New Mexico State fans were eager to see if William Benjamin Jr. – the player known as “Deuce” – could bring the Aggies back to March Madness, and maybe even the Sweet 16 like his dad did at the time.
But the state’s top high school player and most famous rookie in college years where his dad was once a star, never stepped onto the field for the Aggies. Today, he says a year filled with violence at his dream school has left him angry, suspicious and isolated.
Benjamin and his former teammate Shak Odunewu spoke with The Associated Press on Wednesday about the consequences of their stay in the state of New Mexico, which led them to file a lawsuit. alleging that they were ganged up on and sexually assaulted by their teammates.
Odunewu says the coaches did nothing to confront the attackers when he offered them eyewitness testimony.
“I had respect for people,” Benjamin told the AP in an interview that came hours after an emotional press conference held on the outskirts of campus to discuss the lawsuit. “I’ve lost all that now. Almost a lot of anger. I can’t trust people, and I’ve come to despise people, really.
Odunewu recalls seeing Benjamin attacked shortly before a match. He went to an assistant coach to ask him to answer it.
“I come back to the locker room and all I see is one of my teammates being sexually assaulted,” Odunewu said. “Coach was standing there, so I said to him, ‘Yo, can you tell them to stop?’ He just laughed jokingly and said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And I just left it alone, because it really blew my mind.
Odunewu says he had been through the same thing with the same teammates, although he was hesitant to present his case.
“I didn’t want to go out and ruin their future. But it got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said.
It was only about three months after the coach mocked Odunewu that Benjamin, prodded by his father, turned himself in to campus police with details of another episode in which he said he had been assaulted. Meanwhile, the relationship between father and son has grown strained.
“I was smoking a lot, just trying to deal with the pain and start to forget,” Benjamin said. “I’m trying to find an escape. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to live with my pops anymore,” who remains a well-known figure in the community as coach of the Las Cruces High hoops team.
The police report led to the school’s chancellor canceling the season and firing coach Greg Heiar over what were then called “hazing” allegations.
Prior to that, the season continued, mostly as usual, despite a fatal shooting by an Aggies player who was acting in self-defense when he clashed with a University of New Mexico student with whom he sparred. was beaten at Las Cruces about a month earlier.
The shooting occurred during an Aggies road trip to Albuquerque. The player has not been charged with a crime.
“Let’s not lose sight: New Mexico State has (this shooting) on the resume,” Benjamin’s father said at the earlier press conference. “As a parent, I’ve never even been called about it, just to reassure myself that my son will be fine.”
The shooting and assault allegations led to multiple investigations, which have been increased since the complaint was filed. In addition to looking at several aspects of the assaults, the state Department of Education has asked New Mexico State to review the entire athletic program.
This would likely include a review of the five-year contract extension signed by sporting director Mario Moccia April 7, the last day of Chancellor Dan Arvizu’s term.
Arvizu itself has come under scrutiny for his leadership during the basketball crisis. The faculty senate will vote later this week on releasing a letter, a copy of which was obtained by AP, calling the extension “both startling and deeply discouraging.”
State regulators also want a review of a specific interaction between Benjamin and new coach Jason Hooten. Benjamin says Hooten told him, in so many words, that he better not play for the Aggies anymore. Benjamin’s father and attorneys believe the entire situation was handled improperly.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to hit the reset button and lump the kills together with everyone you get rid of,” William Benjamin said. “Deuce was going to be an Aggie if he was good enough.”
New Mexico State Spokesman Justin Bannister released a statement saying the school “continues to view this issue as extremely important.”
“The kind of behavior described in these allegations has no place on our campus,” Bannister said.
Benjamin and Odunewu don’t know what they will do next. They both believe basketball will be part of that plan, in part because it offers some sort of escape from the realities of where the sport left them after their unsettling stints in New State. -Mexico.
“I have days when I don’t feel like talking to anyone,” Benjamin said. “And days when I’m mad at myself. I’m just a real isolated person now. I feel like the only way to get better is to play somewhere and just be where they want me. I haven’t been in the right mental space for I don’t know how long. I am not happy.”
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