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Kalin Bennett Becomes First Player With Autism to Play Division 1 Basketball in NCAA

Kalin Bennett, the 6'11", 300-pound freshman, ended his NCAA Division 1 basketball debut game for Kent State University with two points, two rebounds and a block against Hiram on November 6.
Kent State University´s Kalin Bennett during his NCAA basketball debut.

Kent State University players congratulate Kalin Bennett (left) after he scored on debut in their NCAA season-opener against Hiram.

The 2019-20 college basketball season is underway in the US and the season has produced an inspiring moment that will have a huge impact on many lives. Kalin Bennett became the first student-athlete with autism to sign a national letter of intent to play a team sport at USA's National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I level. Bennett, who signed up for Kent State University's basketball team, made his debut in their season-opening game against Hiram (northern Ohio) on November 6.

Kent State beat Hiram 97-58 with Bennett, the 6'11", 300-pound freshman, joining the game six minutes before full time. He scored his first points for Kent with a hook shot and ended the game with two points, two rebounds and a block — a good debut by any standards. 

Bennett was elated after the match, and said his moments on court is vindication of the belief and hard work of his mother, Sonja. "For my mom to see it was really big for me," Bennett was quoted by the Associated Press. "To let her know that everything you've done has not been in vain."

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Sonja Bennett first noticed her infant son showing signs of developing at a slower rate than his elder sister which doctors later diagnosed As autism when Bennett was nine months old. The prognosis was that he would never walk or talk. Sonja never gave up though.

A therapist was arranged and Kalin Bennett communicating using visual cues and sounding pots and pans. The big moment came at the age of three when he learned to walk. At seven years, he started talking. Bennett ́s life took a different course when he attended a  basketball pep rally at school while in third grade. The youngster loved the game so much that he wanted to take it up seriously. Though a bit apprehensive, Sonja allowed him to play after her husband and doctor suggested it might prove productive in the development of Bennett.

With his debut, in the highly competitive NCAA Division 1, the hard work seems to have borne fruit. Bennett says he wants kids to believe in themselves "first and foremost" — and is hoping to set the right example with his journey.

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