The Woodlands Christian Academy Magazine: Big Ticket
AROUND THE HIGH SCHOOL AND AAU BASKETBALL CIRCUIT, THERE'S ALWAYS THAT PLAYER WHO THE REAL "HOOP HEADS" ALWAYS SAY, "YOU'VE GOTTA SEE HIM PLAY."
The herky-jerky Austin Benigni from The Woodlands Christian Academy is that guy.
Benigni is fast and quick. There's a difference. He can get up and down the floor in a straight line but what makes him special is that he's a ball of fast-twitch muscle with a jump shot.
"My style is very quick and a series of stop and goes," he said. "It's a bunch of hesitation moves. I can process information really quickly and read defenses, so I usually make the right decision on the court."
That style leads to acrobatic shots and highlight-reel spills.
"I welcome the physicality," he said. "I grew up training with John Lucas with college and pro players. I go all out, so I'm used to getting knocked around by bigger and older guys. I've used that in high school to my advantage."
Off the court, he rolls at a different speed.
"Outside of basketball, I'm a really slow person," he said. "I walk slow, I eat slow. It's drastically different than when I'm on the court."
After leading his team in scoring as a sophomore and winning a TAPPS state title a year ago, Benigni's role changed this winter. Backcourt buddy Bakari LaStrap took Benigni under his wing as an underclassman, so when LaStrap went off to college basketball at IUPUI, Benigni was tasked to take on the leadership role.
"Coach (Tanner) Field challenged me to work on my body language," he said. "I wasn't the leader as a sophomore and could get away with some body language a little more. I've really worked on that along with being more vocal. Picking my teammates up and giving them some pointers."
He also has taken another talented backcourt-mate Zion Pipkin under his wing. He's paying it forward for the freshman.
With his resume, you must play with confidence…and Benigni doesn't lack in that department. But he does live by Field's mantra as a balance.
"Coach has this saying 'Be Third' and that has become a huge part of my life," he said. "Putting God first, others second and yourself last. If you live by that, I think you are going to get far in life.
"But don't get me wrong, it was really cool going up a class (TAPPS 4A to 5A) and winning it again," he said. "We thought we were going to win it the entire season. We knew we always had the talent, so we expected it."
So, can we expect a third-straight TAPPS title with four of five starters returning in 2021-22?
"As soon as the game ended, I looked at coach and said we have one more to go," he said. "I want to be a part of the team who wins three straight titles for the first time in school history."