Bulls

Benet's Beneventi: Stanford's next great QB?

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Benet's Beneventi: Stanford's next great QB?

Baseball players dream about hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the World Series.

Basketball players dream about making a game-winning shot at the buzzer to win the NCAA or NBA championship.

And quarterbacks dream of completing a pass for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining.

Jack Beneventi knows the feeling.

"Personally, that is the dream that every quarterback has," said Benet's 6-foot-6, 190-pound sophomore quarterback. "But the biggest dream I have is to take my team Downstate, to win the state title."

In last Saturday's heart-stopping 26-24 victory over Downers Grove North in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A playoff, Beneventi guided Benet on a 65-yard scoring drive with 1:24 to play.

Without the benefit of any timeouts, he completed 13-yard pass on fourth-and-five to Jack Toner at the five with four seconds left, then hit Toner in the back of the end zone to overcome a four-point deficit.

"I was trying to stay calm and make sure my teammates were calm and able to work quickly," said Beneventi, who completed 26 of 42 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. "We had to get to the line and drive down the field and not have to make a desperation play."

In his first year on the varsity, Beneventi, who turned 16 on Nov. 6, has converted a 1-8 team that scored only 46 points a year ago into an 11-1 state semifinalist. Benet will host top-ranked Lincoln-Way East (12-0) on Saturday in Lisle.

"I hate the word moxie. It bugs me. It is overused by the media," Benet coach Pat New said. "But that's what he's got. Other coaches say he has 'it,' the ability to win games. That is such a great quality for a quarterback. He has arm strength but the ability to win games is what makes him a valuable asset.

"Against Downers Grove North, he never panicked. He kept throwing the ball...no timeouts, 65 yards, 1:24 to play. It is remarkable that he has such poise and confidence for such a young guy. Success hasn't gone to his head. He maintains his humility."

Beneventi's reputation will soar to another level if he leads Benet past Lincoln-Way East. He has what it takes. In 11 games, he has completed 178 of 263 passes or 68 percent for 2,258 yards and 20 touchdowns. And the Redwings have a running threat in junior Porter Ontko.

"Lincoln-Way East is the best team we have played all year," New said. "Just look at their record. It speaks for itself. They have great team speed. What makes them dangerous is their quarterback (Northern Illinois-bound Tom Fuessel). He can beat you with his arm or feet. Our defense is good but we have to score points if we expect to play with them."

Beneventi began playing basketball and football in third grade. Because he was taller than most of his classmates, basketball was his primary sport. As he got older, however, he fell in love with football.

"I like having the weight on my shoulders, the pressure to make plays, knowing you can't make turnovers, that you have to make completions. I like that challenge," he said.

As a seventh grader, playing for the Glen Ellyn Golden Eagles, he got a good education in quarterbacking from coach Mark Kramer. "He had 100 plays in our playbook. He challenged me on different reads and pass routes. I give him credit for teaching me a lot and challenging me at a young age," Beneventi said.

He chose Benet over perennial football power Glenbard West because he felt it would be more academically challenging and he wanted to play for Pat New, Benet's new coach. But even he didn't expect to turn the program from 1-8 to 11-1 in one season.

"It is shocking to have the season we are having," he said. "But everybody worked so hard in the off-season. They were so determined, you could feel something very special was going to happen. All the seniors made it clear that they were embarrassed by 1-8. They wouldn't be 1-8 again.

"Being 11-1 is a great season for any team. For this team, it is very, very special. We have guys who make plays at every position. We don't have a lot of size but every player plays hard and makes plays for us."

It has been a surprising season for Beneventi, too. Last year, he was listed at 6-foot-5 and 150 pounds. In the off-season, he gained 40 pounds by lifting weights and boosting his calorie intake with protein shakes and consuming peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He hopes to weigh 215 as a junior.

He never ceases to improve his skills. He has worked with noted quarterback guru Jeff Christensen since seventh grade. He has polished his throwing mechanics and improved his ability to read defenses and gotten a step or two faster.

But nothing can change the fact that Beneventi is a conventional pro-style, dropback, pocket passer, not a dual threat quarterback in a spread offense.

Although his mind is focused on Lincoln-Way East and the remainder of his high school career, it isn't too early to be thinking about lies ahead at the next level. "Option schools, where quarterbacks run with the ball, wouldn't interest me. Stanford is my dream school. I love their pro-style offense. Andrew Luck is my idol. Tom Brady, too," he said.

Although he hasn't heard from Stanford coach David Shaw, Beneventi is planning to attend Stanford's camp this summer. "I want to show them what I can do," he said.

Can Beneventi be Stanford's next great quarterback? The list is long and distinguished...Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Bobby Garrett, Don Bunce, Mike Boryla, Guy Benjamin, Steve Dils, Turk Schonert, Jim Plunkett, John Elway and Andrew Luck.

"Notre Dame is very interested. Jack went to their camp last summer. Illinois called. And Northwestern is interested," New said. "After this season, we'll have a better idea of where he stands. He is the kind of kid who could get caught up with the Notre Dame mystique.

"But Brian Kelly's offense isn't what he is running here. He is more of a pro-style quarterback like Alabama or Georgia. Jack provides me with the best chance of meeting my favorite coach, Alabama's Nick Saban. I'm waiting for that call."

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.