Sitting in the sand last week in Pismo Beach, California, Caleb Bennett often found himself bored.
His mind wandered, and it continued to bring him back to one place: Home.
“I honestly just thought about it that whole time, like this is what I wanna do,” Bennett said in an interview with News-Press Now on Tuesday.
Everything came full circle Tuesday afternoon when he unveiled his plans to join Sundance Wicks and Missouri Western as a transfer, keeping Bennett right at home.
“I woke up (Tuesday) morning and the first thing I did was text Sundance, ‘When can I come in?’ I feel good now that everything is settled,” Bennett said. “Everybody’s real happy, my family’s glad that I’m close, and it’s gonna be fun.”
Aside from his athletic talents leading to numerous Division I offers, there was next to no draw for Bennett to stay home for college.
The all-state Lafayette forward made his decision to sign to Division I Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, chasing Patriot League titles and NCAA Tournament berths.
Meanwhile, Missouri Western men’s basketball won just seven games his senior year and six games his freshman campaign as a Mountain Hawk.
When asked if he ever thought he’d be a Griffon, the answer was resounding.
“No,” Bennett said with a euphoric laugh, “but things work out in mysterious ways.”
Since heading to Lehigh, Western has transformed into something Bennett didn’t recognize. From a refinished gymnasium and locker room to an upbeat coaching staff and competitive roster from all across the country, Bennett saw a glimpse of something special in his own backyard.
“I was just like this isn’t what it used to be. I told Sundance that, ‘You’re doing something here.’ ”
So he hopped on board.
Bennett wanted a coaching staff that is “upfront” and “genuine” and found that in Wicks. His first year saw the Griffons finish 12-18 and one game from advancing to the MIAA Tournament. Seven of their losses came by one or two possessions.
Aside from seeing the program grow and begin to reestablish itself, that relationship with Wicks led the charge to put Bennett in the black and gold.
“He was everything I envisioned,” Bennett said. “I think I have so much I can learn off the court and use in everyday life.”
Bennett, recovering from a torn ACL and surgery he underwent March 5, will not play in the 2019-’20 season. Instead, the athletic small forward plans to take a medical redshirt to return to full health and grow his game under Wicks before returning with two years of eligibility.
“I have a chip on my shoulder. I’m working back from an injury, so i wanna come in and show everyone I’m a hard worker,” Bennett said. “I’m gonna listen to Sundance and we’re gonna do this thing.”
Along with mentioning the city feeding of the buzz generated by the university, Bennett wants to see his hometown represented well and help lead the charge.
“I wanna see the uttermost success for Missouri Western. There’s a lot of things the program hasn’t been able to achieve yet,” Bennett said. “Being able to scratch those things off the list in my playing career, setting the trend for Missouri Western being something better than what it was will mean a lot. I’d just like to be apart of that.”
Bennett played his final game Feb. 11 against Bucknell. He was averaging 4.7 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in 23 outings for the Mountain Hawks. Bennett averaged 5.5 points and 2.3 rebounds during his freshman season, shooting 45 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range as Lehigh went 16-14 and was bounced in the first round of the Patriot League Tournament.
With a graduating class of three on the way out, led by All-MIAA performers Lavon Hightower and Bryan Hudson, Bennett joins a recruiting class now made up of six. The class includes: One of Tennessee’s all-time top scorers in Reese Glover; Jaron Thames, ranked as a top-10 player in the state by some sites out of Trinity Catholic; and 6-7 big man Alex John of Champlin, Minnesota.