Joe Lewinger sat on the bench and watched Avis Benjamin attempt to make a spin move in the paint. Instead, what he saw was the junior traveling during a win against South Shore on Dec. 30. What came next for the then−coach of The Mary Louis Academy at that moment was neither anger nor frustration.
“I just had a flashback to Maral [Javadifar],” Lewinger said. “Maral is a big−time player and Avis is going through some of those growing pains that Maral went through.”
The comparison is certainly fitting.
Javadifar, the former Mary Louis star who is a freshman playing at Pace University, was moved up to the varsity as a sophomore like Benjamin and she became Benjamin’s mentor last season. Both were exceptionally athletic players who continued to work and improve as they become more comfortable at the varsity level.
Benjamin says she wears the number 44 because it was her number freshman year and also because it was worn by Javadifar.
“She was always someone to talk to about school and basketball,” Benjamin said.
The forward has improved greatly over the last year, going from a bench player to a starter because of her tireless work ethic and the harnessing of her athletic ability. Benjamin even spends time after practice working on her ball handling skills with Hilltoppers star Amanda “Buzz” Burakoski, who says she has seen what they work on translating into the games.
“Last year I definitely was like a practice player,” Benjamin said. “I’d do all that stuff at practice then I’d get my opportunity in the game and I’d freeze. It’s a lot better this year. Now,, if I see the opportunity, I’ll take it.”
She has done plenty of that so far this season. The 5−foot−10 Benjamin is relentless on the glass, cleaning up misses on the offensive end and starting fast breaks on the defensive back boards. Her athleticism makes her a tough cover in the post and allows her to get out and finish and create on fast breaks in Mary Louis’ up−tempo system. She had been a consistent contributor all season, especially in the paint.
“It’ s typical,” point guard Karin Robinson said. “She always does it. Put backs.”
Benjamin scored 21 points in a win against Woonsocket (R.I.) at the Big Apple Recruiting Christmas Classic, had six points and grabbed eight rebounds in a win over South Shore the next day and had 10 points during a victory over Bishop Ford last Tuesday. Mary Louis is off to a 7−2 start.
“You just see that things are happening with Avis,” said Hilltoppers Coach Kevin White, who took over so Lewinger could spend more time with his 3−year−old twins, who are battling cancer. “She is becoming more confident with things she is able to do. She is starting to do more things on the perimeter. In the past, she would always be in the post. She is expanding her game a little bit.”
Benjamin said that is the next aspect of her game that needs to be developed. She is working on coming off screens, driving and her midrange jumper.
“I’m already comfortable around the key,” Benjamin said. “Fifteen footers or so, but I don’t have a shot like Buzz yet.”
So, for now, Benjamin knows exactly what her roll is.
“To get in there and push people around, use that [athleticism] to kinda jump over people and get in the right spot,” she said.
And continue to do all the right things toward improving.
©2009 Community News Group
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