Trey Ball was nervous before his meeting with then-New Castle boys basketball coach Steve Bennett. He was headed to Bennett’s house, and the news, from a purely basketball perspective, was not good.
Ball, a blossoming baseball star, also played basketball his freshman and sophomore years. He had decided not to return to the basketball team his junior year. He didn’t know how Bennett, a successful coach of the Trojans for more than a decade, would react.
He had little to worry about. Bennett suspected Ball wasn’t returning to the basketball team. He was aware of Ball’s prowess on the baseball diamond and understood the decision.
Bennett hugged Ball, told him he loved him, and says he’s never had hard feelings in the two years since, though he’s confident Ball’s abilities would have been an asset for his team. Ball is projected as a possible top-10 pick in tonight’s MLB Draft, likely as a pitcher but possibly as an outfielder.
“That’s the way I feel,” Bennett said. “I’ve never made it a secret that I love my players.”
The pair have remained supportive of each other in the two years since. Ball frequently attended Trojans’ basketball games, and Bennett attended baseball games. Bennett even made a trip to Chicago last summer to see Ball play in the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game at Wrigley Field.
Bennett concedes Ball’s skills make him an easy athlete to cheer for. But his allegiance goes beyond Ball’s abilities. His fanhood for Ball is based heavily on the player’s character. Bennett was coaching at an out-of-town basketball camp this week but was eager to return home in time to watch the draft and see where Ball is selected.
“He’s not too good to talk to anybody or spend some time with anybody,” Bennett said. “That’s what makes him, again, I just say it’s special. And we are excited for him and his family and just can’t wait to see what happens. We feel part of it. Because he and his family, they make you feel like a part of it. And that’s pretty neat, I think, for people to do that.”
Ball played in all 21 basketball games for the Trojans during his sophomore season. He averaged 3.9 points per game and three rebounds a contest. His athleticism allowed him to guard a variety of players, Bennett said.
Ball looks back fondly on his time playing for Bennett, and said playing for the coach allowed him to grow as a basketball player and as a person.
Bennett recently resigned his position as the Trojans’ boys basketball coach. His son, Steven, will be walking on to the team at Butler, and Steve Bennett will get more opportunities to catch his son’s games.
Like his coach had been before, Ball was understanding of his former coach’s decision to step away. But he was also saddened to learn that other boys growing up in New Castle wouldn’t get the chance to play for Bennett during their high school days.
“I loved playing for him,” Ball said. “Seeing him go, it is kind of sad. But Steven is going to Butler to play, so I could see why he decided to retire. But he’s just been a great basketball coach.”