Friday, November 16, 2007 6:34 PM EST

PEZZIMENTI: Benson finds more minutes with Bonnies
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - With a sizable scar on the cheek under his right eye and
the unkempt whiskers outlining his face you would think Tyler Benson to be a
grizzly hockey defenseman.

No, it wasn't a puck Benson took to the coconut. And no, that isn't the
beginning stages of a playoff beard.

No matter what sport he plays, Benson has earned the title of tough guy. The
St. Bonaventure basketball player is quickly becoming one of those glue guys
who does all the little things that good teams need to win.

"He epitomizes what we're trying to do," coach Mark Schmidt said. "He's hard-
working. Is he a great player? No. Does he have all the God-given abilities?
No. But he's getting the most out of what he has. He's overachieving. That's
what we're trying to preach to our guys - that you may not have all the God-
given ability, but if you work hard you can succeed."

Indeed, Benson has become the poster boys for this new Bona era under
Schmidt. After riding the bench much of the last two seasons under fired
coach Anthony Solomon, the junior is seizing new opportunities.

Some of those openings Schmidt has created. More have evolved from Benson's
old-fashioned hard work.

"Coach has given me a great opportunity to play minutes," Benson said. "I'm
trying to take full advantage of it. He's kind of letting me loose, whereas
before I wasn't involved as much as I wanted to be."

Now, Benson is usually first off the Bona bench. The swingman showed why by
recording nine points and a career-high nine rebounds in a 97-80 victory
Monday night over Binghamton.

Schmidt is impressed with Benson's court savvy and, with the roster thin
with scholarship players, needs his versatility.

"He's someone who I can count on," Schmidt said.

The 6-foot-7 Benson has played small forward and power forward. He's been
used in the middle of the Bonnies' 1-3-1 zone defense, a position a center
customarily occupies.

"Whatever (Schmidt) wants me to do, I'll step up and do it," Benson
said. "The more positions you can play, the more minutes you'll play."

And minutes is all Benson wants after being summoned to the end of the bench
as a freshman and sophomore. As a gangly rookie, he rarely played. Last
season, Solomon used Benson sparingly in short stretches to take advantage
of his outside shooting touch.

"It wasn't a lot of fun," Benson said of his early career. "But we pushed
through it, and we're looking on the brighter side now. Things are looking

Are they ever.

Thought to be weak and slow, Benson's future had looked bleak at times. That
he's evolved into solid contributor is a pleasant surprise.

"(Schmidt) has opened the flood gates and is letting everybody play," Benson
said. "We're running, we're pushing the ball, and everybody is playing
aggressive and talking on defense. That's his style of basketball. That's
how he wants us to play. Whatever he wants us to do, everybody is, hands
down, ready to do it."

Besides Michael Lee, Benson was the only Bonnie to score in double figures
in a season-opening loss at Boston University. He can still shoot from deep,
and, with added strength, can bang a little inside, too.

Zarryon Fereti is a Reilly Center favorite for his flair for the dramatic,
but Benson, with his workmanlike approach, is gaining fast. The gash he took
to the face in a preseason scrimmage is symbolic of that.

"He's undersized, but he's playing hard," Schmidt said. "He's making up for
whatever deficiencies he has in terms of strength. He's really worked hard,
and I'm proud of what he's done. Hopefully he can continue to do it."

Benson spent most of the summer on campus, and more specifically in the
weight room. He gained 20 pounds, and is now up over 215. Schmidt can use
him as a power forward to create mismatches.

Teammate Tyler Relph remembers a whole different Benson when the two met
five years ago. Relph was a freshman at West Virginia and Benson a skin-and-
bones high schooler from Morgantown, W.Va.

"Since I've seen him there it's been unbelievable," Relph said. "He's grown
four inches. He worked in the weight room tons this summer. He put 50 more
pounds on his bench, put 50 pounds on his squat and put 50 pounds on his
power clean. He's just stronger. You watch him go get rebounds, he's just an
animal. That's what we need out of him - for him to be a banger and knock
down open shots. If he can play like that, he's a great plus for us."

(Vinny Pezzimenti is a sports writer for the Olean Times Herald)