Every time an opposing coach schemes to stop Casey Benson from driving left, wry smiles from a knowing few pop up across the gym, because arguably the most well-known boys basketball player in the East Valley has a secret.
The Corona del Sol junior point guard fires jump shots left-handed, and he shoots them well. His last-second overtime 3-pointer in the Aztecs’ second-round playoff game against Mountain Pointe saved the season.
Not many realize, though, that it is not his dominant hand.
When the Aztecs star was only two years old, his father, Tim, taught him to shoot lefty, and to this day, the only other thing Benson does left-handed is play pool. That’s why it’s such a common sight to see him finish at the rim with right-handed layups or floaters.
Switch-hitting in baseball is a normal sight, but switch-shooting hasn’t exactly caught on.
“Everybody always thinks I’m so weird because of it,” Casey said.
But it’s worked to his advantage on the court. When opponents guard a southpaw, they naturally force him right, which, of course, plays directly into Benson’s strengths.
“When people watch him play, they say, ‘Don’t let him go left,’” Tim Benson said. “I just laugh. You should let him go left.”
Whether it was shooting left-handed from afar, righty from in close or using both hands to make a pass, Benson went from promising sophomore a year ago to full-blown superstar this season.
He averaged 20.7 points, 3.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game to earn the Tribune’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
Despite the graduation of shooting guard Calaen Robinson, power forward Avery Moss and center Andrus Peat from last year’s title-team, Benson took over and led the Aztecs to a 29-4 record and a repeat Division I state championship.
“It meant a great amount, obviously,” Benson said. “People kind of picked against us sometimes, but we had confidence in ourselves, and that’s all that mattered.”
Benson had some impressive individual scoring performances during the season, but when his shot wasn’t falling in the championship game against Pinnacle, he found other ways to contribute.
Benson finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the come-from-behind 63-59 victory.
The 3-for-14 performance was a rare cold shooting night. Throughout the season, his jumper was markedly more consistent than as a sophomore. Coach Sam Duane said Benson turned it into a strength with repetition, attempting up to 1,000 jumpers some days in the offseason.
The work ethic and drive is a staple of Benson’s makeup.
“I have to beg him to take some time off,” Duane said. “We have to make him slow down.”
Some high school players love the exposure of club ball, as the heavy presence of scouts and coaches can skyrocket a player’s stock.
However, Benson’s approach to recruiting is remarkably blasé. He is expected to attend a school on the West Coast, but while many Pac-12 schools are pushing hard for his services, he doesn’t have a list of preferred destinations or any idea when he will make a verbal commitment.
In fact, he may skip upcoming showcases in favor of skill development. Benson’s main goals this offseason are improving his quickness, and, yes, the ability to finish left-handed at the rim.
After all, the secret’s out now.
“I didn’t even know until about midway through last year,” Duane said. “He told me, ‘Hey, I do everything right-handed.’ From about Christmas on last year we would laugh when people would push him right. But he’s good with both. He’s turning ambidextrous now, is what it’s become.”