Texas Tech basketball: Walk-on Avery Benson has important role this year

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 30: Avery Benson #24 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders cuts the net after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 30, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 30: Avery Benson #24 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders cuts the net after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 30, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Given the unusually high number of newcomers on this season’s Texas Tech basketball roster, sophomore walk-on Avery Benson could be more important than most might expect.

While he’s certainly increased the talent level of the Texas Tech basketball program since he’s taken over as head coach, Chris Beard’s unprecedented success has come in large part because of the culture he’s instilled in Lubbock.  He’s made certain that the players he has counted on have had attitudes of unselfishness as wells as relentless work ethics, two traits that seem to be disappearing from the world of college athletics a bit more with each passing year.

But with eight players on his roster this year who were not in Beard’s program last season, the 4th-year head coach’s ability to maintain the culture that has turned Tech hoops into a national power will be tested like never before.  That’s why he is likely going to lean heavy on all of his returning players, even sophomore walk-on Avery Benson.

We know that guards Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards will be two of the most important pieces of the puzzle for this year’s squad given that they are the only two returners who played in last year’s National Title Game.  It’s also not a stretch to envision redshirt freshmen Kevin McCullar and Andrae Savrasov seeing time this year, especially McCullar, who was a 4-star recruit when he signed with the Red Raiders out of high school.  Both were on campus for the spring semester last year and should be ready to see the floor.

But many may be discounting what Benson can bring to this team.  A walk-on surrounded by the most talented collection of individual players ever to put on the Double-T in one season, it’s easy for the Arkansas native to be forgotten, especially now that he’s no longer sporting the mullet that he had at the start of last season.

But he’s obviously a Beard guy.  After being offered a scholarship by Beard when he was the head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock, Benson planned to follow Beard to UNLV to walk-on but after Beard took the Texas Tech just three weeks later, Benson found a home in Lubbock as well.

Last year, Benson saw action in 20 games, most of them being blowouts in the non-conference portion of the schedule.  Averaging just 2.5 minutes and 0.6 points per game when he did step on the floor, his most memorable moment was one his coach likely wishes he could forget.

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On the final possession of Tech’s 86-61 home win over Baylor, Benson threw down a one-handed dunk off a lob from fellow walk-on Andrew Sorrells.  Though it brought the crowd a United Supermarkets Arena to its feet, it sent Beard into one of the most red-faced fits of his career.  Eventually, the ashamed Red Raider head coach made both of his walk-ons apologize to Baylor head coach Scott Drew.

That play made Benson a cult figure among Tech fans but this year, he’s got a new role to play, he’s going to be an important tone-setter for his coaches.  His lack of judgment against Baylor aside, Benson may be the player that most embodies what his head coach wants from an intangibles standpoint.

This year, players that are well-versed in the Beard way will be an invaluable commodity, especially early in the season.  And given that this team will feature seven freshmen, a player like Benson, who has now spent three years learning how his coaching staff wants it done both on and off the court, could be the type of glue that holds a very talented but piecemealed roster together.

Even last year, on a team loaded with veterans of Beard’s system like Jarrett Culver, Brandone Francis, and Norense Odiase, Beard at times asked Benson to provide a spark and remind the rest of the team of the level of effort that was expected.

Against his home state university, Benson was plugged into the game for a brief stint that saw him infuse some life in his team during a stretch when the Red Raiders were going through the motions in the second half.  Going all-out to chase down a loose ball, Benson went fully vertical to disrupt an Arkansas offensive possession bringing the arena to its feet and eliciting a primeval scream of praise from his head coach, who this time was red-faced with approval.

In Tech’s most unacceptable defeat of the season, a 79-74 loss to No. 10 seed West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament, an exasperated Beard inserted Benson into the game in the first half in an attempt to find any player that wanted to bring some energy to a game that Tech trailed by double-digits.  It was a testament to what Beard believes he can count on from Benson.

Finding out what he can count on early in the season this year will be Beard’s top priority aside from winning games.  There are going to be times when the players on the court simply don’t measure up to their head coach’s standards in regards to effort and discipline and in such cases, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Benson be the one his coach turns to in order to give his team a reminder of what he expects on every possession.

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Don’t expect Benson to play huge minutes this year, especially against higher-quality teams.  But on the practice court and in certain game situations, this “Beard-guy” is likely to be a leader in the sense that he will be the personification of the culture that is now the foundation of Texas Tech basketball.