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Drew Ellis covers Oakland University basketball for The Oakland Press. His news and notes keep you up to date with Golden Grizzlies men's basketball.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kito going pro ...

By PAUL KAMPE

Of The Oakland Press

A lifelong dream could come true for Oakland junior Keith Benson in the coming weeks. Or, he could continue on as he has for the past couple years. It’s all a matter of what he learns in the near future, as the dominant Summit League Player of the Year has declared for the NBA Draft.

Benson (Birmingham Detroit Country Day) has not hired an agent, meaning he can withdraw from draft consideration all the way through the May 8 deadline for NCAA entrants to withdraw and retain his college eligibility.

“Testing the waters in the draft will give me a chance to see where I stand against all of the great talent out there. Participating in team workouts gives me that opportunity,” Benson said in a press release.

Talk has long centered around the 6-foot-11 center’s NBA potential all season, and Benson delivered on the rumors, playing outstanding in games against nationally known programs like Kansas, Michigan State and Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament.

“He gets an opportunity to go out and work out for some teams,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “It’s not speculation anymore. He’s not hearing this and that. He can get real-time comments from the NBA and assess where he stands.”

“It’s a process that’s really worth it for him to go through.”

Kampe said Benson’s participation last summer in the Amar’e Stoudemire Skills Camp with some of the nation’s best big men really got Benson on the national radar. Then there were the games Oakland played against Top 25 this past season.

“His game against Kansas this year opened a lot of eyes,” Kampe said.

Benson arrived at Oakland far from the player he is today. High school coach Kurt Keener has said Benson’s progress has been “tremendous” at Oakland. Kampe red-shirted Benson his freshman season and Benson started 20 games the following season, 2007-08. His sophomore season is when he truly began to break out.

“As time went on and he started to blossom and develop … I honestly think he’ll be a pro. As time went on, he started to get bigger and stronger and come out of his shell. In the last year and a half, I thought there was a definite possibility (of him playing in the NBA),” Kampe said.

Benson averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last season, while leading the Summit League in rebounding, blocked shots (117) and double-doubles (18) and was the league’s third-leading scorer. He holds the school record for blocks in a season and in a career.

Kampe said there was a point in the middle of the past season where Benson garnered a mass of confidence after realizing how dominant he could be on the court.

Last season he was part of a formidable team core with senior guard Johnathon Jones and senior forward Derick Nelson, a group that led the Golden Grizzlies to their second-ever conference tournament championship and subsequent NCAA tournament berth. That team was picked to win the conference and led the standings from beginning to end and set the league record for victories in a season (17) and winning percentage (.944).

Benson is the first Oakland player to enter the draft early. He is scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in integrative studies.

The Golden Grizzlies return starting forward Will Hudson and center Ilija Milutinovic. They’ve also signed Utica Eisenhower senior center Corey Petros.

“We lost (Erik) Kangas after last year, and if (Benson) leaves, we’re going to lose three very good players,” Kampe said. “That’s why it says ‘Oakland’ on the jersey. We’re going to field a team next year and we expect to compete for a championship.”

Rawle Marhsall, a member of the previous Oakland NCAA tournament team, is the only Oakland player to have played in the NBA. Marhsall spent the 2005-06 season with the Dallas Mavericks and 2006-07 with Indiana. He was not drafted, signing as a free agent, and currently plays overseas.

There have been just two Summit League prospects taken in the first round of the NBA Draft, Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew in 1998 and Indiana Purdue Indianapolis’ George Hill, who currently plays for the San Antonio Spurs, in 2008.

Benson was named Lou Henson Mid-Major Player of the Year and was an All-America honorable mention.

Paul Kampe covers Oakland University basketball for The Oakland Press. E-mail him at paul.kampe@oakpress.com and follow him on Twitter @PaulKampe and read his blog at theoaklandpress.com.

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