KENT BENSON (1986-87)
Most basketball fans remember center Kent Benson not from his days in the NBA but from Indiana University where he led the school to the 1975-76 NCAA Title. But Jazz fans remember him for a completely different reason. Benson was part of the trade that sent Adrian Dantley to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Benson and Kelly Tripucka in the summer of 1986.
Benson had left Indiana with high expectations of becoming an elite center in the NBA, especially when the Milwaukee Bucks made him the first overall pick in the 1977 NBA Draft. He spent two and a half seasons in Milwaukee, averaging 9.6 points and 5.7 rebounds.
In 1980, the Bucks sent the center to the Detroit Pistons where he would spend the majority of his career, including his most productive seasons, averaging just over nine points per game.
But the big man arrived to a front line in Utah that was loaded with talent. Mark Eaton patrolled the middle for the Jazz as a dominant defender while Thurl Bailey and the emerging Karl Malone locked down the front court. That left little playing time for Benson who had been a part of the regular rotation in every stop he had made in his NBA career. And even though he wasn’t playing as much as he had previously been accustomed to, Benson could tell the Jazz were moving up in the Western Conference.
“The organization had done a great job drafting and trading,” said Benson. “I knew [the team] was on the rise with players like Karl Malone and John Stockton. And what was neat about playing for the Jazz was the fact that these guys, and not just Stockton and Malone, but all the guys were class acts.”
In Utah, Benson averaged just over 12 minutes per game in the1986-87 season, scoring 4.5 points and pulling down 3.5 rebounds. The Jazz finished second in the Midwest Division (44-38) and qualified for the playoffs, though the team fell in the first round to the Golden State Warriors, 3-2.
The 1986-87 season would be Benson’s only in a Jazz uniform and his second to last stop in the NBA. “I had a great time in Utah, playing for the Jazz,” said Benson. “I’m very thankful and was blessed to have the opportunity to play for Frank Layden and Jerry Sloan.”
After appearing in two games with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1987-88, Benson took his game overseas where he played in Italy one more year before retiring from basketball.
“I had prepared myself [to the leave the sport,] said Benson. “I had an opportunity to stay and play in Italy for five more years. I actually walked away with two years left to go on my contract and just felt it was time to move on. Basketball was good to me and I was good to it, but I was ready to move on.”
And where is Kent Benson now?
Thirty-one years later, Benson (52) is as busy as ever. He now resides in Bloomington, Ind., the same city as his alma mater. Last year he spent a large portion of his time working as a color commentator for Kruse International, the largest vintage-car auction company in the world. At each auction as the cars would come on the block for sale, Benson described everything from the make and model to how the vehicle was restored.
“I’ve been longtime friends with Dean Kruse (CEO of Kruse International) for years and fiddled with [the auctions] on and off and on but more seriously over the course of last year,” said the Indiana native.
On the home front, Benson’s life is also hectic. Father of four daughters Andrea (27), Elizabeth (25), Gennie (20) and Ashley (17), Benson has his hands full keeping up with each, especially the two youngest.
Gennie attends Vincennes University, an NJCAA school, on a volleyball scholarship. Ashley is finishing her senior season at Bloomington North High School, where she is currently ranked 17th in the nation among high school senior volleyball players. Next year, she’ll follow in her father’s footsteps and suit up for Indiana University.
And Benson may run into his youngest daughter from time to time at Indiana. The former center still stays involved with his former school. “I go to all the home games and I’m available if the coach needs me as far as recruiting or talking to current players.”