It’s not crazy to believe that Brent Benson has a lot of basketball left in his 27-year-old legs.
The 2004 Gainesville High graduate always kept the faith that he’d get a chance to continue playing the game he loved, through good times and bad.
Benson's latest venture on the hardwood begins Monday when he leaves to join the Birmingham Knights, a newly-formed team in the British Basketball League in England.
Benson, one of two U.S. players on Birmingham roster, will have a quick meet-and-greet period with teammates before a scrimmage game. The season begins later in September.
“God willing, I’ll be able to play until I’m 40,” Benson said. “Maybe I’ll play for a long time overseas or maybe get a shot at the NBA.”
Benson isn’t nervous about a shot to show he can play well professionally, even though it’s been almost three years since he played one game and scored 16 points in 2010 with the NBA Developmental League’s Springfield Armor, now an affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets. Since then, he’s stayed active in the sport by running his own basketball training organization, B3 Academy, working with about 35 kids in Gwinnett County and North Fulton.
“Playing basketball is what I’ve done all my life,” said Benson, who coached with King’s Ridge Christian Academy in Alpharetta during the 2012-13 season. “It’s not like you’re telling me to go work on Wall Street. Playing basketball is what I’m comfortable doing.”
After graduating from Texas State and earning Southland Conference honorable mention honors in 2009, Benson’s first taste of playing basketball in Europe came courtesy of a three-month stay with a league in Poland. He fell through the cracks when he left for a team that was in the process of filing for bankruptcy.
For Benson, the opportunity to play in England came after a long hiatus from playing competitively. He was first contacted by a scout, Roger Payne, three months ago and once his paperwork was finalized in June, it sent the training process into overdrive.
He knew there was a big difference between his role as instructor to about 35 kids and returning to playing shape, like when he was a sharp-shooting guard at Coastal Georgia Community College and later at Texas State, where he averaged 14 points a game during his last two seasons of eligibility.
“We’re just all so proud of him and wish him the best,” his mother, Sandra Benson said. “We know he’s very excited about this opportunity.”
According to his mother, Benson got into playing shape by training extensively with friend Martrez Milner, who played football at the University of Georgia and in the NFL. She said her son lost about 30 pounds as a result.
“Six days a week, twice a day, I’ve been putting in the work to get in shape,” Benson said.
Benson said one of the selling points for the British Basketball League, and more specifically the Birmingham franchise, was an eager fan base willing to support a new franchise.
“The BBL has a reputation as the No. 1 league in the UK,” he said.
Over the course of his career, leadership and desire to win have been a couple of Benson's most favorable traits. As a Red Elephant, he averaged 27 points as a senior and helped them to back-to-back state semifinal appearances (2001, 2002).
The opportunity to play professionally again serves as a kind of redemption for having his heart broken. Benson was cut not long after experiencing the thrill of making the NBA's D-League in 2010.
After making the Springfield Armor nearly three years ago, Benson's time in the pros came to an abrupt end when a player in the NBA was sent down to the team and took over his roster spot. Benson was then the odd man out and without a place to play.
Still, he always felt in his heart there would be another chance, if it was meant to be. And, a positive of not playing professionally the past few seasons is less wear and tear on his body than many other guys his age.
“All along, I’ve just had faith in God and know that everything happens for a reason,” Benson said.
Even though he stopped playing for a time, Benson never stopped caring deeply about basketball. His time as a head junior varsity coach and assistant at the varsity level has helped him remain part of the sport.
Now, the players he's mentored in recent years will be some of his biggest fans.
“I think what I’m doing now shows them to never give up on their dreams,” Benson said. “They’re all excited for me and eager to keep up with how I’m doing when I get to the UK.”