2022 NJ Benson out of Mt. Vernon, Illinois entered the 2021 grassroots season with high expectations of becoming a certified college prospect. The 6-7 small forward was on the radar of a few college programs but he hadn’t quite busted through the doors to actually pick up any offers.
Benson made some noise during a Covid-filled 2020 AAU season playing with the SW Illinois Jets on their 17u team as a sophomore. His role was more rebounding and playing tough interior defense. He would show flashes of some offensive versatility and ability to run the floor but the 17u Jets had some upperclassmen that were the focal point on offense.
We knew Benson was a beast on the glass and was not afraid to challenge any shot on the defensive end. We were excited to see how his game had developed. And as the 2021 grassroots season started, we were very impressed with his offensive game — he was a completely different player with his game. He was dunking everything, cleaning the offensive glass, handling the ball on the perimeter some, and even showing that he can knock down the 3-point jumper. There was a nastiness to his game now… he was battling for every rebound, every loose ball, and had the mindset that he was going to put the defender in the rim.
This explosion led to a slew of college coaches coming out to recruit him — and eventually offering the 2022 rising prospect. He had picked up 15+ D1 offers entering the crucial July live periods where programs like Mizzou, Marquette, Illinois, and others came to evaluate him. His stock was soaring.
Benson made the decision to narrow in on 5 schools (SIUE, Southern Illinois, Missouri State, Illinois State, Murray State) that were recruiting him the most and ultimately committed to Dana Ford and the Missouri State Bears.
We caught up with Benson to ask him a few questions about his commitment.
RLH: What led to your commitment to Missouri State with so many quality programs recruiting you?
NJ: It wasn’t an easy decision. My final 5 all made strong pitches and I enjoyed the recruiting process that each school brought to the table. Coach Ford has a family-like atmosphere that I really enjoyed. He was at all my AAU games and made me a priority. I like the Bears style of play and think that fits with my skill-set.
RLH: Did Coach Ford say how he was going to utilize you?
NJ: He has coached hybrids like me and I like what he’s done with those players. He has the same idea for me as those players which helped in my decision process. I just felt really comfortable with the coaches and the system.
RLH: As Missouri State fans get to know you better. What do you want them to know about your game?
NJ: That I love to rebound and can handle the ball well for my size. I can take mismatches inside or out based on the personnel on the floor. I’m going to play hard 100% of the time and want to get this team to the NCAA tournament.
RLH: Can you talk a little about your experience this AAU season?
NJ: I had a great time at the RecruitLook events and thought the competition was some of the best. I appreciate the love and opportunity that you guys gave me. I appreciate Coach Dana, Coach Dre, and Coach Burton for all they did for me. The Jets are like a family and have that family atmosphere in their program. I could call any of those guys at any time of the day or night and they would be there for me.