Photo: Taylor Soule
In 2009, Drake’s former head coach Chase Hodges recruited James McKie, a young tennis player from Edinburgh, Scotland. Little did Hodges know how much McKie would mean to the Bulldogs, and little did he know how the young Scot would also be a catalyst for recruiting some of the United Kingdom’s best undiscovered or under-recruited talent to Drake.
McKie arrived on campus, but he never got to play for the coach that recruited him. Instead of Hodges, head coach Jimmy Borendame led the Bulldogs for the 2009-2010 season. When he wasn’t busy on the court, McKie was staying in contact with friends and players from back home in the United Kingdom. One of those players was Robin Goodman of Cambridge, England, who was looking to play tennis at a Division I institution in the United States.
“I was seeking out coaches, emailing a lot of coaches,” Goodman said. “I literally emailed everywhere possible, in places where I’d never end up going to like Hawaii.”
But all of those emails to random coaches weren’t what ultimately landed Goodman a spot in Drake’s lineup.
“I had been talking with James a lot,” Goodman said, “and then James contacted me over Facebook and was like ‘Hey, we’re looking for a new guy to start in August.’”
After emailing back and forth with Borendame, Goodman eventually committed to the Bulldogs and arrived in Des Moines the following fall. Like McKie before him, the young Englishman made an immediate impact. Goodman lost only one match during the spring season of his freshman campaign. And, like McKie, Goodman proved to be a key in recruiting as well. Both Goodman and McKie once again looked back home for players that could improve the Bulldog lineup. They set their eyes on Ben Mullis from Leicestershire, England.
“I had my profile on a site called ‘College Prospects America’ that was trying to help me get recruited,” Mullis said, “but Robin and James also spoke to coach (Evan) Austin about how I would be a good fit at Drake.”
Besides learning about Mullis from McKie and Goodman, Austin had to do a good amount of research on Mullis just to figure out how good he really was. Austin said that Mullis wasn’t the type of player that would wow you with his pristine groundstrokes, but he was an excellent match player.
“Ben didn’t have the highest rating at the time I started talking to him in February of last year,” Austin said. “He finally started posting some bigger results over the summer once he was done taking his A-Levels, which are like finals.”
Once Mullis started improving his ranking based on his summer results, Austin knew he was just the type of player that Drake could benefit from. Austin also said that it is always important that a player isn’t just a good student-athlete, but that he gels with the rest of the squad and really buys into Drake’s team concept.
“He was the type of guy who we needed: a good energy guy who could play down low his first year,” Austin said. “The fact that he knew Robin (Goodman) obviously helped, and I didn’t think it would be a big adjustment for Ben.”
Mullis said it helped that he knew McKie and Goodman.
“What was really appealing was that playing in college wasn’t going to end up being a massively new thing where I didn’t know anybody,” Mullis said.
Mullis was initially going to join the Bulldogs this fall, but he had another final exam to take back in England. Austin was eager to get Mullis onto the squad for the spring semester, though, as he said he was that one piece of the puzzle that could provide Drake with more depth.
Both McKie and Goodman made contributions right away when they got to Des Moines, and Mullis was no different. Mullis ended up clinching the match for the Bulldogs in the first match he played in Drake blue and white, locking up a 4-2 win over No. 65 DePaul.
“It’s not easy coming in January and producing right away, but Ben has done that,” Austin said. “He has been playing better and better, and I think he will finish the season strong.”
The boys in blue have played a big role in attracting yet another talented player from England. Ben Lott from Newcastle will be joining them on the court next season.