Kalin Bennett is a freshman at Kent State University

By Helen Murphy
November 07, 2019 03:25 PM
Kalin Bennett
Credit: Vivien Killilea/Getty

Kalin Bennett, a basketball player with autism who recently joined the team at Kent State University, made his first points in a Division I game on Wednesday night.

The 19-year-old freshman player from Arkansas made his debut for Kent State during their matchup against Hiram College on Wednesday, according to Yahoo! Sports, which also reported that he entered the game in the last six minutes, and scored his first basket with two-and-a-half minutes left on the clock.

Kent State went on to win the game 97-58. Bennett went 1-for-3 in the game, with two rebounds and a block, according to Sports Illustrated.

“For my mom to see it was really big for me,” Bennett said after the game, according to the Associated Press. “To let her know that everything you’ve done has not been in vain.”

Bennett is not the first player diagnosed with autism to score in a Division I game; former Michigan State player Anthony Ianni scored five points in 27 games between 2010 and 2012, NBC Sports reported.

When he was asked about how he inspires other young people with autism, Bennett told the AP: “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. I hope I created a thing that’s going to transcend to more kids so they believe in themselves first and foremost.”

Last year, Bennett made history as the first student-athlete with autism to sign a letter of intent to play a Division I level team sport, according to NBC News.

In June, Bennett’s mother Sonja opened up about finding out her son had autism in an interview with WBUR, which reported that he was diagnosed when he was about nine months to a year old, and doctors said he might never walk or talk.

“As time progressed, they were saying that he wasn’t going to talk, wasn’t going to walk, and that I should look at these different facilities for him,” Sonja said at the time. “And I said, ‘No.’ I had a child with an ability to do great things, but they just wanted to put a period on it, and just tell me to just throw my hands up. Well, I did throw my hands up. But I just said, ‘God, help me to help Kalin.'”

Bennett started working with a therapist, and finally started talking at age 7, according to WBUR. In third grade, Sonja told the outlet, he told her he wanted to join the basketball team at school. At first he struggled with the sport, but when his coach found out he loved math, he used numbers to help Bennett learn the plays.

“I started to break some of the walls that I was struggling with,” Bennett said of how his life changed after he started to play basketball. “You know, just being able to talk to people, hang out with the other kids, be tougher. And then going into middle school, I learned a lot about just letting myself be myself. Like, not being anybody else, just be Kalin.”

“If they’re telling you what you can’t do, believe in your child and fight for your child,” Sonja added. “They can do what any other child can do if you give them the opportunity to do it.”