Keith Benson is the first player from Oakland Universit to be chosen in the NBA Draft, but he's not the first to come from Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day School.
Benson, a second-round pick by the Atlanta Hawks, joins a storied past of players under the tenure of Country Day coach Kurt Keener to be chosen in the draft; others include JaVale McGee from the University of Nevada, Shane Battier from Duke University, and Chris Webber of the University of Michigan.
Patch spoke with Keener on Friday morning for his take on Benson's success.
Patch: What was Benson like to coach?
Keener: Keith would be what I call the classic late bloomer. Because he had been double-promoted as an elementary school student, he was a year younger than his graduating class. When he left Country Day, I thought his best basketball was still ahead of him.
If someone told me he would be a great player and a great record-setter at the university, I would have said he was going a bit too far. He had some of the physical tools, he needed to get physically stronger. But, he's very smart. His mother is an education professor at Wayne State (University), so education was key. He was an only child. From a basketball standpoint, it probably gave him some obstacles.
Keith was always a kid who was team-first. He’s a pretty laid back individual personality-wise, so as a high schooler, for instance, he’s not a rah-rah guy, but he’s what we would call a low-maintenance kid. He’s just going to have a great work ethic. He’s a bright guy who will pick things up rather quickly.
From a mental standpoint, he’s very advanced. From a physical standpoint, you see him at 240 pounds, that’s 40 pounds more than he weighed in high school at the same height.
He went to great program at Oakland that saw his potential and was willing to develop that potential. I give Greg Kampe and his staff a lot of credit, but also, Keith has a tremendous amount of perseverance. It’s not always easy for him to be a basketball player and he could have walked away – he’s a very bright kid, but this was a dream and a passion that he worked hard to get to.
Patch: How did the team do when Benson was there?
Keener: We had a solid team, we were always one of the top teams in Class B. The perennial power was Detroit Renaissance (High School) when he was there. We had a tough time getting by them. He didn’t play a whole lot until his senior year because there were some other big kids in the program. He’s always been one of the tallest kids – when he was in elementary and junior high, we was a guard.
When he came into high school, he was maybe 6’1". Then one summer, he may have grown 5 or 6 inches, without putting on five pounds in doing that (laughs). Because, as a young player, when he started out, he was a guard, he developed good shooting touch and soft hands. Then as a weed in the spring does, he shot up. It took a while for the strength part to fill in.
He was on the varsity team for two years. When he was a senior, he was starting. Then in January, we had a couple of transfers at 6’9" who moved him to the bench. He’s a pretty stoic guy, so that didn’t bother him. He continued to play hard and practice hard.
Patch: What are Benson's professional prospects like?
Keener: Keith has an uphill battle. A No. 1 pick will give you every chance to succeed or fail. He’s going to a good team, so they already have talent, so he’ll have to work hard. Maybe he takes the route that means he’ll be in the (developmental) league or going overseas, but he has the psyche to deal with that.
If he was coming from a big-time program and faced adversity for the first time, he might have problems. As he gets older and his body continues to fill out, he’s going to have a solid NBA career. He’s going to a great city and what I’ll try to do to is put him in touch with Chris Webber, who lives there now.