There was no champagne, no cigar, no 1972 Miami Dolphins-style celebration for Kent Benson after Illinois's bid for an undefeated season ended with a loss at Ohio State on March 6. While Benson, a two-time All-America at Indiana and former NBA center, takes great pride in having been a member of the last Division I men's basketball team to have a perfect season, you won't find him gloating about it 29 years later. "Not that there's anything wrong with it," says Benson of the '72 Dolphins' tradition of toasting their 17-0 season after the last NFL unbeaten goes down each year. "It's just not my style."
These days Benson, 50, finds fulfillment as director of new business development for The College Network, one of the nation's largest publishers of distance-learning materials for adults who complete their college educations at home. He joined the Indianapolis-based company in 2004, after having been a self-employed life insurance salesman and estate planner for 14 years.
At 6'10" Benson was a rugged inside scorer who averaged 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds as a junior, helping the 1975-76 Hoosiers to a 32-0 record and the first national championship of the Bob Knight era. Benson's 25-point, nine-rebound effort against Michigan in the NCAA title game earned him most outstanding player honors.
After he averaged 19.8 points and 10.5 rebounds his senior season--the Hoosiers' winning streak ended at 34 with a loss to Toledo in the second game-- Milwaukee made him the first pick in the NBA draft. He spent 2 1/2 seasons with the Bucks, 6 1/2 with Detroit and one each with Utah and Cleveland. None of those teams won a championship. He was mostly a role player and finished with career averages of 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds, retiring in 1988 with two years left on his Cleveland contract. He played one season in Cant�, Italy, then went into business.
An avid hunter and fisherman, Benson still resides in Bloomington, near three of his four daughters: Andrea, 25, Gennie, 18, and Ashley, 16. (Elizabeth, 23, is married and lives in Phoenix.) He regularly roots for the Hoosiers while attending games at Assembly Hall.
To those in Champaign who believe their beloved Illini were victims of the SI cover jinx--guard Dee Brown was featured on the March 7 issue, which came out days before the loss to Ohio State-- Benson says, "[SI] put us on the cover three times [during the undefeated season], and we still came out on top." -- Andrew Lawrence