"Big Dance" Interviews: Oakland center Keith Benson

March 13th, 2011
As part of his "Big Dance" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Oakland senior center Keith Benson, who helped lead the Golden Grizzlies to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Oakland drew Texas in the first round, which should provide a nice challenge for all involved given the NBA-level big men that will be on display (Benson and Texas' Tristan Thompson).

Jon Teitel: Your father Keith Sr. and uncle Hilton both played basketball in college, and your uncle Manny played 6 years in the ABA and NBA. How much of your success do you credit to genetics, and which of your family members has had the biggest impact on your own skills?

Keith Benson: I think my uncle Hilton has helped me the most from an advice standpoint. He played point guard in the Big Ten for Northwestern, so he has a lot of knowledge about the game. As far as genetics, it certainly helps that my dad is 6'8"!

JT: After averaging just seven points and five rebounds per game as a high school senior, you have grown nine inches over the past several years. Do you think you are done growing, and how big of an advantage is your height on the court?

KB: I am not sure if I am done growing, but it is a big advantage because it makes me a longer player. My length helps me on defense to block shots and on offense to shoot over other people.

JT: In the past two weeks you were named Summit League Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and conference tournament MVP. Where does this rank among the best months of your life?

KB: It has been a pretty successful season and has gone the way I wanted it to go. Getting a win at Tennessee in December was one of my best moments here, as it was great to beat a good team in their own arena.

JT: You had 28 points and nine rebounds in a first round loss to Pittsburgh in last year's NCAA Tournament. What did you learn from last year's tourney that you think can help you in this year's tournament?

KB: I learned that you have to get off to a strong start. Momentum can be a big thing, as an injury in the middle of the Pitt game just took the wind right out of us. You cannot lose your spirit and you have to keep playing hard.

JT: You were an AP All-America honorable mention selection in 2010. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding honor?

KB: It meant a lot to me, as I remember reading in the newspaper about other great players being named All-American while I was growing up.

JT: You declared for the NBA draft last spring before withdrawing due to a right thumb injury that required surgery. Do you have any regrets about that decision, and do you think you would have stayed in the draft if you had been healthy?

KB: I was for sure going to work out for some teams and see where they had me projected, but I was not completely sure whether to come back to school. It has been a good decision based on the season we have had.

JT: In a December game at Illinois you played the first seven minutes before discovering that you were using a women's basketball. Could you tell that the ball was smaller than normal, and is that to blame for your worst shooting performance of the season (2-9 FG)?

KB: Sometimes your first few shots can determine how your night will go, and I got off to a bad start. The ball felt a little too light to me, but the rest of my teammates were doing well with it as we had an early lead.

JT: You have had double-doubles this year against some great teams outside your conference (WV, Purdue, Michigan State and Tennessee), but only had eight points at Ohio State. Where do this year's Buckeyes rank among the best teams you have ever seen?

KB: In my opinion they are the best team we have played. They are very tall at every position and have two great big men.

JT: This year broke the conference record for career blocks. What is your secret for blocking shots?

KB: Early in my career I would jump on pump-fakes, but now I try to anticipate the shot and be the second person off the ground to avoid getting in foul trouble.

JT: Your team went 17-1 in conference play, and won each of your three conference tournament wins by double-digits. Do you feel like your team is playing its best basketball of the season right now?

KB: Yes I do, and I think we still have another gear that will kick in next week.