Not too surprising, Game 7 of the NBA Finals spiked interest in basketball for the football drenched nation named Ghana; blame the multi headed media beast-the NBA-for that. On the verge of seeing LeBron James lift a title in Cleveland after 52 years on another phenomenon’s land, captured the imagination of Ghanaians on how great such an achievement will pad the records of a man synonymous with the game since Kobe and Michael Jordan. After seeing how Cleveland reacted and will react when a championship parade through the “Land” takes place, the country which is also in search of a title for its beloved sport-football- is about to receive a double dose of Cinderella Story four days apart when 21 year old Benjamin Bentil’s name is called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday.
The Ghanaian is a sure lock to be among sixty players to gain entry into the world’s premium basketball league via a draft. Little over 24 hours to the main event, Bentil is projected to be drafted by Chicago Bulls with the 48th pick per NBA.com with nbadraft.net pegging him to be picked by New Orleans Pelicans at number 39. His story ranks as high as hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy after storming back from a 1-3 deficit in the best of seven series against the winningest team in NBA history. Moving to the States aged 15 from Sekondi in Ghana’s Western Region, having played the game way lesser than the average American hoopster and going through endless hours of vigorous training to close the gap between he and his more “basketball sound” mates at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware, life was not rosy even in the land of milk and honey.
Adapting to a new environment and a new family took some time before his raw athleticism but still improving overall hoops skills began to show, earning him a scholarship to Providence College. Superior speed, stronger frame and higher level of endurance can take an athlete far and in Bentil’s case, his move to the US and getting a scholarship proves that but without improving on fundamentals, the upward trajectory becomes hard to replicate in real time. In his first season at Providence, lacking the ability to put the ball through a hoop against a set defense, proved tough for Bentil who managed to score points off fastbreaks-counter attacks in basketball- and dunks. It was telling on his finished product for the season as he averaged six points and four rebounds per game for the season.
An offseason spent on developing the one area he fell short would take him to the precipice of stardom in his second season. His newly found shooting prowess anywhere inside an opponent’s half, gave him more opportunities to stay on the court longer, handle the ball more and shoot more. The results; an uptick across board which had him average 21 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes. Point Guard Kris Dunn had long been the heart and soul of Providence’ team but needed a running mate to finish off moves inside and outside the curved lines. Dunn is tabbed to be a top ten pick.
In Bentil’s sophomore year, Dunn found his sidekick; the Robin to his Batman. Through the Big East Conference they rolled, Bentil etching his name into Providence folklore by scoring 42 points against Marquette University, before bowing out of the postseason in the second round. His remarkable improvement had him named the Most Improved Player of the Year in the Big East Conference and lead scorer. Despite the tremendous upside, he was an outsider looking in the draft. But a strong showing in the Combine-a mini camp where prospects are run through various drills in the presence of team executives-pushed his stock way up into the top thirty.
Should team executives stick with either of the aforementioned projections, Bentil will be in Michael Jordan’s building in Chicago or could be a backup to All Star Forward Anthony Davis in Louisiana. Having gone as high as 27 on the rankings per Bleacher Report immediately after the Combine, he has fallen down the standings as others like China’s Zhou Qi and Spain’s Juan Hernanagomez sneaked into the top thirty spots. Bentil’s average rebounding rate and defensive play have been listed as areas of weakness which affected him.
But a walk through Bentil’s journey from the shores of the Gulf of Guinea to the other side of the Atlantic has been nothing short of a guy who has defied the odds to be in the league of a chosen few. Ghana stand up for your first.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah