Driven by family, Bennett buys into opportunity
Sam Tapper – Sports Writer
Life has not always been easy for Owls’ men’s basketball player Lyron Bennett. Now an Owl, Bennett is not only embracing every bit of the opportunity he has been given, but living his dream too.
Growing up in Boston, Mass., there was a lot of activity Bennett could have gotten himself into. Instead, he credits his family for keeping him in line off the court and keeping him motivated on the court.
“Number one is definitely my family. I need to thank my mom, my sister, my brothers and my father,” said Bennett, who is now a starting freshmen guard for Southern. “They’ve always been there for me. Coming up in basketball, I wasn’t ‘the guy,’ I wasn’t the go-to guy coaches would look at, sometimes I’d even be riding the bench. But my [dad], my brother, they were always my worst critics, telling me to, ‘Stay with it.’”
Despite the work and effort his family members put in with him, the struggles of the world also played a factor in Bennett’s life. In 2010 when he was just a young kid, Bennett’s brother died tragically in the killings of the Mattapan Massacre.
“I’m definitely doing this for my older brother,” said Bennett. “Boston’s definitely a tough city to live in. There’s a lot of violence going on out there, so you’ve just got to surround yourself with the right people.”
With his brother in his heart, Bennett continued to pursue basketball with a passion. According to Bennett, basketball started for him in “third or fourth grade” when he began playing MABC AAU ball under coach Larry Merritt, a figure Bennett says played a crucial role in his growth as a player.
After years of working with Merritt and all the other coaches Bennett has much gratitude for, he ultimately found himself attending a charter school in Boston. Bennett attended his first two years there, but after realizing he would need to play at a more sports-prominent high school to get to the next level, he ended up transferring to Tech Boston Academy. It was here Bennett grew into the 6’0, 180-pound point guard he is today.
“I transferred [to Tech Boston] with my uncle, he’s the head coach over there,” said Bennett. “His name is Johnny Williams, he’s definitely a big reason for where I’m at today. Even the assistant coaches — they all had my back.”
While playing for the Bears, Bennett saw the success he had worked so hard for when he was younger. He was named the Comcast Tournament MVP and named the Cities MVP during his senior year, an award given to the most valuable player of a tournament with the top teams in the City of Boston.
Though Bennett saw success while at Tech Boston Academy, both the success and the game itself were almost taken away from him when he was 17 years old.
“Before I transferred, I got stabbed in my [left] hand. It took my junior season away,” Bennett said. “Just violence in the city or whatever but, [my coaches] helped me through that whole process, kept me in the gym all the time, just helped me get my head back on straight. It was crazy.”
Given every excuse to quit, Bennett persevered. After the incident, Bennett was able to get the year he lost back. As his high school career went on, so began the recruitment process.
While Bennett was also playing AAU, Southern’s head coach Scott Burrell and his assistant coach Mark Fogel traveled up I-95 to see Bennett in person.
Impressed with what they saw, Burrell invited Bennett to come to New Haven for a campus visit. It was during this visit that Bennett experienced one of the “top three” coolest experiences of his life — a phone conversation with none other than Ray Allen, a friend of Burrell’s.
“When I was in the office with Scott Burrell, he let me talk to Ray Allen on the phone for 30 minutes,” Bennett said. “My favorite player is LeBron James and [Allen] was telling me why Jordan was better than LeBron — I still think LeBron is better — but he was just explaining to me and breaking it down why Jordan was better — it was a good conversation.”
Though talking with Allen was an added bonus, Bennett credits Burrell as the biggest reason he came here. Not because of Burrell’s NBA history — which Bennett said he did not know about until after he came here — but of his interest in Bennett beyond basketball.
“With the kind of coach that Scott Burrell is, he wasn’t just asking me about basketball, he asked me about what I want to do with my life,” said Bennett. “Not many people ask that. It really showed to me that it’s not just about basketball with him. He wants to see me grow as a man and wants me to be successful, so that’s why I definitely came here.”
In the eyes of Burrell, the fit was seemingly perfect. His Owls were coming off a season where their point guard and former NE10 Conference standout, Isaiah McLeod, also from the Boston area, finished his four-year career and went on to graduate. In search of a point guard, Burrell looked to a place he had success before and came away with his man.
“Number one he’s tough, he competes every day, he wants to get better and he wants to learn,” Burrell said. “He’s never satisfied with himself or with his teammates. He wants everybody to grow, and he has through the whole year.”
Bennett’s growth throughout his freshman year has been evident. Bennett made his collegiate debut against Post University in November, where he found himself as a member of Burrell’s starting lineup. In his first college season, Bennett finished with a stat line of 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game, putting his name in the conversation for NE10 Rookie of the Year.
“It’s funny, because in high school, [a point guard] is something I always wanted to be, I’ve always wanted to facilitate first,” said Bennett. “In high school I just had to score. But when I came here, I needed to be a true point guard, and that was one of the best things I ever heard because this is what I’ve wanted to be for a while.
With Bennett excelling already as a freshman, and with tremendous upside for his next three years, Burrell knows that quality, dominant guard play will lead him over the next few years just as it had over the past four with McLeod. And building all-around good guards is something that Burrell said is a must for his program.
“You need good guards to win games,” said Burrell. “Good guards, they control the ball the majority of the game. You need good guards that can think the game, that can play the game, can score and play good D.”
Bennett’s emergence and overall presence has been conducive to his teammates on the court as well.
With Bennett’s ability to run the offense and direct traffic each possession, as a freshman, no less, he is able to create space for shot makers like guard Isaiah Boissard, a junior, guard C.J. Seaforth, a junior, and forward Greg Jones, a junior.
“He’s definitely a good player when he attacks downhill, and then when they press up on him, he can go right by him or pull up,” said Seaforth. “He finds me a lot, he tells me just, ‘Be ready.’ When he drives, he’s going to draw everyone in then he can dish it out to me.”
This season, Bennett has shown that he is only getting better with each game that passes. His confidence, he said, is sky high compared to where it was against Post in the opener. One thing that can be heard, especially after a dominant game from him, is his teammates chanting his nickname, “L-Boogie,” which is a name Bennett holds close to his heart.
“[Bennett’s brother’s] name was Levaughn, and my name’s Lyron, he’s the real ‘L-Booges,’” Bennett said. “Since he passed, I took his name to carry on his legacy. That’s my guy, that was definitely my guy.”
As Bennett moves forward with success and continues to perfect his game, he leads the Owls into the future. However, he does not forget his past. Whether it was where he grew up or what he has endured, when he takes the court, he leaves it all on the court, doing everything for his brother.
“He was a great big brother to me,” Bennett said. “I feel like he’s proud of me whenever I have a good game. So, I’m just trying to keep doing my thing and having great games for him.”
Photo Credit: Hunter Lyle