Benningfield to return to Spain

After her season with the WNBA's Indianapolis Fever ends in September, former Vanderbilt standout Jenni Benningfield will continue her professional basketball career this winter in Burgos, Spain.

This will be Benningfield's second professional season in the Liga Feminina, the highest level of women's professional basketball in Spain. In the winter of 2004-05, she played for the Club Estudiantes de Baloncesto in Madrid, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding with 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

"I know what to expect in the Spanish League, so I feel more comfortable going back to there and playing again," Benningfield said. "I saw what I could do in that type of league. I had offers to other places, but I figured that Spain was probably the best fit for me at this point right now."

There will be a big difference between this year and last, however.

After the Estudiantes'successful season, which featured their first-ever appearance in the mid-season tournament and their second straight trip to the playoffs, the team's head coach, Alberto Ortego, left the team to take the head coaching position with Arranz Jopisa (formerly known as Arranz Acinas) in Burgos.

Ortego wanted Benningfield for his new team and made her an offer. After considering her alternatives, she signed on the dotted line. "I already know what kind of philosophy he has and what he wants out of his players," she said, "so that'll be good for me. It'll be a good experience."

Besides the comfort level that familiarity with the coach and his system offers, another factor in Benningfield's decision to go to a different organization was the limited availability of the gym in Madrid.

The Estudiantes sponsor many different basketball teams of different age levels and ability, but all the teams share a single gym for practice. That means that gym time for team practice and individual workouts was sharply limited.

"I loved Estudiantes and I loved Madrid," she said. "It couldn't have been a better experience for me.

"But I think at the same time I want to be a part of a team that can practice a lot more, to try to get to a higher level. Not that they weren't at a high level, but I just want more. I want to be able to practice more. I want to be able to improve on my game a lot more than I was able to at Estudiantes because of the constraints of so many different teams, gym time, and that kind of thing."

The fact that Kelly Schumacher, Benningfield's teammate on the Fever, had played in Burgos last year and had a good experience there helped her make the decision, too.

"She enjoyed it," said Beningfield. "The organization was good, the people good. So I was like, I'll give it a shot."

With Indianapolis currently in second place in the WNBA's Eastern Conference, there's a good chance that the Fever will extend their season by making the play-offs. But even if they're playing in the championship finals, Benningfield's contract provides for at least 10 days off before she reports to Spain in late September.

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