The National Collegiate Athletic Association is the body in charge of regulating all competitive sporting activities in the United States of America. An overwhelming number of athletes currently plying their trade in whatsoever sporting discipline in the USA at one point in time had something to do with this association. On its website, the NCAA states that 1.1% of men’s college basketball players end up in the NBA. That is an extremely infinitesimal number!
For someone born in Akron Ohio or Alexandria Virginia, lottery of birth means your chances of being part of that one percent is quite positive. Indoor gymnasiums, membership on AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) teams, science tailored nutrition, an active and competitive high school varsity league and easy proximity to a top notch coaching staff smoothens your path towards such a future.
On the other hand, if you had to hustle for your next meal fishing on the coast of a beach town, chances of hearing your name on draft day are as slim as Kim Kardashian being the next UN General Secretary. You might dream of it but the practicality of it might seem far beyond your reach. Added to the complexity of your aspirations, is that you are not the second coming of 7 foot tall Hakeem Olajuwon.
But every child has the right to dream and fight for that dream. The fight might be long and hard but all that matters is the perseverance and fortitude. That never say die spirit has propelled many men to greater heights. One of them, is Benjamin Bentil.
A month ago, the media buzz was around a son of the land of the Black star who was knocking on the doors of the NBA. On 23rd June, 2016, that door was opened and it ushered in a new era for basketball. For the first time in the history of the sport, a Ghanaian by nationality and birth was drafted into the NBA. This was not the story of a kid born in the diaspora to Ghanaian parents but with no knowledge of the average Ghanaian’s daily experience. This is the beginning of the chronicling of a story a kid shooting free throws on the potholes riddled courts of Ashaiman can relate with.
Ben Bentil was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 51st pick in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft. That puts him in quite a good company. The Boston Celtics have been in the process of rebuilding for some time now and as evident by the high number of picks (8) they had on the night. All 8 players selected are bigs and what makes Bentil stand out of this pack is his impressive scoring skills. Coming into the draft, some analysts considered him as the best scorer in a draft which had big names like Ingram, Buddy Hield, Simmons and Kris Dunn.
If not traded as has become the norm with most draft day picks, Ben should be seeing quality minutes on this playoffs team. His scoring will add a lot to this team but what definitely needs to improve for his game to become transcendent is his defense and assists. At Providence, he did not have to show a lot in that regard with stellar playmaker Kris Dunn leading the charge on offense and the team sacrificing him on defense for fear of their biggest man fouling out. But Brad Stevens is going to demands everything out of him if he wants to secure an NBA contract. The summer league offers us an opportunity to see how he adjusts in that regard.
Boston has a very huge Ghanaian community so it will not feel very different from home. Providence College, where Bentil played is also close to Boston so his support base is not far either. Nonetheless, acclimatizing to his new environment and work demands is something Bentil cannot compromise on. Speaking with Bentil’s Ghanaian coach, Meme Falconer who was at the Barclays Center for the Draft together with the former’s mother, you get a feeling that acclimatizing is not his biggest concern right now. Making an impact right away is his biggest focus.
The success of Ben Bentil is a shared entity. Almost every Ghanaian basketball fan is already gravitating towards the Boston Celtics, including some of the Laker fans. It will be a more satisfying story if Bentil reaches higher ceilings; rookie of the year award, all-star appearances, an MVP award and a ring. It is not too much to hope for the man. Hakeem Olajuwon, a Nigerian born NBA hall of famer achieved most of the aforementioned feats and even more. For now, Ghanaian prayers, tongues and fasting is what we can offer him. All we want back in return is the joy of seeing him feature prominently on the courts of the TD Garden!