Last week, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times wrote about David Benac, the 6’10” Texas A&M yell leader who was a practice player for the Aggies women’s basketball team, giving head coach Gary Blair someone to help his players prepare for 6’8″ Baylor center Brittney Griner.
“He’s not as good as Brittney and I tell him that, and I only use him for Baylor,” Blair told SI, while the Times recounted Benac’s conversation with Griner at this year’s Big 12 Conference tournament. (He told her, “I’m on the women’s practice team. I’m you,” and she replied, “Tall people gotta represent.”)
Griner and the 38-0 Bears are so good that Benac’s impersonation didn’t always help—A&M is 1-6 against Baylor over the past two seasons, but it’s the “1” that counted the most: the Aggies’ NCAA regional final victory on their way to the 2011 national championship.
A Boerne native, Benac played high school basketball and has three brothers, all over 6’2″. In addition to his membership in the Corps of Cadets and just now concluded stint as Head Yell Leader, Benac was a trumpet player in the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band (though his yell leader responsibilities on game days had to come first). A senior finance major, Benac concludes the outgoing message on his mobile phone voice mail with “Gig ’em and God bless.”
How did Coach Blair find you originally?
I’d been leading yell, and I think he heard by word of mouth that I played high school basketball. I knew some of the managers on the team so out of the blue I get this phone call saying, ‘Hey, we have practice. We’re playing Baylor on Monday. We want you to come and practice,’ and so I said ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’
And so I show up and they put me through a ringer. I’m playing against Danielle Adams—All-American, and Sydney Colson—All-American and just, the (eventual) national championship team. You know it’s funny, I think back and laugh at it. Because whenever I first went up there, I thought okay: I played basketball all my life. I know what I’m doing. I’m in shape, so I can keep up. And plus, this is women’s basketball so it can’t be too rough. And I get out there, and within ten minutes, my hands are on my knees and those girls are just getting warm. They run hard and they practice harder than any team I’ve ever seen.
So you really got in there, moving around the floor? It wasn’t just putting you in there stationary?
Oh no, we were running full-court drills, five-on-five, running up and down, offense, defense—we were doing it all. Definitely trying to help out with some shooting drills and get, uh, get in their face and to attempt to block their shot to just show what effect a huge presence in the paint has.
You weren’t dunking on them or anything though, right?
No, no, no. I think coach wanted me to a few times, but I mean, that’s Coach Blair for you.
So it doesn’t bother you that Coach Blair keeps saying, ‘Oh you’re not as good Brittney’?
Oh, no I love it. I get a kick out of it. She’s an all-star athlete, but you gotta take everything with a grain of salt. At the end of the day it’s not gonna keep me awake at night. And so, I’m just enjoying being out there and helping out the team.
So what do you feel like you know about Brittney, based on imitating her? What do you feel like she’s so good at?
She is extremely athletic, and you can’t help but comment on her God-given abilities. Whether that’s her height, or her long, lanky arms, or her athletic ability. She has just been gifted with something that you just can’t teach. ‘You can’t teach height,’ they say. I know it sounds cliché but it’s so true.
But other than that, she works hard, she’s very consistent. I think—from the games I have watched I’m very impressed with–she has a very, very high field goal percentage. And she’s typically shooting with someone in her face. Now, granted she’s shooting with someone in her face because that’s as far as they can reach up, but all along she’s still getting hit and she’s still having somebody play tight defense on her. But she’s still consistently making 5-, 10 even 15-footers and finishes strong, runs the court well, makes her free throws. She definitely has an all-around game.
Was there anything else to that conversation you had with her that wasn’t in The New York Times?
I’m trying to think…It was almost surreal—I thought wait, is she really talking to me. But it was fun. It was neat to meet her and some of her teammates and just talk some basketball. You get up there and you think, this is the person I’ve been trying to imitate for the past two years and all of a sudden I’m talking to her. And at the same time you’re trying to figure out what to say and what not to say, because at the end of the day you really wanna beat them, and at the end of the day, they wanna beat you too.
Is it weird at all to be the guy on the sideline as a yell leader and also be on the court, or is it just—you’re all Aggies?
Yeah I think it’s just we’re all Aggies. And to me, I love the chance to do both. My yell leader career has been unbelievable and I’ve been so blessed to have the opportunity. And at the same time getting to practice with the women’s team is definitely the one of the highlights of my college experience, because I’ve gotten to see a different side and see what it takes and the hard work that being a college athlete requires. My respect for those girls went through the roof after having to be out there and experience what they went through on a daily basis.
So are you gonna be rooting for Baylor this weekend, or are they still too much of a rival?
Oh, I don’t know. That’s a little tender. Part of me says I should, but at the same time, after losing to Baylor like we have [this season], I don’t know if I can get myself to do that.