On Your Marc: 2/6

The home team

The family business of sports legacies

By Marc Katz

Athletic mentors and idols come from everywhere: the coaching ranks, the playing rosters, the pros showcasing their wares to idolizing eyes on all devices from cell phones to big screen televisions.

Sometimes, those mentors and idols are sitting across the breakfast table.

Trey Landers sat in that seat across from Robert Landers Jr. when they were growing up, and Robert continues to mentor his younger (by two years) brother even though Trey plays basketball at UD and Robert is a defensive tackle at Ohio State.

At Wright State, Grant Benzinger also learned cross-sport lessons, from a father who played major league baseball and coached a little basketball on the side.

Information passed along this way usually leans heavily to the mental, rather than physical, side.

For instance, those cell phone calls Trey Landers takes from Robert.

“He calls at all times,” Trey, a starting Flyers’ guard, said recently. “Obviously, I love my brother to death, but sometimes I get mad.  I’ll say, ‘I just talked to you 20 minutes ago.’”

Often, Robert calls to ask if Trey had gone to the gym.

“I’m going at 10 o’clock,” Trey answered once. “It’s only 8 o’clock. Why are you calling me?”

Robert Landers is calling for the most obvious of reasons.

“I can speak with other people about basketball,” Trey Landers said. “But I don’t know if they have my best interest at heart. Nobody has your best interest at heart the way your family does.”

That observation obviously leaves out coaches and teammates, but Trey Landers isn’t talking about a team atmosphere where winning games is all-important. He’s talking about what attributes he needs to fit into that team atmosphere, and the 24/7 mentor he has, enabling him to fit into that team.

You’ve heard stories about players who grew up as children of coaches, and how they soak in a team-game mentality. Imparting wisdom does not finish at the end of practice.

Over at Wright State, senior guard Grant Benzinger learned a few lessons from his dad, Todd Benzinger, who played nearly a decade in the major leagues. Later, Benzinger coached kids and high school basketball and for two years was manager of the Dayton Dragons baseball team. 

Grant Benzinger has a story from about 10 years ago as he holds up a slightly swollen pinky finger on his left hand.

“You see, this one is a little more swollen, still,” Benzinger said. “There was this moment I always think about. I was in sixth grade. I jammed my pinkie into the wall. I think I broke my finger. He (Todd) was coaching our basketball team.

“He said, ‘It shouldn’t matter. You’ve still got to play hard.’ I’m crying on the bench. He said, ‘Stop it. No one’s feeling bad for you. You’ve still got to go in and do your job.’

“And I think I went back in and we won the game. I don’t think I did anything, but to play in pain for the first time and having him tell me what I needed to hear, was huge. It’s a long season. You’re not going to feel great every game. You’ve got to play through it. Don’t show any weakness.”

Todd Benzinger thought he was just imparting passion. He said he had a passion for baseball although he didn’t think he’d be in the big leagues until he noticed his father, who had a passion for football and played at Cincinnati for Sid Gillman.

“You can look and say, hey, my dad made it,” Todd said. “He ain’t nothing special (as an athlete). It’s all related to your passion for the sport you’re playing. Grant has that passion. When you have a passion for sports, you play it a lot. And when you play it a lot, you get better. And when you get better at it, you get confident. And, if you’re lucky like Grant, he got to be 6-foot-3.”

Trey Landers is even bigger, at 6-5, but didn’t play much on a senior-dominated UD team last season.

“He (Robert) was preaching to me how important it was that I had to work and earn minutes,” Trey said. “They’re not just given.

“He would call me to see if I was level-headed and not getting frustrated or anything, because I didn’t know what to expect. There were new coaches (Anthony Grant took over for departed Archie Miller). He asked how many shots I got up today and what I was doing in the gym.”

Once, after a UD loss this season when Trey didn’t play well, Robert told him, “Play the rest of the games with no regrets. Every time you get on the floor, give 110 percent. If you do that, you might give 95 percent on one play instead of 80 percent.”

Give your best, family advice from the people who have done it.

“Growing up, he (Todd) never yelled at me for missed shots,” Grant Benzinger said. “He just yelled at me for not going hard, or giving no effort. He said, ‘Let your mind go and just go hard. You play hard, and the other things will just take care of themselves.’”

As for Trey, ‘If I didn’t have his (Robert’s) experience to share with me, I don’t know how I would be playing.”

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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