Leesville assistant men’s basketball coach Ishua Benjamin received a call one day from Raleigh from his wife, Lisa, while playing basketball professionally overseas in Europe. It seemed as if their son, Jalen Benjamin, a current Leesville junior, was following in Ishua’s footsteps.
She told Ishua about how their son went a perfect 10 for 10 from the field in a youth recreational basketball league game—at about the age of six.
“I said ‘You know what? I think I’ll be home in a couple of weeks,’” said Ishua.
Ishua returned back to Raleigh from Europe and ended his basketball career for good. He had struggled with injuries for quite some time, and with Jalen evolving into a promising player, he knew it was time to focus on his family.
And what came next was the development of both a strong father-son bond and a special coach-player relationship between Ishua and Jalen.
A Stellar Player
As a kid, Ishua played multiple sports: baseball, football, and basketball. But once he started school at Concord High School near Charlotte, he began to focus more on basketball.
“I moved up to play varsity basketball [in high school], so that’s when I started taking it seriously,” said Ishua.
During his high school years, Ishua blossomed into one of the most skilled players in the country. He earned the title of North Carolina Mr. Basketball in 1994 as the top senior high school basketball player in the state, making him a top college prospect.
Ishua had the choice to play almost anywhere in the country, even for two blue blood basketball programs: Duke and Kansas. Yet, he chose to attend North Carolina State, a team struggling at the time, hoping to be a cornerstone for building the program.
While at NC State, Ishua played against the likes of Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, and other stellar players who eventually went on to play in the NBA. And Ishua excelled while competing against these players during his college career, scoring 1,263 total points and averaging 10.7 points per game over a four year span.
It was those gut-wrenching games against exceptional athletes that Ishua said shaped his character.
“It was pretty competitive,” said Ishua. “[I] saw a lot of good basketball, and it helped mold me into the person I am today, being competitive.”
That competitiveness helped him move onto the next step in his athletic career—playing professionally overseas. Ishua played for 15 years in an array of countries, including South Korea, Japan, Greece, Israel, and England.
Especially in college, Ishua said that basketball helped him learn much about himself and life in general, enjoying every minute of it.
“It helped me to learn a lot,” said Ishua. “A lot about life and challenges.”
From Father to Coach and Son to Player
Ishua had always told himself that after he finished playing basketball, no matter what, he would not become involved in the world of coaching. But things didn’t exactly go as planned.
“I remember I told my wife ‘When I’m done playing, I’m done. I want no part of it,’” said Ishua.
But in the end, he accepted Jackson’s offer and joined the Raleigh Elite program, coaching young Jalen and kids who went on to play at the college level.
And ever since, he’s been coaching and guiding Jalen to success on the basketball court, including as an assistant coach for the Leesville basketball team that Jalen is a member of.
Initially, Jalen admitted that having his dad as a coach was a bit strange; most players don’t have their own parent as a coach. However, it grew on him quickly.
“At first I did [find it weird], but now he’s there with me and for me,” said Jalen.
Having a dad with so much experience playing the game is what Jalen said has helped him the most in his own development as an athlete.
“It’s a good learning experience, knowing he played at the college level and the pros,” said Jalen.
He attributes his high basketball lQ and feel for the game to Ishua, and Jalen puts those skills to the test at practice each day. Jalen said he is practically in the gym “24-seven,” and Ishua enjoys seeing the work he puts in.
“It’s a pleasure to sit back and watch the growth that he’s gone through over the years,” said Ishua.
Both Jalen and Ishua used one word to describe their relationship on and off the court: fun. The strong connection between the two is evident, and no matter what, they try to avoid bringing basketball related problems home with them.
“We’ve got a good balance between being father and son and coach-player,” said Ishua.
A Bond Beyond Basketball
A star guard for the Leesville basketball team, Jalen dominated against the competition during the 2017-18 season, scoring in double figures almost every game.
Jalen has already received multiple college offers, including from George Mason, Detroit, Canisius, Illinois State, Northern Arizona, High Point, Richmond, Tulane, and The University of Alabama at Birmingham.
With Jalen’s future looming, Ishua wants his son to realize that no matter where he goes in college, and in life, he must enjoy it.
“I tell him that, as far as college or playing at any other level, that you’ve got to do what makes you happy,” said Ishua.
Sometimes, you may catch the two chatting before Jalen trots onto the basketball court during a game. Ishua may give him some pointers, but his son will respond with three words: “I got this.”
But no matter whether Jalen and Ishua win or lose those games together as a coach and a player, the two will always have that special father-son bond. They’ll always remember the special moments they have shared over the years, from Jalen watching tapes as a kid of Ishua playing, to Ishua relishing the pleasure watching Jalen practice day in and day out.
And Ishua hopes that as a father, he can help his son have success in life even beyond shooting hoops.
“My main thing is setting him up for success in life and that’s the biggest thing that I care about most.”