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High school star Benjamin ready for homecoming

February 27, 1997

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) _ Corey Benjamin goes home to southern California this week, back to where he was a high school basketball sensation.

It’s been an up-and-down freshman season for Benjamin at Oregon State. One moment, he was slam-dunking to the oohs and aahs of the crowd or lofting in a 3-pointer. Another, he was throwing a lazy pass or forcing an awkward shot that didn’t come close.

``I don’t know that he realized it was going to be this difficult,″ Oregon State coach Eddie Payne said. ``For a long time, I wouldn’t say he denied it, but he really didn’t recognize it.″

Payne admits he has ``kept a short leash″ on Benjamin this season, yanking him from the game when he makes out-of-control mistakes and preventing him from giving interviews when the coach thinks it would be too much of a distraction.

``You’ve just got to always keep him accountable as much as you can,″ said Payne, who once joked that he might need Valium to keep his young star calmed down.

Ask Benjamin about the toughest aspect of his transition to college and he says, ``All the traveling, and being on time.″

And while Payne said there is ``a huge gap″ between the player Benjamin is and the one he can become, the 6-foot-5 guard remains supremely confident.

``If I work hard to be the player I can be,″ he said, ``the sky’s the limit.″

As a senior at Fontana High School, Benjamin averaged 27.6 points and 11.6 rebounds and was named the top player in the West by the Long Beach Star-Telegram. But several colleges backed away because of his uncertain academic status.

Surprisingly, Benjamin chose Oregon State, where Payne is trying to rebuild the once-powerful basketball program and where his older brother Sonny is playing.

Benjamin went through major anguish just to get on the Oregon State team. He hadn’t passed his college entrance exam when he signed with the Beavers.

Finally, he did pass, but the NCAA ruled that he didn’t take it on the right date, so he had to take it again.

He passed again. But by then, the season was under way.

``I’m just hitting my stride now,″ said Benjamin, who scored 22 and 26 points in last week’s win over Arizona State and loss to Arizona. ``I missed seven games and that was my whole preseason.″

Benjamin said he first could dunk a basketball in the fifth or sixth grade. Now, his two-handed jams from far above the rim are the most spectacular plays seen around Corvallis in years, perhaps ever.

He is averaging 14.7 points for the season, second-highest on the team, and has shot 42 percent from the field.

Payne said Benjamin seems to be learning. Last Saturday against Arizona, he was 9-for-11 from the field and took just one outside shot.

While there has been speculation that Benjamin won’t be in Corvallis long before he moves to the NBA, he says he’s coming back next year for sure. After that, he’s making no commitment.

Payne said Benjamin’s biggest need is overall maturity.

``I can talk to you about his skills, his ball handling and this and that, but the biggest thing he has to improve upon his approach to all these different activities he’s involved in and develop a more mature approach,″ Payne said.

Benjamin will have his own cheering section of fans and family when the Beavers (7-17) play at Southern California on Thursday night and UCLA on Saturday.

``I don’t know how many,″ he said. ``Lots of them.″

But he insists there will be no goosebumps as he walks into Pauley Pavilion.

``I’ve played there before,″ he said. ``It’s just another game.″

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