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First Student With Autism To Join Kent State Basketball Division 1 Team


Eighteen-year-old Kalin Bennett, 6-foot-10 basketball player from Little Rock, Ark., has committed to play at Kent State University next year. Getting signed is a big moment for any student athlete. According to Kent State, Kalin Bennett may be the first student athlete with autism to sign a national letter of intent to play Division I men's basketball.

Kalin Bennett joins us now from Branson, Mo., where he plays basketball at Link Year Prep. Thanks so much for being with us.

KALIN BENNETT: Yes, sir. I'm excited - glad to talk to you.

SIMON: Well, we're excited to talk to you. How did it feel to sign that letter?

BENNETT: I mean, it's all good. I already knew I can play with all these players, so it was good to sign.

SIMON: And why did you choose Kent State?

BENNETT: Out of all the offers I had, Kent State - I knew their tradition of winning, the coaching staff. And I just wanted to be part of that tradition. And also the autism program and this - the people in general. The campus was amazing. Everybody there treated me greatly. It just felt like home as soon as I touched down off the plane, so...

SIMON: Mr. Bennett, help us understand what it was like for you to grow up with autism.

BENNETT: I mean, it was hard. It was difficult because sometimes I wouldn't know if people were being nice to me or not. And there are times where it just - there are some times it clicked, and some times it didn't. Sometimes, I don't process things as fast as everybody else, so I have to, like, slow down, like, think to myself, like, get in the details of it.

SIMON: Yeah.

BENNETT: And it's just - it was just hard at times. But then as I started growing up, it just started unlocking for me. And by the grace of God, I'm able to do what I'm doing.

SIMON: Yeah. I understand - here you are playing Division I basketball. I understand you were a little late to walk.

BENNETT: Yes, sir. I wasn't able to do as much when I was younger.

SIMON: Yeah. How old were you when you began to walk?

BENNETT: Around 4.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, you do pretty well now, don't you (laughter)?

BENNETT: Yes, sir.

SIMON: And basketball's not your only interest in life, is it? You've got a lot of talents.

BENNETT: Yes, sir.

SIMON: Like what?

BENNETT: I like playing instruments. I play drums, guitar. I'm still learning the keyboard. And I love math.

SIMON: What do you love about math?

BENNETT: I just like being around numbers. I know, like, a lot of people, like, think that's weird, but I just like doing numbers.

SIMON: Yeah. What do you hope to do at Kent State?

BENNETT: Keep improving as a basketball player and then go and achieve my dreams of going to the NBA or whatever dreams God has ahead of me.

SIMON: Going to the NBA? Oh, that would be nice...

BENNETT: Yes, sir.

SIMON: ...Wouldn't it?

BENNETT: Yeah, and I can do it.

SIMON: Your mother's really - well, your mother has her own story in this success, doesn't she?

BENNETT: Yes, sir.

SIMON: She never gave up on you.

BENNETT: She never did, not one time. We just don't like being told what we can't do. So we just go ahead and work to get better and keep proving people wrong.

SIMON: You have anything you'd like to say to youngsters who might be living with autism, who might, you know...

BENNETT: Don't let anybody tell you - don't let anybody tell you what you can't do 'cause you're the only person who determines your future. And you can do it. And you are smart and intelligent and a beautiful creature. You can go out there and do anything you want. We're all human. We all have a heart. Just go out there and keep competing, and go out there and keep doing what we're doing.

SIMON: Mr. Bennett, you have made my week.

BENNETT: Thank you.

SIMON: (Laughter) Kalin Bennett, Kent State Golden Flash, thank you so much.

BENNETT: Yes, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.