Interview: Jenni Benningfield

After the USA Pan American team's 60-58 victory over the Brazilian Young Women's team in a "friendly game" in Boston, VandyMania talked with senior forward Jenni Benningfield.

After the interview, she boarded the team bus for the airport to catch a flight to Miami for an overnight stop before heading to Cuba on Monday for a series of three "friendly games" in preparation for the Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo in August.

VM: Jenni, could you talk about today's game compared to yesterday's loss to the Australians?

JB: I think today's game, compared to yesterday's game when we had to walk out with a loss and learn from it-- we did that. We knew that we wanted to walk away with a win and get some confidence going in to Cuba.

I think we really realized from last game that we really need to pick up on defense, and then our offense is going to come. We've just got to continue to work at it every day and get the shots open for everybody, so everybody can basically use their strengths and do what they know how to do, and not try to go outside of their comfort zone.

I think today was a little bit better. Our defense picked up. Rebounding was better, and we knew what to expect against the other team. Like Australia, we didn't know how physical it was going to be. We knew that and realized going into Brazil that Brazil was going to be even more physical, so we knew what to expect coming in to today.

But really, we just wanted to walk away with a win, and we did. And we had a lot of different game situations that were good. It was an overall good game. They ended up coming back, and we ended up holding on to win the game.

VM: Now you've had two games worth of international experience. What feels most different between those games and NCAA games?

JB: Well, for one thing, all the different rules. Do you want me to tell you what those are?

VM: Sure. I'm interested.

JB: Well, you have four ten-minute quarters, and you have two-minute breaks between each quarter. And obviously halftime is ten or fifteen minutes. 24-second shot clock.

VM: The 24-second clock -- does that feel really different to you?

JB: Um . . . no, not really. You obviously don't have as much time to run your offense, but we have plays where we can create something if the shotclock is running down. It's a little bit different, but it's not that bad.

We also have 8-second half-court violations. We have a bigger ball. We play with the trapezoid lane, the extended 3-point line. We still have 3 seconds in the lane. Jump ball, you have to actually jump. It's not just an arrow. So you could get a guard and a forward jumping up against each other.

And when we're throwing the ball in from the sidelines at halfcourt, you can't throw it in the backcourt. If you're already in the frontcourt, you can't throw it back. You have to stay in the frontcourt. It's like the you can't go over and back.

And you only have one timeout every quarter, and you have two in the fourth quarter.

VM: Based on your two games, are there any of those changes that you'd like to see implemented in the NCAA?

JB: Honestly, I actually like playing with the bigger ball. I actually like playing with the trapezoid. I didn't think I was going to, but you've got a lot more space to do stuff, to work. Obviously, you have to find new angles. Coach always stresses using angles to get layups and get open shots. With the trapezoid, you've got more room.

VM: So personally you kind of like it?

JB: I kind of like it. I like the extended 3-point line, too. It's different. I think I just like change for once. It's a completely different than college. You get away with murder, basically. You get to push and shove and go over the back.

The thing is, we learned that you can't out-jump these international girls. I mean, they don't look very athletic, but they're training all the time, and they're always training on jumping and stuff, so they can jump. We have to use our bodies and block 'em out and just do the little fundamental things instead of trying to be more athletic than somebody.

VM: Changing the subject completely, one of the things I'm working on this weekend is the kind of connections between players -- who knew who before and stuff like that. Someone told me that you've had one roommate over this weekend, but that you might change for the next part of your trip. Do you know anything about the philosophy behind that?

JB: Well, I know we do that with college, too. Every time we go somewhere, we don't have the same roommate. You always room with somebody else, so by the end of the year, you've roomed with everybody. That's just a matter of bonding and getting to know somebody and really spending time with somebody, so it's not so many cliques. I think that's very important.

VM: I think that's all I need. Thanks.

JB: Sure, no problem. (To her dad, Bill, who's looking on.) Do you need to get a picture? (To VM.) He needs to get a picture, so look like you're interviewing me.

VM: Oh! Well, I'll ask you another question. Let's see. (Pauses.) Pressure's on. (Bill says, "One, two, three . . ") Wait wait wait, I'm going to ask a question. (Laughs.) My mind's completely blank, I already went through my routine. Oh, okay. What did you learn about your teammates this weekend?

JB: The thing is, everybody's focused, everybody's dedicated. We don't have one person on the team that doesn't want to be here. Everybody's wanting and willing and pushing to give 110%, and I think that makes a lot of difference. You don't have any slackers, and that's good, because everybody is pushing each other. Everybody wants to win. You push each other so much more. (JB looks over to Bill.) Okay, he's got it. Thank you.

VM: Thanks, and have a great trip.

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Photos of the trapezoidal lane and Jenni with roommate Nicole Powell of Stanford University by Whitney D for VandyMania. Click on thumbnail for a larger image.


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