Keith Benson: Opportunity in Oakland

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 5:52am

Opportunity is not always available to players who don’t play in a big six conferences. However, when you sign up to play for Coach Greg Kampe at Oakland University opportunity is exactly what you get.

Keith BensonKeith BensonOver the past 3 years Coach Kampe and his team have played road contests at Syracuse, Kansas State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Kansas, Memphis, Oregon, West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Tennessee and Ohio State.

That kind of pre-conference schedule will test you mentally and physically, but their players love the opportunity to play top teams on the road. Sure they have one major upset over the past three years against Tennessee and some other close calls, but I assure you nobody wants to see a this team in Round 1 come March.

What makes this Oakland team so dangerous is its experienced rotation and its potential 1st Round draft pick Keith Benson. The 6’11 center has answered the bell this year by putting up dominating performances against teams like West Virginia, Purdue, Michigan State and Tennessee. His 17.4 ppg and 10.4 rpg averages are impressive, but when you watch him play you notice his ability to hit shots from anywhere on the court including his 3-point range.

On a cold December night in Columbus, Ohio I was able to observe practice as the Grizzlies prepared to play #2 Ohio State. Coach Kampe’s defensive preparation centered on how they would try to contain Jared Sullinger, defending the three-point shot and stopping the Buckeyes’ transition game. Offensively, Coach Kampe allows his team to play free in a system that promotes an inside three-man motion with his big men.

After practice I was able to sit down with Keith and Coach Kampe to discuss the season and Keith’s rise to potential 1st round draft pick.

Q & A with Keith Benson:

Keith BensonKeith How did you get to Oakland?

Keith Benson: It’s a Michigan school and most people don’t know but I am from the area. I was originally thinking of going to Fairfield University in Connecticut but they got a new coaching staff so that went out the window. Oakland was a good fit for me with a good coaching staff so I ended up going to Oakland. Can you tell us about your game and who you like to model it after?

Keith Benson: I feel I have a Kevin Garnett, Amar’e Stoudemire type of game. I like to use my jump shot and post up. I think I have a real inside/outside type of game. What did you do this last off-season to improve your game?

Keith Benson: I worked on my leg strength a lot since I had hand surgery. When I was healthy I did a lot of ball handling and got a lot of shots up. I was not able to attend any camps because I was injured when they were choosing who went where, so I stuck around campus. What is it like being a mid-major and playing one of the toughest schedules in the country?

Keith Benson: I have been playing this schedule for a couple of years now. We get to play in a lot of different arenas against some of the best teams in the country. Even though we are not in their conference we get to show what we can do on a bigger stage with chances to beat a ranked team. What does this type of schedule do for your team heading into conference play?

Keith Benson: It gets us tougher and we are prepared to play tough road games. This has helped us win our league championship in the past and just makes us mentally tougher. How do you approach a game like tomorrow night against another quality big man like Jared Sullinger?

Keith Benson: As a team we will try and go man-to-man. I will try and stay low since Sullinger is a heavy type of big man and use my quickness and agility against him along with playing a smart game. As a senior how much do you think about playing at the next level a year from now?

Keith Benson: I think about the future but I try to think about our opponents and taking them one at a time. We know we have a good team after playing (Michigan) State tough and beating Tennessee. I think the sky is the limit for this team if we stay focused and do our jobs. Who do you look forward to playing against next year?

Keith Benson: Probably the Lakers because they are my favorite team. Other than that, anybody because it’s a dream to play in the NBA.

Q & A with Coach Kampe:

Greg KampeGreg Tell us about Keith’s development since he came to campus?

Coach Kampe: Keith was a shooting guard when he was a sophomore in high school about 6’2. Then he started growing to about 6’8 – 6’9. He was at a great high school and started the first half of the year but two 6’9 kids became eligible. Both of those kids ended up playing at South Alabama. He was moved out of the starting lineup and averaged 4 ppg.

You could see that he had the body that could develop like Rawle Marshall who played for us at Oakland and then in the NBA. Then it was about getting him to develop because you could see it was there.

What I have told people is give Keith all the credit in the world. He worked his tail off. He wanted to be a pro and has done everything we asked him to do the past five years. You ask him to shoot 500 shots and he will. He never questions what you tell him he just does it.

He is a very quiet kid, but a great kid that has a great work ethic that has built himself into what I am told is a possible lottery pick by the way he is playing. If you had to compare him to an NBA player who would it be?

Coach Kampe: When I say this to NBA scouts they look unsure. I say Antonio McDyess because he is a great defensive rebounder, which Keith is. Keith is also a great jump shooter and he can score anyway there is. He can shoot the three, turnaround jumpers, face-up jumpers and off the bounce.

You look at the tape of the first half of the Tennessee game and he does it all. Left hand hook, right hand hook, probably got away with a push off and hit a fade away. That to me is Antonio McDyess a big man that can score the basketball.

Defensively Keith can also block shots, but we don’t ask him to be a great defender contesting everything because I don’t want him foul trouble. Somebody will have to make him into a great defender, which he will learn to do because of the work ethic and skills. What do think the long-term effects of a guy like Keith has on a program?

Coach Kampe: The short-term effect is playing on National TV and winning. Keith is becoming a household name as he is all over ESPN, blogs and internet. With the way Keith is playing his name gets bigger and so does Oakland’s.

If David Stern stands on podium and calls his name that will be a moment etched in stone for this program and should pay dividends. Talk about the life as a mid-major and scheduling the way Oakland does.

Coach Kampe: We choose to do this; we don’t have to do it. This is the formula we used to build the program when everybody thought we were from California. Play everybody and get your name out there and go to kids in high school and say your going to play UNC, UCLA, Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State. You’re going to play them and play five or six of them every year by going to the biggest arenas in the country. I think this has really helped us get players that can play. Look at our roster, we have some really good players and have won a few big ones and it should only help in the future.

Like so many other hyped big man match-ups in college basketball foul trouble had Benson and Sullinger on the bench for long stretches Thursday night robbing basketball fans of a great head to head match-up. Benson ended his night fouling out with 8 points and 10 rebounds and Oakland took another loss from a heavyweight on the road.

Former OSU great and color commentator Jimmy Jackson had the quote of the night about Oakland as I re-watched the game early Friday morning, “This team has got talent, this team has got talent”. So beware of the Grizzlies come March.

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