No one was more excited to see Tennessee as Wright State’s first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament than Grant Benzinger.
That’s because the WSU senior has been friends with Volunteers junior forward Admiral Schofield for a couple of years, ever since the two attended the Athletes In Action Captains Academy in 2016.
“Grant told me the other day that he and Admiral had been in touch and told each other they were rooting for each other in the tournament, and that was even before they knew they’d be playing each other,” said Morris Michalski, the director of the Captains Academy.
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“We haven’t talked since we found out we were playing each other,” Benzinger said. “I’m sure during warmups I’ll say ‘hi’ to him or something.
“It’s one of those things where it’s more special at the end of the day and before the game,” Benzinger added. “But when you’re in the heat of the moment, it’s no different. It’s just like another stranger out there.”
A 6-foot-5, junior forward, Schofield was second-team All-SEC this year after averaging leading Tennessee in rebounds (6.3) and finishing second scoring (13.8).
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The invitational-only Captains Academy where Benzinger and Schofield met takes 25 players and splits them into five pods of five, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. they have team-building activities and plenary sessions on topics such as principles of leadership, conflict resolution and how to win a locker room.
At 9 p.m., the groups would end their day with some spirited basketball.
Benzinger and Schofield were in the same pod, and their huddle leader was former Ohio State star Aaron Craft with Michalski assisting.
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“I tend to bounce around a little bit, but I was particularly locked into that group,” Michalski said. “It was special.
“When guys get in the middle of this stuff and eyes pop and hearts open, good stuff happens,” Michalski added. “When men are honest with each other and they’re all learning in and looking, it’s beautiful. It’s a movement.”
Because of the bond forged, Benzinger had watched hours of Tennessee basketball before the coaches and team started breaking down film after the pairing was announced on the selection show Sunday evening.
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“When you have a buddy on another team, you try to watch as many games of them as you can,” he said. “(The Volunteers) can shoot, but they’d rather play inside. They have great big men. If they do shoot from the outside, they’re sending three to glass hard, so if we don’t box out and get defensive rebounds we’ll be in trouble.”
WSU junior guard Mark Hughes, the team’s top on-ball defender, is likely to draw the assignment on Schofield, which Benzinger said would be fine with him.
“He’s their best perimeter scorer, so there will be no offense taken if they don’t put me on him,” Benzinger joked. “He’s am much more fun player to watch than he is to guard.”
No.14 Wright State (25-9) vs. No. 3 Tennessee (25-8)
When: 12:40 p.m. Thursday
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas