Los Banos High graduate Joey Bennett wasn’t happy last year playing basketball at NCAA Division 2 Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont, so he picked up and moved out, landing at California State University, Stanislaus.
“Basically it was about halfway through the year, three quarters. I couldn’t see myself staying there for four years, so I figured I might as well leave now when I have three years of eligibility left, compared to sticking it out one more year and having two years left,” Bennett said. “I wanted to be somewhere where I’m happy and I liked everything, like the school and program, everything there. Stanislaus gave me a call, and I love it.”
After deciding to transfer, Bennett narrowed it down to Stanislaus and Western Oregon, and ultimately decided to stay close to home. For Stanislaus coach Larry Reynolds, the decision was good news.
“He’s shown the ability to shoot the basketball from the 3-point line, he’s pretty athletic, and he can do more things than shoot it – he can rebound a little bit and he can handle the ball,” Reynolds said. “I’d seen him play in an all-star game his senior year, and my assistant coach (Ben Riley) had seen him play a couple of games his senior year. We were pretty excited.”
Bennett played sparingly his freshman season at Notre Dame, playing in 20 games and averaging about 9 minutes and 2.5 points per game as the Argonauts went 6-20 overall.
“Last year I just wanted to get in the game. It was tough for me,” Bennett said. “I barely played ever, no matter like, just circumstances or whatever. Whether it was because I was a freshman, wasn’t good enough, I didn’t know. So this year my goal is more just to develop my game and become a more well-rounded player.”
Even so, a year in the program taught him a lot as he adjusted to the college game. He added weight, putting on 15 pounds of muscle.
“I grew a lot. Going from high school to college was a big awakening for me. I didn’t realize how much the transition was,” Bennett said. “I thought I was just going to be the guy coming in to score just like I was in high school. Not the case. At all.”
Bennett said that, according the NCAA rules, a players transferring between two Division 2 schools doesn’t have to sit out as long as the two schools are not in the same conference. NDDN plays in the Pacific West Conference, while California Collegiate Athletic Association.
So far this year, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound sophomore has averaged almost 11 minutes in the Warriors’ first four games, scoring 2.5 points a game with a pair of 3-pointers and a handful of rebounds as CSUS jumped out to a 4-0 record. He originally thought about redshirting this year to work on his game, but decided against it along with Reynolds.
“This year my goal is to grow as a player, learn the system and develop my game. Be ready for the next two years,” Bennett said. “I know the next two years I’ll be getting more playing time, seeing more of the floor. This year is just a growing year for me, to put on more muscle and just work on my game.”
As a senior, the Tigers’ game revolved around Bennett – he averaged 23.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in 2011-12. But he said Reynolds wants him to settle into his role as an outside shooter.
“My coach told me he wants me to shoot the ball more, so I’ve been working on my outside range and stuff, he said. “My jump shot’s improved a lot, so I’ve been knocking down shots a lot more.”
Reynolds said that, while he is projecting a long way down the road, he expects Bennett to contribute heavily by his senior season.
“Where I think he’ll help us the most is as a 2 or possibly a 3-man in our conference,” Reynolds said. “He’s just a sophomore, so I’d like to see him get some quality playing time and shoot a good percentage from the 3-point line, as well as play some defense. He’s got a pretty good size advantage over most 2s, and I think he has the athletic ability.”
One of the best parts for Bennett is being close to home, where friends and family from Los Banos can drop in on the 2,000-seat Ed & Bertha Fitspatrick Arena to see him play.
“I researched on coach Reynolds, our head coach, and I knew that was a guy I wanted to play for. I talked to some of the recruits, they liked it there, and I wanted to stay home,” Bennett said. “This is where it’s at. People can come and support me and stuff, which is good. I have people come out all the time. I’m in games and stuff, just walking around town, people recognize me. It’s good to have people I’m familiar with come support me.”