Kent State basketball recruit Kalin Bennett became "the first student-athlete with autism to sign a national letter of intent to play a team sport at the NCAA Division I level" when he signed with the Golden Flashes earlier in November, according to Elton Alexander of The Plain Dealer.
Bennett hopes to inspire others with autism or struggling with conditions of their own:
"I want to make an impact not just on the court, but with kids that are struggling with the same things I am. I want to use this platform to inspire other kids with autism and non-autism. I want to let them know, hey, if I can do this, you can do it, too. A lot of times they feel alone and by themselves, and I felt that same way growing up."
Bennett, who stands 6'10" and weighs 300 pounds, is expected to be a major contributor for Kent State. Given his size and instincts, he projects as a rebounding machine. But like all prospects, he comes with some question marks.
"Keep the weight off him and he'll be OK," his AAU coach, Kevin Howard, said, noting that his conditioning would be a big factor in ensuring he gets the most out of his potential. "He's got everything else you would want, including a lot of intangibles. Kalin strives for perfection."
But his autism does present its own unique challenges at times on the court.
"Some stuff he gets really fast, and some stuff he has to process," his teammate at Link Year Prep, Dannie Smith, told Alexander. "The big thing is, when he does have a question, he keeps asking it, instead of moving on to the next play."
Bennett also asked those questions as a child.
"I don't know if you have ever been around an autistic child, but they are brutally honest. They want to know," his mother, Sonja Bennett, said. "They are not being defiant. They are not trying to be nasty. But they can have hard questions that they want you to answer."
Communication, however, is a huge part of success for any team, as is a desire to achieve perfection. In that regard, Bennett's inquisitive nature and desire to understand the game on a deeper level is a strength. And Bennett said he chose Kent State for the many support systems the school already has in place for students with autism.
As for Bennett's aspirations off the court, he said that he hopes to one day open his own charity.
"I want to be able to make a place where (autistic) kids can just come by, have fun, don't feel no fear being around other people," he said. "Be able to express themselves, be able to be who they are without worrying about what people think about them, or how they process stuff."