The 90's Illini - Robert Bennett
It's a new thing I'm doing - not The 90 Illini, The 90's Illini. People toss out a name on Twitter and I write down everything I remember. This is not "where are they now?", it's "what were they then?" Tonight's subject: Robert Bennett. Let's go back to my years in school.
Robert Bennett had springs for legs. That's the thing everyone remembers about Robert Bennett. You know those little toys with the suction cups on the bottom but they're spring-loaded so you push the thing down on the table and it sticks for a little bit but then the springs take over and it suddenly jumps in the air? That was Robert Bennett.
Basketball? He wasn't a pure "basketball player". I mean, he's better than anyone you or I have ever played against, but in terms of "basketball skills" he's not going to win any shooting or dribbling competitions. But man could he jump. Which meant man could he rebound (and dunk).
I do remember his freshman campaign being the scariest free throw adventure I'd ever seen. I just looked it up - he was 17-48 (.354) from the free throw line as a freshman. But he really wasn't asked to get the ball in the paint, get fouled, and get to the line. He was asked to rebound and dunk.
I remember Bennett riding the roller coaster of playing time his whole career. That freshman year (1991-92, when the Bruce Pearl sanctions set) he played a decent amount for a frosh. Then his sophomore year his minutes increased dramatically. Scott Pierce left for Oklahoma State (where he would eventually play in the Final Four) and Bennett's minutes went up significantly. That season (92-93) he averaged 7.8 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Then, his junior year, we added juco transfer Shelly Clark and paired him with Deon Thomas in the frontcourt while Bennett came off the bench. So Bennett's numbers dropped to 5.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Then Deon graduated and the frontcourt became Clark and Bennett and the numbers went back up - 8.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Bennett was listed at 6'-6" but I don't remember him being 6'-6". Maybe... 6'-4.5" in socks? But he played well above the rim because of that amazing leaping ability. Yes, he could get muscled on the block while playing defense, but he could also jump over your head and grab the rebound without climbing on your back. His leg-springs were his whole game.
Let's see, what else...
He was born on Christmas Day. I don't know why I remember that but I do. It's probably because my birthday is right around Christmas and those of us who spent years getting combo Christmas/birthday presents have to stick together. Jarrod Gee was born on my birthday and Robert Bennett on Christmas. These are the things taking up space in my brain instead of, I don't know, the periodic table.
He was from Chicago Julian, which I remember cranking out a lot of players back in the 80's/90's. I remember that there was a chance he was going to be Prop 48 (you could enroll, but you couldn't play because your grades weren't good enough), but he did qualify. If I have my years straight he and Marc Davidson were the first class when we were restricted to 2 scholarships (and no off-campus recruiting), and then Richard Keene and Chris Gandy were the next year (the final year of the restrictions). I'm 84% certain that's correct, although sometimes I convince myself that it was Scott Pierce who was in the first class with Davidson.
And yes, unfortunately, I'll always remember him for a play that didn't happen. We're playing the Fab Five at home in 1993 (1992? No, I think it was 1993). It was either the end of regulation or the end of overtime and we have a chance to win (over the top-5, everyone on earth hated them Fab Five). We're running this final possession and everyone is on their feet and someone (Rennie Clemons?) whips a pass to an open Robert Bennett on the baseline... and it goes right through his hands and out of bounds. Now, this was the Fab Five - even if he catches the bullet pass one of the Michigan players is probably going to come over and block it or something. But I can still remember the moment as the crowd slumped their shoulders all at the same time.
But that's how this works, right? Bennett had a solid career, great rebounding numbers, helped us to the NCAA Tournament in '93, '94, and '95. Yet when you ask for a game memory, it's that one "almost" moment.
My current goals for Greg Eboigbodin? Be Robert Bennett. Block some shots, set some screens, grab some rebounds, bounce around all over the place being a general pest.
And help the team to the Tournament as a sophomore, junior, and senior.