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PREPS: Winless Tech boys play hard, look for breakthrough

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With apologies to Charles Dickens, forget that best of times, worst of times stuff. This hasn’t been the best year for Benson boys basketball, let’s put it that way.

But even with an 0-19 record and 0-11 Portland Interscholastic League mark, not everything has been bad for the Techmen, who have battled gamely in an obvious rebuilding year.

“These are fun kids to work with, and they are getting better,” Benson coach Earl Clark says. “The record is not what we want, but the effort has been there.”

Benson has given up a league-high 72.8 points per game while scoring a league-low 45.7.

Clark has a young team that needs to grow, both literally and figuratively. Benson starts only two players listed as taller than 6-foot, with junior forward Aundree Polk the tallest in the regular rotation at 6-3.

“We don’t have size, so our strength has to be our guard play,” says Clark, who is in his third year at the helm. “We just try to play hard, play smart and play together.”

Last week’s 68-37 loss at Cleveland was somewhat typical of the Techmen’s season. The Warriors led 7-0 after 2:05, 13-3 after one quarter, 35-10 at the half and 55-22 through three quarters. Benson managed to make only three baskets in the first half — the first after 5:09 and all three from 3-point range.

Polk finished with a team-high 10 points.

Benson started two freshmen, 5-9 Kian Pankey and 6-2 Dreydan St. James, and has three frosh in its rotation.

Pankey has been a find — he made his varsity debut in a Jan. 2, nonleague overtime loss at South Albany, after scoring 18 points in two quarters of that night’s freshman game. With a couple of varsity players injured, Pankey got off the varsity bench and made his first shot, a 3-pointer. Then he made two more from long range. He wound up playing 24 minutes straight, without a turnover.

Benson, down by three points with 15 seconds to go in regulation, decided to put the ball in his hands. On the sideline, Clark said, “What the heck, why not draw one up for the freshman?” Pankey got the ball and drilled another 3 to force OT.

“An incredible varsity debut,” Benson assistant coach Page Mesher says.

The freshman class gives Tech hope for the future; Benson’s freshman team has a winning record and has been among the top three in the PIL.

“There are great kids in this program,” Mesher says. “We know these guys are going to play hard for 32 minutes, and they do it every night.

“We’ve found every imaginable way to lose, and sometimes it’s easier than others for that to be a learning experience, but we’ve gone to overtime twice, and eventually it’s going to come together for these guys."

The PIL has a lot of young teams that could be even better next year, though, so the Techmen will have to improve in a hurry to become more competitive around the city.

“The one thing these kids can control is their effort and attitude," Mesher says, "and they’ve been doing a great job of that."