CLEVELAND — After five straight losing seasons in the Horizon League, the Cleveland State Vikings are now in first place.
That's something to cheer about, especially for junior guard Ben Sternberg.
If you've watched any of CSU's games this season, you've probably seen the walk-on celebrating on the Vikings' bench. And sometimes behind it.
It all makes sense once you hear Sternberg's story.
"Ben isn't supposed to be here," Cleveland State head coach Dennis Gates said. "He's defied whatever odds that could be defied."
Sternberg grew up in Beachwood and always dreamed of suiting up for Cleveland State. But standing at just 5-foot-8 as a high school senior, Division I colleges weren't exactly kicking down his door.
"When I was at the doctor I would always ask them how tall I would be and then I would add four or five inches on it," he said with a laugh.
Sternberg played for two years at Lakeland Community College, but still couldn't shake his dream of becoming a Viking. So before last season, he set up a meeting with Gates.
"And I knew, at that point," Gates said, "this is someone who can rub off and help build a culture because of (his) personality characteristic."
Gates brought Sternberg on as a team manager, with a catch.
If Sternberg could earn a 3.0 GPA, he would also earn a spot on Cleveland State's roster for the 2021 season.
"I could've easily given him a jersey, but that's different than earning a jersey," Gates said.
"Academically, when I say I saw a tenacity at which Ben worked, he worked as hard as I've seen any young man work in the program."
Sternberg aced Gates' test. And last summer, he earned his green and white jersey.
"It was one of the best days definitely of my life due to the hard work and trust that Coach Gates put into me," Sternberg said. "It meant the whole world to me."
Finally, this Cleveland kid was playing for Cleveland State, even if he wasn't really playing.
"I take my role very, very seriously," Sternberg said. "You see me on the bench, I'm going crazy after a make."
But the day after Christmas -- with the Vikings up big on Youngstown State -- Sternberg left his post on the bench, and literally got the shot he waited more than 20 years for.
He swished a corner three-pointer on the first shot attempt of his Division I career.
Back on the bench, the same teammates Sternberg loves to cheer for returned the favor.
"I looked at how the guys responded to that moment and they were as excited as I've ever seen them," Gates said.
"And that is them being able to pour back into Ben what Ben has continued to pour back into them every day."
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Editor's Note: The below video aired on November 9, 2020