Class of 2018 center Kalin Bennett made history two weeks ago when he officially joined the Kent State basketball program, becoming the first student-athlete with autism to sign a national letter of intent to play a Division I team sport, according to The Cleveland Plan Dealer.
Bennett, a 6-foot-10, 300-pound center from Little Rock, Arkansas, did not have many other opportunities to play at the college level. According to 247Sports, Kent State was the only program who offered him a scholarship to play basketball, though other smaller programs were reportedly in the mix. Nonetheless, he says he found the right fit both on and off the court.
"He wanted to come to Kent," Kent State coach Rob Senderoff told The Cleveland Plan Dealer of Bennett. "Listen, not everyone would recruit him. That's understandable. But this is a fit for everybody."
Bennett made a visit to Kent State in September where he met with Gina Campana, Kent State's assistant director of the Autism Initiative for Research, Education and Outreach, and came away from the meeting ready to commit to the program -- before he even met with the coaching staff.
Bennett says his connection with Campana, the support Kent State will offer, and the potential platform he could have all give him excitement for his future under Senderoff over other opportunities he was considering.
"I want to make an impact not just on the court, but with kids that are struggling with the same things I am,'' Bennett said. "I want to use this platform to inspire other kids with autism and non-autism. I want to let them know, hey, if I can do this, you can do it, too. A lot of times they feel alone and by themselves, and I felt that same way growing up."
Bennett will enroll at Kent State next summer and play in a program that has won 20+ games four times under Senderoff's guidance since he took over the program in 2011.