Interview: Jenni Benningfield

The USA Pan American Games team, including <!--Default NodeId For Vanderbilt is 578,2003--><A HREF=>Vanderbilt</A> senior forward <!--Default NodeId For Jenni Benningfield is 816584,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:816584]>Jenni Benningfield</A>, began training Thursday night in Boston.

On Friday, the team practiced with the USA junior national team at Reebok Corporate Headquarters just outside Boston, Massachusetts. Afterward, VandyMania talked with Jenni about how things are going.

VM: Jenni, the last time we talked at any length, you'd just gotten back from the trials in Colorado, and now you're here training. Can you catch people on what you've been doing since then?

JB: Ever since the trials, I've been at school, working full time at my internship, taking class, working out, and then the last week or so the freshmen came up.

VM: How's that been going?

JB: It's going awesome. They all came in with an awesome attitude, great energy. Young energy is awesome. Very competitive. They're pushing all the upperclassmen. We can't just go in and dog around. We have to go in there and push just as hard to show them what it's all about and get them on the right page before we get started.

They're doing awesome. It's been fun. They push me to get me ready. A couple of people, like Ashley and Hillary, work with me and help me shoot and stuff like that to get me ready for now.

VM: What were you doing specifically to get ready for this trip?

JB: Well, obviously, working with the team, lifting, conditioning, and a lot of pickup. Just doing a lot of shooting and stuff like that.

VM: Using both sizes of ball -- the smaller ball that the women use in the USA and the larger ball that's used in international play?

JB: Well, in pickup I had to use the normal women's ball because everybody else was using that. I tried to shoot every day, but I couldn't do that all the time because of my work schedule, but I tried to get in the gym as much as I could with the international ball, so I was shooting around with that. So that's helped me. It's given me a lot more confidence coming in.

VM: So how have things been since you arrived . . yesterday, was it?

JB: Yes, I arrived yesterday about 1:30, and everybody finally got into town, and we had practice at Northeastern for about 3 hours. It was a good practice. They're throwing a lot of stuff at us, but we've picked up on it pretty good. We had a really good practice, then last night we could eat on our own, and I spent some time with my familiy. Dan lives up here, so my family came up here to come watch and visit him. So it was cool, kinda like a family dinner type thing. And then we had practice this morning for about two hours, and then went back, got some food, and came out here where we had a scrimmage against the other USA team. So it's been fun.

VM: How was this scrimmage set up?

JB: This was something that Coach Foster used to do at Vanderbilt. It's called "possessions." What you do is, you have five-on-five, and the offense starts at half-court. Then you run transition. Once the defense gets the ball, they have the chance to go on offense. They go down the floor, still five-on-five, and the offense gets a turn to come back.

Basically, it's up and back. That's what it is. And you keep score. Each team does it seven times. The offense will go seven times in a row, and then you'll switch and the defense will go seven times in a row, and you keep score. And it's a very competitive thing. We used to run a little bit for the winner/loser, whatever.

We really didn't want to do a scrimmage full blast because we don't know everything, and they've been together for about ten days.

VM: I hadn't seen anything like that before.

JB: It's basically a little bit of everything you'd use in a game. You have offense and defense. You have transition offense and transition defense, and vice versa. You get to work on a little bit of everything. It was kind of nice. It was fun. I knew what he was doing, so I understood it, and I had to try to tell my teammates how to do it.

But it was cool. Very competitive to play against all the other great basketball players from the country that are representing. So it was really competitive, and we were just really excited we won. That gives us a lot of confidence going in. We didn't really know what to expect, but positive thoughts now.

VM: You've got games tomorrow.

JB: Yes, we play Australia tomorrow, and then Brazil on Sunday, and then we leave to go to Cuba on Monday. So it's going to be one after another, but it's fun. I like everybody on the team. Everybody's working really hard and every energetic and positive.

After Jenni headed to the showers, VandyMania talked with Coach Debbie Ryan from the University of Viriginia, who is the head coach of the Pan American Games team. Among other things, VandyMania asked about her initial impressions of Jenni.

Coach Ryan: I think Jenni is just a real gem. She is a very special person because she is very, very positive, upbeat. She keeps the players light, keeps the players laughing, and she's also the type of person that can give direction, and players will not turn their nose at her or anything like that. She's very very good with people, and I love her game. She's a very good shooter. When you look at her, you don't think she's going to be as good as she is, but when she comes on the court, she can light it up. She's a very good offensive player, and she's really gotten better defensively since she's been with us, just in the past 24 hours. She's really worked hard on that aspect of her game. She hustles. She's got a lot of positives.

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