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Benimon and Usher follow similar paths seeking NBA dreams

WASHINGTON -- When Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman broke the huddle, concluding a pre-draft workout for NBA prospects at the Verizon Center Thursday, Towson forward Jerrelle Benimon proceeded to the sideline with his head down.

Benimon took his seat and stared into space, contemplating the last drill of the day during which he missed five of six jump shot attempts.

"I couldn't get that last shot," he looked up to tell the first player that approached him.

That player was familiar to Benimon — Delaware guard and South Baltimore native Davon Usher.

This past season, Benimon and Usher battled on the court as rivals, playing for the top two teams in the Colonial Athletic Association.

But now, they're no longer enemies. Usher listened to Benimon on the Wizards practice court, providing counsel with a firm handshake and reassuring words.

That's because Usher knows both players are chasing the same dream — a chance to play in the NBA.

"It's like a friend, foe relationship," Usher said. "We were rivals in our season this year, and of course we didn't like each other on the court then, but we respected each other's games.

"Off the court, we both have the same goal and that's to be great at what we do. Play basketball, play at the highest level and we respect each other because of that."

Despite their differing college allegiances, Benimon and Usher had similar paths on their journey to play in the NBA.

Benimon averaged 27 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks a game as a senior at Fauquier High School in Warrenton, Va., before starting his college career at Georgetown.

The 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward saw limited action in two seasons for the Hoyas, who play their home games at the Verizon Center. At the end of his sophomore season, Benimon decided to transfer to Towson.

"If you would've stayed at Georgetown, you'd be practicing here sometimes," Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld joked with Benimon after Tuesday's workout.

Benimon quickly found his footing playing in a mid-major conference for Towson and was named CAA Player of the Year and to the CAA All-Defensive Team in both his junior and senior seasons. This past year, Benimon led the Tigers with 18.9 points a game and ranked second in the nation in rebounds with 11.5 a game.

Like Benimon, Usher dominated in high school, averaging 27 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals a game as senior at Digital Harbor. But when college came around, it also took him a while to settle in.

Usher played his first two seasons at Polk State Community College in Winter Haven, Fla., before transferring to Division I Mississippi Valley State for his junior season and moving again to Delaware for his final year of eligibility.

The 6-foot-6, left-handed guard was second on Delaware's team this past year in both scoring and rebounds with 19.4 points and 6.1 rebounds a game, leading him to be named an All-CAA first-team selection.

Less than two weeks before the NBA Draft on June 26, neither Benimon nor Usher are listed on DraftExpress.com's list of Top-100 prospects.

But Benimon, who worked out with his sixth NBA team Thursday, isn't fazed.

"I've heard different stuff. You never know," Benimon said. "With the NBA Draft, it's not really like the NFL. Stuff changes all the way until up to the draft date, so you never know. People throw your name out there and then they're like, 'Nah.' So you just have to keep playing and all it takes is one team to like you."

Thursday's workout was Usher's first with an NBA team. He received an invitation over the phone last weekend, and said he couldn't be more excited when the team he watched as a kid was on the other end of the call.

"Growing up, you dream of stuff like this, playing for the hometown team. This is pretty much the hometown team." he said. "Just to have the chance to workout for them, it means a lot to me and to my city. Especially, where I come from, a lot of people don't get this chance. I'm just blessed to have the opportunity."

Usher knows there's a chance his aspiration to play in the NBA, something he's dreamed of since he was little, may not be realized. But his motivation lies around his neck, where a chain with the picture of his 6-month-old daughter, Peyton, hangs everyday.

"She's the main reason why I want to play basketball in the United States, and the only way I'm going to play basketball in the United States is to play in the NBA," he said. " I just have to keep working and just think about her all the time."

The thought of playing in the NBA didn't come so early for Benimon.

"I started playing basketball really late. Up until ninth grade. I was always a big football player. I got into basketball then straight from there, I'm like 'Yo, I gotta see what happens,'" he said. "Got to college and over these last two years, the idea got bigger and bigger."

But Benimon isn't letting his dreams get the best of him just yet. He knows, now, all he and Usher can do is wait for the draft on June 26, and hope for the best.

"What's the future hold? We'll see," he said quickly. "We'll see."

adodson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dodgerthat

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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