By Keenan Bowen, EWU Sports Information
The numbers are high and the accolades many -- both on the court and in the classroom -- for Eastern Washington University men’s basketball player Benny Valentine.
The 5-foot-7 junior point guard is not only the Big Sky Conference scoring leader, but he is being nominated for Academic All-America honors. The business major from Omaha, Neb., has a 3.40 grade point average in just over one year at EWU after transferring from Texas Tech and redshirting the 2007-08 season. He was also named the December Scholar-Athlete of the Month at EWU.
On the floor, he leads the league with a 17.5 points per game average, followed by Loren Leath from Sacramento State (15.8) and Anthony Johnson from Montana (15.8). Valentine, a candidate for Big Sky Newcomer of the Year accolades, was selected as the Big Sky Player of the Week after leading the Eagles to three-straight NCAA Division I victories in a six-day stretch in November.
Heading into EWU’s game versus Montana on Jan. 21, he has made 41 percent of his shots from the field, 37 percent of his three-pointers (40-of-108) and 74 percent of his free throws to go along with averages of 3.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. He has led Eastern in scoring in 12 games thus far with a pair of 30-point performances and six outings with at least 20 and 16-of-18 games in double figures.
The Eagles are looking to get back on track after dropping their last two games to Weber State and Northern Colorado. Eastern is 9-9 on the season and 3-3 in the Big Sky, and are in a four-way tie for fourth place with Montana, Montana State and Northern Colorado.
The Eagles take on rival Montana tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 21) at 7:05 in Reese Court. Afterwards, Eastern has three-straight road games and won’t return to Reese Court until a Feb. 2 showdown with Sacramento State.
Q: To what do you contribute to your academic success?
A: “My mom. She always told me that without school you can’t play basketball so I always wanted to do well in my studies.”
Q: What is your major and what do you plan on doing career-wise with your degree?
A: “My major is general business management and my minor is international business. I want to establish myself as a successful business owner after my basketball career is over.”
Q: What was it like to play for former Texas Tech head coach Bob Knight?
A: “It was a good experience because I learned to become a student of the game and how to play the right way.”
Q: How does EWU’s offensive style of play compare to Texas Tech’s?
A: “With Coach (Kirk) Earlywine, we play with a little more freedom to make plays, unlike the more structured offense that Coach Knight ran.”
Q: Was it hard to sit out last season after transferring from Texas Tech?
A: “It was hard to watch from the bench, but also it gave me time to learn what Coach Earlywine wanted from his players. It gave me a chance to sort of prove myself and show what type of player I could be if I do what coach wants.”
Q: Who is the best player you've played against?
A: “There are a couple -- Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Acie Law IV (Atlanta Hawks), and D.J. Augustin (Charlotte Bobcats).”
Q: Because you play more minutes than anyone else on the team, does any added pressure come along with that and playing as the team’s point guard?
A: “I would say it does because overall I have to manage the game and lead the team the whole time on the floor. I try to do whatever is needed for the team at the time, and I have to play hard while limiting my mistakes. Because I take on responsibilities that others on the team don’t, it gets hard sometimes. But overall I don’t mind it because it makes me a better leader.”
Q: What is your favorite basketball memory?
A: “Anytime my grandmother gets to see me play in person and I get to see the look on her face after the game when I give her a kiss. She tells me good game no matter what the outcome. Also, the season I played at Howard Junior College and we went 35-2. Go Hawks!”
Q: What part of basketball do you like best?
A: “Believe it or not, everything -- even practice. In the game you get to play against other teams and show your talent, but in practice you get to go at each other and compete each day for that day’s bragging rights.”
Q: Who have been the most influential people in your playing career?
A: “Everyone in my family, but most importantly my grandmother, my mom, and everyone else that shows support and faith in me. It doesn’t matter who it may be -- I don’t have to know you. But if you come up to me and tell me you enjoy the way I play, nice game or anything little like that, I appreciate it. People don’t have to watch our games, so their support when they do is very humbling.”
Q: If you were stranded on an island and could have one teammate with you, who would it be and why?
A: “Brandon Moore because he can cook really well and he is cool to be around all the time.”
Q: What goals do you have for the remainder of the 2008-09 season?
A: “To put ourselves in the best position to make the conference tournament. And then, once we’re there, play to win and go to the NCAA Tournament.”