Kent State commit Kalin Bennett aims to be first NCAA basketball player with autism

Yahoo Sports
Kalin Bennett signed a letter of intent to play for Kent State, a milestone signing. (Getty Images)
Kalin Bennett signed a letter of intent to play for Kent State, a milestone signing. (Getty Images)

It took Kalin Bennett longer than others to hit milestones. He was 2 when he sat up, 4 when he walked, 7 when he talked and 8 when he held a conversation.

At 6-10, 300 pounds and 18 years old he’s set a mark for the NCAA, becoming the first student-athlete with autism to sign a national letter of intent to play a Division I team sport, according to the organization.

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Bennett signed with Kent State University earlier this month, per a feature in by Elton Alexander at cleveland.com. He ranked as the No. 16 prospect in Arkansas during his senior year at Little Rock Christian Academy.

Making an impact on campus

Bennett chose Kent State over other schools recruiting him because of its support system for those with autism. Kent offers several resources, including “College Success for students with Asperger’s or Autism.

He met with the autism outreach coordinator, asked the “tough questions” and was ready to commit without even meeting the coaches, according to cleveland.com.

“He wanted to come to Kent,’’  head basketball coach Rob Senderoff said. “Listen, not everyone would recruit him. That’s understandable. But this is a fit for everybody.’

He’ll enroll next summer with basketball and an activist role in mind.

“I want to make an impact not just on the court, but with kids that are struggling with the same things I am,’’ Bennett said. “I want to use this platform to inspire other kids with autism and non-autism. I want to let them know, hey, if I can do this, you can do it, too. A lot of times they feel alone and by themselves, and I felt that same way growing up.’’

His mom, Sonja Bennett, will move the 900 miles from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Kent State for emotional support.

Making an impact on the court

Bennett is spending a “gap year” at Link Year Prep in Branson, Missouri, and has 17 points in 12 minutes against junior college competition. Coaches told cleveland.com he’s a natural rebounder; both conditioning he hopes to play 30 pounds lighter and stamina will be keys to his success.

“Keep the weight off him and he’ll be OK,’’ said Kevin Howard, Bennett’s AAU coach. “He’s got everything else you would want, including a lot of intangibles. Kalin strives for perfection.” 

Kent State finished last season 17-17, including 9-9 in the Mid-American Conference. The Golden Flashes lost in the MAC Tournament title game to the University at Buffalo. Kent State is 5-1 going into Wednesday’s game at Detroit Mercy.

Bennett will not be the first autistic basketball player in the NCAA, rather the first on scholarship. Anthony Ianni walked on with Michigan State in 2009, according to cleveland.com.

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