Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Repeat Title Won't Be Stretch at ACD; Florida State Signee Soto and Center Bennett, Now 7-3 and Stronger, Return for Apaches

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Repeat Title Won't Be Stretch at ACD; Florida State Signee Soto and Center Bennett, Now 7-3 and Stronger, Return for Apaches

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF ELLIOTT

Six years ago, a gangly 6-foot-10 1/2, 190-pound, 13-year-old seventh-grader picked up his first basketball for Arlington Country Day and dunked the ball with ease. Who wouldn't at that height?

He's still stuffing balls into the basket, but now at 7-3 and a solid 260 pounds, Jason Bennett is executing those slams with a lot more power, authority and confidence.

On the verge of beginning his sixth year with the Apaches, the senior center is a marked man who says he is ready to take on all challenges.

An offseason weight-training program has given him new-found strength, resulting in a confidence level that has reached new heights.

"I've become a better player because I'm a lot stronger than I've ever been," said Bennett, who played at 230 pounds a year ago when he helped lead ACD to the Class 2A state title. "I feel so much more confident with my game. I'm able to score more, get more rebounds and play better defense.

"I still want to improve my jump shot away from the basket, but the thing that has changed the most about my game is my ability to score."

That's good news for ACD, which must replace the double-digit scoring averages of three players -- David Huertas (15.0), Sammy Hernandez (12.0) and Brian Hoff (11.0) -- all of whom are now on rosters at Division I schools. Bennett averaged a double-double (11.0 points and rebounds) last season, but is one of just two returning starters, along with point guard Josue Soto (17 points and seven assists per game), who recently signed to play at Florida State.

Even with his commanding size and double-digit averages, Bennett, 18, has his doubters. Critics say he doesn't score enough, he doesn't have a shot away from the basket, he doesn't have soft hands and that he can't get up and down the floor to play with a major power at the college level, let alone as a pro. ACD coach Rex Morgan isn't in that group.

"Too many people, besides me, that know the game are now saying it's not a question if Jason plays in the NBA, it's how long he'll play there," said Morgan who played two seasons with the Boston Celtics. …

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