Cameron Benzel had a goal, to play college basketball.
The 6-foot-6 wing from Oakland High School signed his letter-of-intent on Wednesday to enroll at Umpqua Community College and play for the Riverhawks in the fall.
“It’s exciting,” Benzel said. “It’s a new step toward my goal. My goal was to play college basketball and now it’s coming true and it’s very exciting.”
“I think he’s a special player and I knew we had to get him on board as soon as possible,” UCC coach Daniel Leeworthy said. “He’s 6-6 with a 6-9 wingspan, a lefty, really quick down the floor, really good handles, he can shoot it and he’s athletic.”
Leeworthy has been busy signing a number of “bigs” for next season. Benzel is the fifth commit for the Riverhawks and the third who’s 6-6 or taller.
“We’ve been signing some big guys and all of them are very good players,” Leeworthy said. “We’re hopefully going to be signing one to two more bigger guys in the next couple of weeks. We’re going to have a much bigger team next season, and all of the big guys are very skilled, they can run so we don’t have to change the offense very dramatically. These guys can all run the floor and shoot it, they’re very skilled.”
Leeworthy was interested in Benzel throughout the season and scouted him live more than once. When Benzel visited campus and took part in an open gym with other UCC players, both coach and player were sold on the combination.
“There were some other implements in it, but playing ball with those guys that I wasn’t used to, to see the unselfish play and for it to be all about making the right read, that sold me,” Benzel said. “When I played the last couple times, (Leeworthy) was really involved and really liking my play. If this coach is really impressed with me, then why not? It’s close to home, I can still see my family.”
Benzel helped lead Oakland to the Class 2A semifinals in March. He was a first-team all-tournament selection and was also named to the 2A all-state first team.
“I think that he had a great season, a great senior, a great state tournament and he showed great improvement,” OHS coach Jeff Clark said. “He had a great final game.”
Benzel was also the Mountain View Conference player of the year.
“(Coach Clark) has helped me a lot through this point,” Benzel said. “I’m going to take what he’s given me in the past four years and go with it. I’m going to take what coach Leeworthy shows me and tie them both together.”
It’s the second year in a row that Leeworthy has landed the top senior basketball player in Douglas County. Cody Gray joined the Riverhawks out of South Umpqua High last fall and started all but six of UCC’s 29 games.
However, Gray and Benzel will not be teammates for the Riverhawks. Gray is graduating a year early and will continue his academic career at a four-year school, Leeworthy said.
“That was an academic choice on his behalf,” Leeworthy said. “We’re happy for him and grateful for what he provided last season.
“From a basketball standpoint, he was an undersized four, but was he really a 3? Not really. We’ll miss him from a cultural standpoint and we wish him the best.”
Gray’s departure leaves the Riverhawks with two starting jobs available. Guards Connor Shaw and Eric Klekas return for their sophomore years and Coleman Johnson is also expected to be back. Starting point guard Ethan Betts graduates this spring.
“They’re our main three returning (Shaw, Klekas, Johnson); our second, third and fourth leading scorers on the team,” Leeworthy said.