For John Krikorian, the revelation occurred in a University of Virginia auxiliary gym in his first scrimmage before his first season as men's basketball coach at Christopher Newport.
Ten or fifteen minutes into the scrimmage versus Washington & Lee, Krikorian inserted the freshman, the young man who agreed to come to CNU just weeks before school started.
In the first couple weeks of practice in the fall of 2010, the young man displayed some athletic ability, but defense and the game's finer points were lost on him. Krikorian didn't know how much he would play or if he could help the team at all.
When Tra Benefield hit the court that day in Charlottesville, a transformation took place. He hit jump shots. He drove to the basket and dunked. He rebounded fiercely and blocked shots. Krikorian recalled that Benefield scored approximately 20 points and left his fingerprints all over the scrimmage.
"As a staff, we came back saying it was a fluke," Krikorian said. "The kid's a gamer, lights came on and he did it once, but he can't keep it up."
"It's never stopped," he said. "It's never even slowed down."
Almost four years later, Benefield winds down a career that's placed him among the best to ever play at CNU. The Captains' matchup against St. Mary's of Maryland 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Freeman Center will be the final regular-season home game for Benefield and fellow senior Luc Atangana.
"It's been several points, not just this week, that it's come across my mind about how fast time has gone by," Benefield said, sitting in the Freeman Center bleachers earlier this week. "Looking back when I first came here, and the years that followed, it's amazing how I got to this point so far and what I've been able to accomplish individually.
"The number of teammates that I've played with that have come and gone and are here with me now. It's been a very, very good journey. It's meant a lot, I've learned a lot. I'm still ready to keep playing. Looking back on it, I can't believe how far I've come. I couldn't have pictured this moment three years ago."
CNU's women also will hold Senior Night in the first half of Wednesday's doubleheader versus St. Mary's (5:30 p.m.), the final regular season home appearances for Tia Perry, Nicole Mitchell, Andrea Hobbs, Chantal Thomas and Nicole Pandak.
The Captains' men (16-7, 8-6 CAC) could earn a home game in the upcoming Capital Athletic Conference tournament, where games take place at the higher seed. But barring upsets and the unusual, they are likely to do most of their work on the road.
Benefield must be the player that he's become, if the Captains are to make a run at the end the season and in postseason. He is the unquestioned, if sometimes reluctant, alpha dog for a team chock full of freshmen and sophomores.
"He has been the role model and leader by example for this team for three years," Krikorian said. "He's a terrific player. He doesn't miss class. There are no social issues. He's well liked and respected all over campus.
"He is the gold standard for what a CNU basketball player should be, on and off the court. I don't have to tell the players to follow him. They know. When he speaks, they listen."
Benefield, a 6-foot-2 wing, is the No. 6 scorer in CNU history, with 1,703 points. He is 33 points behind Antoine Sinclair for fifth place. Given his 17.7 scoring average and the fact that the Captains have at least three games remaining, he is all but assured of finishing in the top five.
Benefield is unlikely to catch No. 4 Conley Taylor (1,821), his former teammate and current assistant coach. But he has never been solely about numbers.
"I'm a team guy first," he said, "but I can't sit here and say that I don't go look at stats every now and then, just to kind of see where I am. Especially after I broke 1,000 points and started moving up the ranks, I started checking every now and then. I don't go crazy about it. It'd be a great accomplishment to be a top-five scorer here at CNU when it's all said and done, but first and foremost, I'm about the team. But at the same time, I do look to see what I'm doing and see where I stand."
Benefield might be the most deferential great player in the history of the program. The Captains have had more physically gifted players — Lamont Strothers, Ted Berry and Brandon Jones come to mind. They have had scorers with a sharper edge and S.O.B. gene on the court, such as Strothers, Taylor, Steve Artis and Davon Barton.
Benefield, however, does not demand the ball. He isn't a high-volume shooter. He plays calmly and displays little emotion, regardless of the situation, which he views as an advantage amid the swirl of competition.
Longtime CNU assistant Roland Ross, who has seen or coached every player who came through the program, likened Benefield to James Boykins, the soft-spoken high school post player who through hard work and force of will became the school's No. 3 scorer and career leading rebounder.
"An extraordinary student-athlete," Ross said. "He's a joy to coach. Some guys are very talented, but he has so many other qualities. A Christmas basket showed up on the front doorstep and we've been blessed to have him for four years."
Benefield talked about the progress he has made in all phases of the game. He had to adjust to the speed and quickness of the college game. He learned to play without the ball in his hands, to defend and to think the game. He has done things, as he put it, "out of my comfort zone."
"I think I had more doubt my freshman year and the year that followed," he said. "But once I got used to it, other things came in. A leadership role started to pick up a little bit more. I started to be more involved with teammates and everyone else — see about everyone else first, instead of just me, like I did my freshman year (when I could) just come in and play.
"After that I was more into the team and making sure everyone else had their stuff together before I looked after myself and made sure I was ready to go. That's been the tough part — making sure all the guys were on the same page. I think I've been pretty good at handling that, especially this past season, marching forward. I think that's been the toughest challenge for me the past three years."
Benefield, a communications major, would like to continue to play basketball as long as possible. If he cannot compete, he would like to remain connected to the game as a broadcaster or analyst.
That's down the road. There are still games to play and Senior Night to navigate.
"I'm not a very overly emotional guy," Benefield said. "It takes a lot to make me mad or make me upset or sad. I think I'll be all right. I don't think there'll be any tears or anything like that. My family, I'm more worried about my family than myself. I think I'll be fine, I'll handle it fine.
"I know there's going to be a lot of distractions. I've already been getting phone calls and text messages and it's just Monday, so I'm just trying to block it out and focus on the task at hand and see how it goes."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun