Benson’s mother, Janice Hale, said Benson’s contract includes an opt-out clause that would allow him to return to Atlanta if/when the NBA lockout ends.
“Keith feels that having an opportunity to play professionally during the lockout will enable him to maintain his conditioning and prepare him for the Atlanta Hawks training camp when the lockout ends,” Hale wrote in an e-mail. “He has received numerous offers to play in Europe and Asia. In fact, there were offers that were close to double the offer he accepted. Many of the teams that offered him wanted to build their teams around him as the starting center and would not provide the opt out clause. He agreed to play for Sassari because they were willing to include the opt out clause in his contract.”
I can’t see any downside to this decision for Benson. Assuming he gets some decent playing time, he will get better competition in what is among Europe’s top-rated leagues than anywhere in the States. If/when the lockout ends, he can return to the Hawks and continue his development.
(Not to mention that Sassari’s home is on the Mediterranean Island of Sardinia.)
Obviously the most important part of Benson’s development is adding muscle. Hale said the Hawks told Benson they want him at 235 pounds for training camp in October or 240 pounds should the lockout drag into January. She said Benson has been working with trainers at his alma mater, Oakland (Mich.) University, and is is currently at 233. Benson plans to hire a nutritionist and trainer once he gets to Italy.
Benson is the first Hawks player to officially confirm their intentions to play elsewhere during the lockout. Zaza was talking to a Turkish team but eventually nixed a deal. Magnum Rolle reportedly will play in South Korea, but no word on if his contract would contain an opt-out (and if he really got $973,000 to play in a 5,500-seat arena, kudos to him).
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat