Kalin Bennett came to Kent State to play basketball. But in that pursuit of basketball, he has inspired many— namely those on the autism spectrum.
He became the first player with autism to receive a Division I basketball scholarship. He publicly announced that he was on the autism spectrum on his Instagram page in October of last year.
“I posted it because I was hoping it would help somebody,” Bennett said. “The next morning, my phone was blowing off the table. I was thinking I must’ve done something. Then these kids I played against growing up, they had never admitted they had autism, but they told me.”
He didn’t expect the response he received.
“I got Instagram messages and comments from parents telling me, ‘You give me hope for my child,’” Bennett said. “(Before that) I didn’t think it was like that.”
Bennett and his mother moved to Kent after he attended a gap-year program at Link Year Prep in Branson, Missouri last year. Living in Ohio, particularly the weather, has been an adjustment.
“I never expected to get cold this quick,” Bennett said with a laugh. “I understood it was going to be cold, but I didn’t expect it to hit me this fast.”
Aside from the weather, Bennett’s experience in Ohio has been largely positive.
“I love the people,” Bennett said. “I’ve never been in a town where everybody cheers for their team like this. It’s really cool to know that everyone supports Kent State and what we do here.”
Like many freshmen, Bennett’s struggled on the court at times learning the details of a college system.
“Sometimes it might take me a second, but it’s gotten easier,” Bennett said. “It was hard at first, but now it’s starting to come along where I’m starting to understand the terminology that coach is giving to me.”
Bennett is listed at 6-foot 11 inches and 300 pounds on the official roster. He focused on cardio as soon as he moved to Kent. He claims he is under 300 pounds for the first time in a few years.
“I had to break some habits, and it was a hard process,” Bennett said. “I had to give up a lot of my favorite foods. I had to pay more attention to the timing of my eating. I had to listen more to my brain than my stomach.”
He feels much better and gives credit to the coaching staff for helping him put in the time in the offseason to see the results he wanted.
“The conditioning we had during the preseason has paid off,” Bennett said. “I’m able to get up and down the floor a lot more and rebound at a higher rate in practice. Hopefully, that’ll translate on the court.”
Bennett’s happy with his progression so far, especially his understanding of the team’s scheme.
“I’ve started picking it up more the past couple of weeks,” Bennett said. “I started to feel really proud of myself, knowing how far I’ve come from when I first got here to now.”
Bennett hopes that he can help break down the stigma about autism. He wants people to be more comfortable discussing autism.
“Nobody should feel ashamed of themselves,” Bennett said. “No life is greater than another and everyone is valuable. I just hope that this is just a good first step in showing people that it doesn't matter who you are or where you’re from, as long as you know who you are and that you’re comfortable with yourself that’s all that matters.”
Contact Ian Kreider