As time ran down in the game, the ball whipped around until it found the open man. Finding its desired target, just inches in front of the SPU bench, the players stood in anticipation of the shot.
All the teammates, grinning with hope while holding one-another back from the court, exploded with cheers and excitement for the senior walk-on who netted his first and only field goal of his SPU career.
The peak of Chris Bench’s basketball career at Seattle Pacific came and went in one perfect three-pointer, thrown with just 23 seconds remaining before a homecoming crowd of almost 2,000 at Royal Brougham Pavilion.
Bench, a senior who graduated from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Washington, will be telling the story of that game against Central Washington for the rest of his life, remembering how his first points of the season were scored on Feb. 11, 2017, ending with a 79-61 victory.
The roar of the crowd did not go to Bench’s head.
“It was pretty exciting, but to be honest I was more happy about how the team reacted,” Bench said. “It was really cool that the team was that happy for me.”
What does it take to submit to the discipline of being a member of a college basketball team, without any expectation that you will be talented enough to play? Bench, who is five-feet seven-inches and a slight 140 pounds, is not the typical player, and his height and weight put him at a disadvantage to his teammates.
Yet for Bench, as he faces graduation, it’s all about the team.
“The aspect of playing at SPU that I will miss most is the relationships that I formed with my teammates and coaches,” he said. “I definitely took it for granted during the season, but once the season ended it hit me that I wasn’t going to spend every day around these guys anymore.”
The youngest of three children, Bench’s earliest memories of basketball are of him playing one-on-one with his grandfather. From an early age, Bench loved sports.
“I’ve always loved sports,” he said. “I’ve always liked being active and moving around.”
Bench played sports in high school, but did not have any expectations to play at the next level. So before Bench walked onto the basketball team, he satisfied his competitive and social hunger by playing intramural sports.
For his first three years at SPU, Bench participated in football, soccer, softball, dodgeball and spike-ball intramurals.
It would seem intramurals were not enough of a challenge for Bench, who wanted to play a competitive sport one last time before joining the workforce.
“I love the game because of the competition, the necessity to work as a team and the pace of the game,” Bench said.
For Bench, playing college basketball is the culmination of a lifelong love of the sport.
“Basketball has always been a passion of mine, and I wanted to keep playing at a competitive level until I wasn’t talented enough to do so anymore,” he said.
“What drove me to walk onto the basketball team was both my love of basketball and my curiosity of how good I really was,” he added. “I wanted to play at a high level, and the highest level that I could realistically play at while in college was at SPU.”
Head Coach Grant Leep paid tribute to Bench’s character: “[Bench] played a huge role in our ability to prepare for games. As a part of our scout team, he would learn and execute the offensive sets of other teams, all while knowing there was no guarantee he would play in the game he was helping us prepare for. He added so much to our group by simply being himself.”
Fellow teammate and guard first-year Sharif Khan reflected on how well Bench challenged the team during practices.
“Having [Bench] on the team was amazing,” Khan said. “Having to guard him during scout was very frustrating because of how quick he is with the ball.”
Devoting numerous hours of the week to practice, Bench had to manage his college career around the demands of participating in this sport.
“Basketball takes up a lot of time, so I kind of had to sharpen my time management skills or I would have really struggled with school this year. I understood that basketball would be a major time commitment, but I wasn’t able to completely appreciate it until I was in the thick of it.”
Bench made this commitment despite knowing that he would be training for games without any expectation that he would be allowed to play.
And because of this, his fellow teammates held him in high regard.
“I loved having [Bench] on the team,” first-year guard Harry Cavell said. “He is a good player on the court and an awesome person to have in the locker room. We all learned a lot form his positivity and work ethic.”
Leep said he will always remember Bench’s participation.
“Being my first year in the role of head coach, this team will be one that is very special to me,” Leep said. “We were blessed to have [Bench] be a part of it. He did everything that was asked of him to the best of his ability. He worked to get better and help make his teammates better. He gave us so much because he was willing to buy in and be himself.”
It was all the more special for him to go out with that perfect three-pointer.
“[Bench] is a very good shooter, and when he made his three in the corner, I loved seeing the reaction of our team and hearing the crowd show appreciation to [Bench],” Leep added.
Bench graduates with a major in Exercise Science this spring and is considering his options, including a career in coaching.
Once graduated, there is no doubt that Bench will continue to fill his free-time with athletics. But before he graduates, Bench will have one last tango with sports, as he joined the track team and is looking to compete this spring quarter.
“I am looking forward to making progress in that and getting to know my new teammates,” Bench said. “After that, I’m looking forward to graduating and finding some more hobbies to keep me busy.”
As Bench moves on to the next athletic activity to fill his time, his efforts on the basketball court will surely be missed.
“He’s such a great person and it was always fun to be around him on and off the court,” Khan said. “He may have been a walk on, but he was a perfect fit for the team.”