Benson grew his game, too, at prep school

MICHAEL CASAZZA is a sports reporter for The Dominion Post. Reach him at 
    ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It was always hard, if not unfair, to accurately classify Tyler Benson when he was starring at Morgantown High a few years back.
    He entered the varsity program in the winter of 2001 several inches shorter than when he left it, three seasons and three state tournament appearances later. Benson kept growing and growing, all the way to 6 feet, 7 inches when he was a senior.
    He was good. That was the easy part. But a good what? A guard? Kind of tall for the back court. A forward? Kind of light for the front court.
    “I,” Benson said, “was a pole.”
    As tall as he was, Benson weighed just 180 pounds. Yet it was a dangerous combination of size and speed. If it was hard to apply a label, it was as difficult to apply defense. The back-court skills he learned at a young age, ball-handling, passing, shooting, it all carried over to the front court.
    Benson averaged 17, 12 and 13 points per game in his three varsity seasons, yet he did so without many interior skills. It was mostly instinct inside and accuracy outside. He was a tall guard, a shooting forward.
    There was potential, and he opened eyes at WVU coach John Beilein’s team camp the summer before his senior year, when he played well in a game against a team of Mountaineers recruits, including Frank Young and Tyler Relph. Still, it wasn’t enough to attract the schools Benson was attracted to.
    “I grew a lot in high school and I didn’t really fill my body out,” Benson said. “There was a concern that as I got taller, I hadn’t gained any weight. I thought an extra year of prep school would help my body mature.”
    And so it was that a two-time allstate player had no college scholarship offers to his liking when he graduated, in the spring of 2004.
    “I talked to Coach Beilein a few times about prep school and he gave me some thoughts about what I should do and where I should go,” Benson said. “I took all the things he told me and made the best decision I could.”
    Benson decided to attend Massanutten Military Academy, in Woodstock, Va. A year later, he signed a National Letter of Intent with St. Bonaventure. Some 20 pounds of mass and muscle heavier, Benson helped Massanutten to a 20-9 record while averaging 16 points. He shot 39 percent from 3-point range and, perhaps more importantly, averaged 7.0 rebounds per game.
    “Prep school got me a lot of offers I did not receive out of high school,” Benson said. “High school ball in West Virginia is not the most recruited as far as high-major or mid-major Division I schools. In the prep school circuit, you get to play in front of big names and big programs against top schools and at showcase tournaments.”
    Siena, Providence, Hawaii and Colorado State all took a good look, but Benson took a liking to new St. Bonaventure coach Anthony Solomon, despite all the controversy that surrounded the program in the 2002-’03 season, when Benson was a junior at MHS.
    The Bonnies had knowingly admitted and used a player who was not eligible. NCAA sanctions followed and the coach, athletic director and president were all gone by the end of the season.
    “That was the biggest word during high school,” Benson said. “The scandal was the only thing I knew about them. But I thought that the talent was there and I knew about the other guys we had coming in. That’s what kind of drew me in.”
    Benson is one part of an apparently bright future for the Bonnies. He played 10 minutes and scored one basket during the first three games before going scoreless in two minutes of play, missing a 3-point shot, against WVU Wednesday night. Benson typically spells seniors Wade Dunston, Ahmad Smith and Patrick Lottin. For the record, that’s two guards and forward. That’s also Benson, whose versatility has helped him in the end.
    “Tyler Benson will improve our perimeter shooting. He’s a proven shooter,” Solomon said. “Tyler’s skills will benefit our team tremendously. He will be a key component in upgrading our roster.”
Tyler Benson