The courtside seating at the Nutter Center is about to get a lot safer, but first Grant Benzinger has one more game to play there when the Raiders take on Cleveland State for Senior Night on Monday.
Known for his hustle and blatant disregard for his body as much as his sharp shooting, Benzinger has dropped more than just sweat on the home hardwood during his four years at Wright State. A lot of skin and a little blood were left behind as well each time he dove for a loose ball.
“I feel like our front-row patrons and press row folks are always in danger when he’s in the game, and that’s a compliment and a worry,” WSU athletic director Bob Grant joked.
“He’s always played football, so he’s always been a rough and tumble kind of kid,” said Benzinger’s father, Todd, the former Cincinnati Reds first baseman and Dayton Dragons manager.
“He loves to fly around and make all the hustle plays,” Todd added. “That’s just his style of basketball.”
A cameraman positioned under one of the baskets got more than a close-up shot of Benzinger flying around in the game against Green Bay on Feb. 8. Following an airball 3-point attempt from Cole Gentry, Benzinger raced in from the wing and saved the ball from going out of bounds with a full-speed leap that ended with him crashing into the cameraman.
The collision sent the cameraman flying backward while his wired headset ricocheted several feet onto the court. Like Benzinger, the guy was a gamer, returning to duty a few minutes after getting checked by medical personnel.
After the game, Benzinger retweeted a video of the play and commented, “This is what the game is all about.”
Monday night will be all about Benzinger and Trey Stacey as the two seniors and former high school teammates at Moeller will be honored in a ceremony on the court before the game.
Even though Stacey has played just 86 minutes and scored 38 points in his four seasons at Wright State, he is a big reason why Benzinger is still a Raider and still has a chance to become the school’s leader in career games played by the end of the season.
Halfway through their WSU career, they watched the coach that recruited them, Billy Donlon, get fired after a 20-win season. Benzinger immediately asked to be released from scholarship with the intention of transferring.
“He wants to play in the NCAA tournament so bad,” Todd said. “When they changed coaches, he saw things going downhill and said, ‘We’re not going to win the league tournament here, so I’ve got to get out of here.’”
New coach Scott Nagy understood Grant’s skepticism, but he had a blunt message for him.
“I told him ‘We’d love to have you, but we need to get going and make up your mind because we need to know one way or the other,’” Nagy said. “I don’t baby people and beg people to stay, and I think he appreciated that.”
Assistant coach Clint Sargent didn’t beg either. But while talking about his own experience playing for Nagy at South Dakota State, Sargent was persuasive enough over breakfast at Bob Evans to get Grant to consider staying.
And the idea of no longer playing with Stacey sealed the deal.
“I had a short window to make my decision, and after that breakfast I was pretty sure I wanted to stay,” Benzinger said. “The other big part of it was I didn’t know if I could leave my teammates, especially Trey. I couldn’t not see myself playing with Trey.
“It’s rare for guys to play together for four years,” he added. “Guys get cut or hurt or they transfer. We’ve been teammates for eight years. That’s really special.”
Grant heads into his final home game with 1,352 points, which ranks 15th in school history. He holds the school record for 3-pointers made (270) and 3-pointers attempted (675) and is fourth in free-throw percentage (.839), seventh in minutes (3,617) and seven in 3-point percentage (.400).
And his 125 games are fifth in program history, eight shy of AJ Pacher’s school record.
Todd said he has been in the stands for two-thirds of the road games and only missed a couple of the ones played at the Nutter Center.
“I may not have watched all of them in person, but I’ve never missed one,’” he said. “Even when I was in Arizona for Reds fantasy camp, I had my headphones in listening to the game while I was coaching third base.
“I don’t know how I didn’t get fined in kangaroo court for that,” he added with a laugh. “I’ve always had in my mind his basketball career is a finite piece of time, and I didn’t want to miss it. I’ve seen him play since he was a second grader, and I coached him most of the time. Why would I miss his college days? I wanted to watch every game I could.”
Todd will have plenty of company in the family section Monday night. Grant said he expects 40 or more family members and friends to be there for his final home game.
“I don’t know if I’ll get emotional or not,” he said. “I haven’t really thought about it. Last week I was focused on Northern Kentucky with it being such a big game. Now it’s starting to dawn on me it will be the last game of my career at the Nutter Center.”
One more chance for him to hit the floor. Literally.