Kent State center Kalin Bennett provided one of the first highlights of the college basketball season on Wednesday night.
Bennett, who has autism, made his debut in Kent State's 97–58 win over Hiram. He entered the game with six minutes remaining and made a left-handed hook shot in the post with 2:30 left in the game to become the first player with autism to score in a Division I game. The 6'11", 300-pound freshman from Little Rock went 1-for-3 with two rebounds and a block.
After the game, his teammates cheered him on as he rang the victory bell.
"For my mom to see it was really big for me," Bennett told the Associated Press after the game. "To let her know that everything you've done has not been in vain."
Bennett's mother, Sonja, has been a huge part of his journey. When he was a baby, Sonja Bennett noticed her son was developing more slowly than his older sister had and voiced her concern to doctors. Sonja Bennett told WBUR that doctors diagnosed Kalin with autism when he was nine months old. Doctors told Sonja Bennett that her son would never walk or talk.
She arranged for a therapist to come to their house three times a week, and Kalin Bennett eventually started banging on pots and pans to communicate. He learned to walk at age 3 and began talking at age 7. After attending a basketball pep rally at school in third grade, Kalin Bennett decided he wanted to take up the sport. Sonja Bennett was nervous at the idea but allowed him to play after her husband and a doctor suggested it could be good for him.
Kalin Bennett used his love for math to help him learn the playbook on his AAU team, and he continued to excel at basketball in middle school and high school. He made history last fall as the first person with autism to sign a letter of intent with a Division I school.