panoam said. “My teammates know I’m there and respect my game and what I say even when I’m not playing. It feels good.

“The trust from my teammates and coaches is awesome. Those are my guys.”

Panoam also gave an assist to his friend David Bullock of Anchorage for keeping him in the right frame of mind to achieve success. Bullock is a brand marketing strategist who has worked with Grammy Award winning artists and was named to the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

“I couldn’t ask for a better mentor in life,” Panoam said of Bullock. “He makes sure I stay on top of everything from homework to getting shots up to reading books. He just always reminds me that nothing is easy and I have to work for everything, even when it’s not going my way.”