This week, sophomore Avery Benson was put on scholarship by the Texas Tech basketball program, which is fitting because he personifies Red Raiders hoops.
Avery Benson is the personification of Texas Tech basketball. In all truth, he’s closer to the personification of the entire Red Raider athletic program. And now, he’s been placed on scholarship by head coach Chris Beard.
To imply that the Arkansas native is some charity case who is devoid of any basketball talent is unfair. After all, he averaged 16.5 points per game as a high school senior. And this year, he’s had big moments, including a nice 10-point, 2-block game against No. 1 Louisville back in December.
But it isn’t off target to suggest that he’s cut from the mold of players like Zach Thomas, Wes Welker, and Jakeem Grant more than the Michael Crabtrees, Pat Mahomes, and Jahmi’us Ramseys of the Texas Tech world. In other words, he’s an underdog who has had to prove himself at every step of his journey.
That’s Texas Tech. This isn’t an athletic department that has ever thrived on bringing greater individual talent to Lubbock than its competitors have brought to Norman, Austin, or other Big 12 ports of call. Rather, when people think about Texas Tech sports, they think about those players that have defied expectations.
That’s certainly the category Benson best fits into. Offered a scholarship by Beard out of high school when his current collegiate head coach was running the show at Arkansas-Little Rock, Benson wasn’t deemed initially worthy of a scholarship in the highly-competitive Big 12.
Still, he decided to walk-on in Lubbock. After sitting out the 2017-18 season as a redshirt, he was merely an end-of-the bench player last year seeing time only in blowouts. But this season, he’s become a regular member of the Red Raider rotation on a nightly basis.
He’s one of eight players on the roster averaging over ten minutes per game. He’s contributing 2.6 points and 1.8 rebounds in his 10.5 minutes of action.
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At times, he’s given this team some critical points off the bench, especially from 3-point range where he’s shooting 46.7% on 15 attempts. What’s more, he is tops on the team in adjusted offensive rating, which estimates the number of points he would contribute to per 100 possessions. At 137.1, he leads his next-closest teammate, T.J. Holyfield, by over 20 points in that stat.
But it is on the defensive end where he normally makes his presence felt. Though he’s just 6-foot-4, he’s fourth on the team in blocks per 100 possessions at 1.4. On his way to being an unexpected rim protector in spurts, he’s shown a surprising athleticism and leaping ability that we first saw last year when he made his most infamous play to date, a last-second alley-oop against Baylor that angered his head coach because it came at the end of a massive blowout.
That incident aside, Benson really is what this program is all about. Despite the fact that the talent level continues to rise in Lubbock during the Chris Beard era, Red Raider basketball remains all about being what the head coach refers to as street dogs.
That’s a term that became associated with Texas Tech basketball last April in the Final Four when Beard compared his roster to a collection of dogs that would be found in the local pound, rather than pure-bred show dogs.
“Those are more like street dogs. They’ve got about 48 hours to live,” Beard said in a piece by Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News. “And they live with a little more urgency, and they understand accountability and discipline a little bit better. They’re fortunate. They’re not entitled because they were in the pound, man.”
Though the number of top-150 recruits in the program is at an all-time high, Texas Tech isn’t going to begin to approach last year’s success without maintaining that mentality. It’s what Beard means when he repeats one of his favorite mantras to his team, “Don’t lose your chip”.
“I wake up every day feeling like the underdog, that I got something to prove,’’ Beard told USA Today’s Josh Peter at the Final Four.
There’s no doubt that Benson is one of those players who plays as if he’s got a chip on his shoulder every time he steps on the court. He has to lead the roster in floor burns and out-of-bounds dives and in doing so, he reminds everyone associated with this program that street dogs are the ones that win fights.
Nothing about Texas Tech has ever been overly glamorous. That’s the way we like it. West Texas is a harsh and rugged landscape and life on top of the Caprock is not for the faint of heart.
Likewise, the success of Red Raider sports has been born more of grit than anything else. It is the program defined by some of the toughest players in the history of the NCAA such as E.J. Holub, Ronald Ross, and Norense Odiase. And no current athlete on campus is a greater representation of that spirit than Avery Benson.
Though he’s now on scholarship, don’t expect Benson to change. He will still be a ball of energy and effort always willing to sacrifice his body for the sake of a loose ball or a rebound.
Avery Benson is what Texas Tech is all about. And though he’s been taken out of the pound and put on scholarship, he’s always going to be this team’s nastiest street dog.