Christopher Benjamin didn’t have a good experience at Bishop Ford. He weighed over 350-pounds, struggled to get any playing time on the basketball team and was eventually kicked out of school. After his freshman year, he transferred to Brooklyn Community Arts and Media (BCAM) where he quit basketball to try to focus on his grades.
Benjamin was sitting in the cafeteria when BCAM’s basketball coach Lawanda Greene spotted the huge, 6-foot-3 sophomore. She immediately asked him to play on the high school team, but he refused. Greene was persistent though and eventually convinced Benjamin to give it another try.
“I was in the cafeteria when she first asked me if I wanted to play basketball,” Benjamin recalled. “I told her ‘no’, but she practically dragged me into the gym. She said, ‘Come to the gym after school and we’re going to have a talk.’ She had shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers on and made me run.”
That’s what Benjamin has been doing since — running. He eventually shed over 100-pounds and qualified for the team when he ran a six-minute mile and the work paid off when BCAM beat Fannie Lou Hamer 47-44 at LIU Brooklyn on Saturday to win the Public School Athletic League’s (PSAL) B Division championship. Benjamin finished with 14 points and was named the MVP.
“It was a terrific decision,” Benjamin said of letting Greene talk him into joining the team. “All that hard work, 6:30 in the morning just running and running and running. Even when we won we were running. It’s so surreal right now.”
The two teams were going back and forth early on. Fanny Lou grabbed a lead late in the first quarter and eventually extended it to a nine-point lead with 2:36 left in the first half. Benjamin hit a three with 1:40 left to start a 9-0 run that would tie the game at 22-22 early in the second half.
BCAM had a modest three-point lead in the final seconds of the third quarter when James Cooper made a desperation heave at the buzzer that miraculously went in to give the Lions a six-point lead going into the final quarter. It turned out to be a huge momentum changer as they went on a 9-0 run to grab a 46-34 lead.
“I didn’t even know that he was going to make it at first and I told him not to shoot it,” Benjamin said. “He made it and it was a spark going into the fourth quarter. It was special.”
The win is revenge for BCAM after it lost to Fanny Lou in double-overtime of a playoff game last season. “That’s exactly what we wanted (revenge). We wanted to beat them more than we wanted to win the championship. It was a revenge thing,” said Jevonte Wilson, who finished with 14 points and 18 rebounds.
With the win, BCAM finished the season a perfect 30-0 and will head the State Federation Tournament in Albany where it will be the only team to represent Brooklyn. Every other Brooklyn team in both the PSAL and the Catholic High School Athletic Association in boy’s and girl’s basketball lost in their respective championships. If BCAM hadn’t beaten Fanny Lou it would have been the first time in 30 years a Brooklyn team wasn’t represented in the state tournament.
“When I heard that, I said, ‘Wow’. That’s a lot of pressure and I didn’t want to be that person, especially as a female, to let Brooklyn down. It was amazing that we were able to pull it off.”
The Lions will play Regis in the first round of the Federation Tournament on Saturday, March 22 at 1:30 p.m.