A country derided by many within for overly concentrating on football to the chagrin of lovers of other sports, will have a shining light to look up to. Come June 23, Ben Bentil stands on the verge of getting drafted into the world’s best basketball league-the NBA- and in the process become the very first Ghanaian to do so. The West African nation has had loads of individuals grace the greatest sporting platforms.
Azumah Nelson is the only African to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, its’ football athletes, which the country is synonymous with, have reached the apex of the game on many levels. Bentil is very likely to be one of the very few to blaze a sports trail when he gets drafted. Playing in the American College system has featured and features some Ghanaians; so making it onto Providence roster wasn’t much a big deal.
The likes of Kobby Amoah and Ernest Aflakpui have played and are playing respectively in the famed National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Amida Brimah has won the national title in 2013 and will see out his four year stay at UCONN (University of Connecticut) following his (right) decision to withdraw his name from the upcoming draft.
What has been missing is the next step to the elite pro level. Well missing until now. Bentil has been pegged to be drafted 28th by nbadraft.net, 27th by Bleacher Report and 30th by CBS Sports in updated mock drafts respectively. How Bentil got to this point is a well documented journey that started from the twin-city capital of Ghana’s Western Region, Sekondi-Takoradi to St. Andrew’s School in Delaware and on the verge of getting drafted by Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors or Golden State Warriors. But what about the institution that shaped Bentil into an NBA material.
Providence University got the best out of the 6 foot 8 inch Power Forward by sticking him with the best Point Guard in the draft in Kris Dunn. Dunn, a 22 year old 6 foot 4 inch Guard, with a nose for playing hard on defense. Like Bentil, he also registered career highs in points (16.4) but maintained his defensive niche by retaining his Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East Conference. His stellar play earned him a spot in the All-American second team and a likely top five spot in the upcoming draft. Providence’ lack of big men meant the team played small ball lineups for the best part of the season.
However, a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament could not have been possible without Dunn’s outside threat. For the season, he attempted 113 shots beyond the arc converting 42. He also averaged 5.3 rebounds in the regular season to pace himself as one of the best rebounding Point Guards. Bentil for the season averaged 7.1 rebounds on the other hand but drew paint prowlers from under the rim to the perimeter to beat them with his speed to the basket. In cases where his first step proved tough to get by defenders, his improved shooting from distance punished many a team. The duo gave the Friars an inside-outside combination with a unique ability to trade places in an opponent’s end of the court. See them a mini Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook.
Having spent two seasons under the tutelage of Coach Ed Cooley helped Bentil get the right instructions from the bench. Cooley completed his fifth season in Providence with a second round 77-79 defeat to eventual Finalists University of North Carolina. The former Fairfield University trainer who was adjudged 2010 Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year-an annual award to the best basketball coach of top minority colleges in the US. Following the loss, Providence tied Cooley to a long term contract which was not disclosed. Prior to his appointment in 2011, Providence had made it to the NCAA Tournament just once in 10 years.
In five seasons, Providence has made it to the Tournament on three occasions winning 103 games and losing 67. His position less basketball brand was a major part in recruiting Bentil from St. Andrew’s and Dunn as both can switch onto multiple players. In the modern NBA, versatility is a key cog in winning over coaches and executives especially in Bentil’s case where he is on Golden State’s radar. See him as the Draymond Green of the 2016 NBA Draft where his ability to guard positions 2-4 and even 1 will be utterly valued after two years of molding by Cooley.
Thank You Providence for giving Ghana its’ first NBA player.
But this is not the end of the story; there are more talents in the never hamstrung stable of talents in the West African nation. A burgeoning gap between Providence and the rest of the elite appears set to happen with Bentil and Dunn leaving for the NBA but a splash into GH’s deep pool of talent can solve that.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah