Sharpened by surgery, Robyn Benton soars up recruiting rankings for senior season
Surgeons repaired her knee, but it was Robyn Benton who sharpened her own resolve. It was Benton who used the weight room to chisel her body. And it was Benton who operated -- after surgery -- on every part of her game until it was better than before.
The 5-foot-9 all-state guard at Greater Atlanta Christian (Norcross, Georgia) was a talented but incomplete prospect during her freshman year of high school. Her coach, in fact, had doubts that Benton would be able to succeed on her team. Today, she has committed to playing women's basketball at Auburn and is the No. 17 prospect in the new espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2018 class.
"I met her the summer coming into her freshman year, and I thought she was going to be difficult," said GAC coach Lady Grooms, who played college basketball at the University of Georgia and for eight years in the WNBA. "Robyn was very to herself at that stage, like an island of her own. I knew she had played AAU ball. I knew she was one of our better players. But she was very reserved. I thought, 'Man, this will be a challenge.' "
The mountain Benton had to scale only grew steeper during a game late in her freshman year. It was one day before her 15th birthday. "I was going for the ball, and someone pushed me in the back," Benton said. "My right knee buckled. It kind of went both ways."
Benton tore her ACL. But just 10 months later, she was back on the court. She didn't seem like her old self at all.
"When she went down, I was distraught," Grooms said. "But this kid came back better than ever. She was determined to be stronger. Her diet changed. Her strength changed. Her body became aligned. Her jump shot became more precise."
After her surgery, Benton stopped eating fried foods and sweets. She eliminated sodas.
"I guess when you get something taken away," Grooms said, "you strive to get it back."
Hello, Candace Parker
Benton's parents, Robert and Mary, met as athletes at NCAA Division II Albany State. Robert was a 6-foot-2 cornerback in football; Mary was a 5-foot-6 shooting guard in basketball.
Ever since elementary school, Robyn took a keen interest in basketball, just like her mom. In fact, at age 8, she was at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta when she spotted WNBA star Candace Parker.
"I dropped my little pink luggage in the middle of the airport, and I ran over to Candace," Benton said. "I touched her on the shoulder and asked her if she was Candace Parker.
"When she said, 'Yes,' I said, 'I told you, Momma!'"
Benton, who did recover her little pink luggage, got a picture taken with Parker, a photo she has kept for nearly a decade.
But images of Robyn herself have a special place in the Benton house. Mary recently put her daughter's likeness on a dozen hand-held fans.
Jaida Hall, Benton's teammate at Greater Atlanta Christian, has been to the Benton home and has noticed how proud her family is of her.
"There's even a jigsaw puzzle of Robyn in the family room," Hall said. "It's on a table."
A new Benton
Chad Hubbard, who has coached Benton with the AAU program Team Elite since she was in seventh grade, raves about her work ethic and fearlessness.
He said Benton has helped Team Elite win Nike Nationals titles in each of the past two years.
A state championship in high school is still missing from Benton's list of accomplishments, although perhaps she can check that off her to-do list this season.
All five of GAC's starters are returning, including 5-foot-6 point guard Taylor Sutton, who has committed to Middle Tennessee; 5-foot-11 wing Caria Reynolds (undeclared) and 6-foot wing Mary Martha Turner (Wofford). Benton, though, is the clear leader, according to Grooms, and that has a lot to do with her passion for defense -- blocking shots, deflecting and stealing passes, and grabbing rebounds to end opponents' possessions.
Grooms said the turning point for Benton came when she removed her knee brace two games into her sophomore-year comeback.
"Her mom had bought her this $200 knee brace," Grooms said. "But Robyn begged me to let her take it off.
I play with an edge now. I like to make the crowd jump up and down.Robyn Benton
"I was afraid to have her remove it, but when I watched her play, she was more muscular than before her surgery. When she shot, it was not like her freshman [form]. She was more squared up."
Benton wanted the brace off so badly that she cried until her coach relented.
"I knew my legs were stronger than before," Benton said. "The knee brace was reminding me of something I didn't want to be reminded of anymore."
In addition to her physical improvement, Benton, who has a 3.6 GPA and plans to study broadcast journalism at Auburn, has also become a vocal leader.
Gone are the days of that reserved freshman.
"Even if I put Robyn with the freshmen, she wills them to win," Grooms said. "She makes them believe they can win.
"If we're stinking it up, Robyn is not afraid to say the hard things to her teammates. She will get in the back of the zone and grab every rebound and yell, 'That's how you do it!'"
It's impossible to say how good Benton would have been had she never gotten hurt. But don't tell her that.
"I don't think I would be the player I am if I had not gotten injured," she said. "I play with an edge now. I like to make the crowd jump up and down."