Benson enjoys good times: Brookhaven senior guard Most Valuable Player

Published 10:00 pm Sunday, March 24, 2013

Brookhaven senior guard Christen Benson finally got to enjoy the good times in Sinclair Gymnasium. Benson was instrumental in leading the Ole Brook Lady Panthers to their first winning record in several years, posting a 21-8 mark and a berth in the Class 5A state playoffs.

Benson’s efforts have earned her the title of Miss Basketball and Most Valuable Player on The DAILY LEADER’s 2013 All-Lincoln County Basketball Team. Recognized for her all-around versatility and exceptional athletic ability, she averaged 12.5 points, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game.

Joining Benson on the DL’s Dream Team are senior classmate Carey Crozier, Enterprise’s Caroleah Brister and Veonka Sanders and Bogue Chitto’s Adrienne Wallace, Mattie Avants and Zariah Matthews. The team was selected by the DL sports staff, with input provided by area high school and college coaches.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Benson’s high-energy level and love for the game infected the entire team. The Lady Panthers were runners-up to the McComb Lady Tigers in the Region 5-5A Tournament and advanced to the state playoffs. They were eliminated by Pascagoula in a road game. Most importantly, Benson and her teammates regained their swagger. Basketball was fun again and fan support grew in leaps and bounds.

“We started from the bottom and worked our way up,” said Benson, recalling her team’s climb up the victory ladder. “We got tired of fans saying, ‘I’m just going to come to watch the boys play.’ We wanted to bring Brookhaven back to what it used to be.”

In an emotional speech at Monday night’s basketball awards banquet, Benson thanked Coach Freda Craft for her demanding practices. Benson admitted that she often left the gym in a depressed frame of mind before this season. Losing didn’t agree with her.

“Me and Coach Craft have had our ups and downs,” Benson admitted. “She yells a lot and she makes us run a lot. We worked hard to get better. Our team is family.”

Benson said Craft’s instruction made her a better person on and off the court. “She teaches us how to be young ladies. She keeps us in line our grades up.”

Benson recalled the numerous after-school study times in the locker room. “She says we can help each other out in the classroom. Some of us are better in some subjects, so we can help a teammate study.”

Asked about her love for basketball, Benson said, “I like being out there. My adrenalin is going. It’s just me and the basketball.”

Craft described her star playmaker. “Christen is a leader. She’s motivated and she doesn’t get tired. She wants to do her best, so she expects that from her teammates, too.”

Operating at point guard, Benson directed her team’s offense. She was known best for her steals and breakaway layups. She wore jersey No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan at Alexander Junior High. That number jersey was too large when she came to BHS so she changed to No. 5.

“Jason Kidd wore No. 5,” said Benson, referring to the NBA standout. “I like Duane Wade and Steve Nash because they play point guard.”

Benson signed a joint athletic scholarship to play softball and basketball at East Central Community College for the next two years. She plays catcher in fastpitch softball.

“I’m excited about the future,” said the 5-foot-7 Benson. “You have to have a good mindset to play two sports, especially in college.”

Benson spends her free time with her 5-year-old niece. “She keeps me busy. She likes to hang out with me.”

Carey Crozier, a 6-foot senior, was a tower of power for the Lady Panthers. As a senior she averaged 10.1 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. She was credited with 38 blocked shots.

“Carey became more mobile and her shooting improved this year,” said Craft. “She’s a threat on defense, too.”

Adrienne Wallace, a 5-4 senior guard, averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 assists per game for Coach Christi Terrell’s Lady Cats. She was a steady force on a young team (27-8) that advanced to the Class 1A State Tournament in Jackson. She’s a 3-year starter.

“Adrienne has a great attitude and she wants to win,” said Coach Terrell. “She can shoot, handle the ball and play defense.”

Zariah Matthews, a 5-8 freshman, made a strong transition to the varsity level, running the Bogue Chitto offense at point guard. She averaged 10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals per game.

“Zariah sees the floor and she’s quick as a cat,” said Terrell. “When she makes a steal, she’s gone. She makes good passes.”

Caroleah Brister, a 5-7 senior forward, averaged 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game for the Enterprise Lady Yellow Jackets.

” Caroleah is a good shooter who has really improved her game on defense,” said Enterprise coach Jill Nations. “She has the ability to see the floor and she is a very unselfish.”

Maddie Avants, a 5-foot-7 junior, averaged 10 points and 3 rebounds per game for Bogue Chitto. She has been selected to play in this summer’s Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star Basketball Game. She’ll play for the South girls who are under the direction of Terrell and Hinds AHS coach Lonnie Baker.

“Maddie rebounds the ball well and plays good defense, too,” said Terrell. “She shot the ball extremely well at the end of the season and in the playoffs.”

Veonka Sanders, a 5-11 senior, dominated the paint for Enterprise. She averaged 11.6 points and 8 rebounds per game.

“Veonka was a very good rebounder for us,” said Coach Nations. “She could step out and make those shots for us.”