Corey Benjamin: Keeping The Dream Alive

One could never say that Corey Benjamin is afraid to travel the world to keep alive his dream of returning to the National Basketball Association.

Since the start of the 2001-02 season, the former first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls has appeared in uniform for six teams in four leagues in three different countries. So when Benjamin got the phone call to attend rookie/free agent mini-camp with the Bobcats, he didn’t hesitate to pack his bags and head for Charlotte.

“This is the best opportunity I’ve had since I’ve been out of the league,” said Benjamin, who completed his most recent season in France just two weeks ago. “It’s a new expansion team that is looking for everything. I think it’s a good opportunity for me to come in and show what I can do on the floor.”

The 6-6, 200-pound guard was an early entry candidate for the 1998 NBA Draft when he left Oregon State University after his sophomore season. He was taken with the 28th overall pick by the Chicago Bulls, but quickly found that the defending world champions weren’t exactly the same without Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson.

“It was real exciting to be drafted by Chicago, but it was disappointing when everyone had left the team,” said Benjamin. “It was a case where nobody seemed to know what was going on. They were just bringing in players. There was no stability.”

Benjamin appeared in 144 games over three seasons for the Bulls. He recorded career highs of 7.7 points and 1.8 rebounds in 18 minutes per contest in 1999-2000, playing in 48 games with 10 starts. The next year, he averaged 4.7 points and 1.5 rebounds in a career-high 65 appearances.

After having his rights renounced by the Bulls in the summer of 2001, Benjamin made his first venture overseas to play for Montegrenaro in the Italian A-2 League. After only three weeks in Italy, he returned to the United States to join the Southern California Surf of the ABA.

In September 2002, Benjamin was given the opportunity to attend training camp with the Orlando Magic, but was waived just before the regular season began. He then turned to the National Basketball Development League (NBDL), where he was the seventh overall pick in the 2002 NBDL Draft by North Charleston. He finished fourth in the league with 16.6 points per game for the Lowgators that year. His success led to an opportunity to return to the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks.

“Playing in the ABA and NBDL was kind of like keeping the dream alive. It was getting the opportunity to play and still having scouts look at you,” said Benjamin. “Two years ago, in the NBDL, I got a call up. I was in Atlanta for two 10-day contracts, in which I got to play a lot of minutes in every game I played.”

Benjamin averaged 4.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists in nine games for the Hawks. But when it came time for the 2003-04 season, he found himself once again heading overseas – this time to play in France.

“Last year in France was great,” said Benjamin. “It was the hardest work I ever did in my life. I had to adapt to their environment and change my lifestyle. I had a whole year to do nothing but basketball. These two-a-day practices that we’re going through right now (in mini-camp), I did it for a year straight.”

Now Benjamin is back in the United States chasing his dream of returning to the NBA and Bobcats General Manager and Head Coach Bernie Bickerstaff is ready to give him that opportunity.

“I think Corey has been close in a lot of situations,” said Bickerstaff. “In Chicago, I just don’t think the fit was there. He’s more of a player that needs to get out in the open floor and get things done. He’s a guy that you just let him go play.”

Bickerstaff believes the fact the Benjamin is still only 26-years-old works to his advantage.

“He’s still relatively young and he’s very talented,” said Bickerstaff. “Here’s a situation where a guy came out early, he has experience with the Bulls and now he’ll get an opportunity.”

Given the opportunity, Benjamin believes he can make Bobcats fans come to love his game.

“I’m an exciting player. I play above the rim,” said Benjamin. “I’m a jumper, a dunker, a slasher and a scorer. I put the ball in the hoop – in the air.”

More than anything, Benjamin is ready to return to the NBA.

“This is where I want to be,” he said. “I love basketball and I just want to play.”

by Bo Hussey,
Posted: June 30, 2004