Kalin Bennett says he wants kids to believe in themselves “first and foremost” — and he’s hoping he can be an example.
Bennett is the first student-athlete with autism to sign a national letter of intent to play a team sport at the NCAA Division I level. He made his debut for Kent State University’s men’s basketball team in its season-opening game Wednesday.
Kent State won the home game against Hiram, also of northern Ohio, at the MAC Center, 97-58.
Bennett entered the game with six minutes left to play, and he finished with 2 points, two rebounds and one block. He scored his first collegiate points on a hook shot with less than three minutes left to play.
After the game, Bennett’s teammates cheered him over to the school’s victory bell for him to ring. “For my mom to see it was really big for me,” Bennett said after the game. “To let her know that everything you’ve done has not been in vain.”
Bennett is not the first student-athlete with autism to receive a scholarship; Anthony Ianni received a scholarship from Michigan State University in 2011. However, Ianni did not receive a scholarship from Michigan State until he transferred there for his senior year, according to an interview Ianni gave to Autism Speaks.
Bennett, on the other hand, is the first to sign a national letter of intent for a Division I basketball scholarship, according to Cleveland.com, citing the NCAA.
The NCAA did not respond to a request for comment from CNN.
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It can impact how someone interacts with others, learns and communicates.
Kent State’s head coach, Rob Senderoff, who recruited Bennett, told CNN he was drawn to Bennett’s physicality and enthusiasm for playing basketball.
Senderoff said he believes Bennett’s size and strength are his biggest assets on the court, and believes that he “just needs to use it more.”
Bennett, who plays center for the Flashes, is listed at 6 feet, 11 inches tall and 300 pounds.
“It’s good to know that people look up to me, but the real thing is: Everybody is capable of doing whatever they want to do in life,” Bennett said in a post-game news conference. “I hope I created a thing that’s going to transcend to more kids so they believe in themselves first and foremost.”