Recruiting junior college players can be hit or miss for most major college basketball programs. Many JUCO signees experience much difficulty adjusting to various aspects of D1 basketball, and others have a hard time balancing the demands of being a student-athlete. But other times the addition of a junior college player can have a major impact on a program. That was the case when the Gophers found little-known Travarus Bennett out of SW Missouri State West Plains. After a nagging injury limited his production during his first year at Minnesota (2000-01), Bennett became a team leader on and off the court during his second year in Dinkytown.
Bennett’s senior season impact was found on both ends of the court, as he emerged as the Big Ten’s best defender and one of its most consistent three-point shooters. After leading the conference in steals, Bennett was named the Co-Defensive Player of the Year while also finishing second in the conference in three-point shooting at 46.9% from behind the arc.
After his two years with the Gophers, the Rosedale, Mississippi, native is putting together an overseas professional basketball career. Recently the former Gopher took time out of his busy schedule half way across the world in Tralee, Ireland, to reminisce about his time as a Gopher, his opinion of Coach Dan Monson and his memories of playing in The Barn.
GopherHole.com: Where has your post Gopher career taken you?
Travarus Bennett: After my two years at the 'U', I have been playing professional basketball overseas. I spent last year playing ball in Germany, and this year I am in Ireland. The German league is considered a higher-profile league, and I was set to go back there this year, but I tore a few ligaments in my ankle right before I was supposed to go back to Germany. My ankle is much better now, and I am hoping to get back to Germany next year.
GH.com: How are you playing this year?
Bennett: I am in a groove as of late. I am averaging about 19 points and 11 rebounds per game, and I am leading the league in steals. Some of the health issues that I had at Minnesota are gone now, which allows me to consistently play more minutes per game.
GH.com: How do you like living in Ireland?
Bennett: More than anything, I like living in Ireland more than Germany because English is the native language here. It makes it a lot easier to communicate with the coaches as well as the community. It’s been a great experience seeing Germany last year and Ireland this year. These are areas of the world I probably would not otherwise see.
GH.com: How does Guinness Beer differ from the States to the real stuff in Ireland?
Bennett: To be honest, I haven’t tried it here yet, but everyone tells me that it's much different than what I am probably used to. I will definitely get a taste before I leave.
GH.com: Thinking back to your days as a Gopher, which game/games stick out the most and why?
Bennett: Definitely the Illinois game my last year. It was Senior Night, and if we had won we probably would have made it to the NCAA Tournament. I think about that game too often I think. We had it, but somehow it slipped away. That last minute still feels like it all happened in slow motion and there was nothing we could do.
GH.com: What former teammates/coaches do you most often keep in contact with?
Bennett: I still talk with quite a few guys. I talk with Simmons (Terrance Simmons), KB (Kevin Burleson), Tyree (Tyree Bolden), and Moe Hargrow. I also still talk with Coach Monson. Last summer it was great playing with and working out with many of the guys when we were all back in Minneapolis.
GH.com: What does it mean to you to be a Golden Gopher?
Bennett: I had a very special two years in Minnesota. I learned a lot about basketball from the coaches and my teammates, but I also learned a lot about life that I know will help me through the years. Minnesota has a great history, and it was fun to be a part of that.
GH.com: How did Coach Monson help you as a player and person?
Bennett: Coach is a great guy. The coaches helped me with many life lessons more than just basketball. Coach Monson was a father figure and friend as well as a basketball coach. He was a great motivator and always got on me to be the best player I could be and then was also there for me to talk to about different stuff off the court.
GH.com: How did you like playing at Williams Arena?
Bennett: Playing at The Barn was incredible. We would be downstairs in the locker room, and we would hear the crowd and the band going crazy waiting for us to come run up those stairs. When we started running up the stairs, we were all smiling, and it would get louder and louder, and by the time we hit the floor you couldn’t even hear yourself think. It felt like we were playing on a stage. It was my favorite arena we ever played in.
GH.com: Who was the best teammate you ever played with and why?
Bennett: JB Bickerstaff was the best teammate I ever played with. He had tremendous heart, and he hated to lose. He wanted to win every game he played whether it was a Big Ten game or a game of “HORSE.” His work ethic made everyone around him work harder. I’m a much better player because of him.
GH.com: Who was the toughest player you ever played against and why?
Bennett: The toughest team I ever played against was Purdue. They were always so physical and disciplined. The toughest players I ever played against were Frank Williams and Brian Cook of Illinois.
GH.com: If you could come back and suit up against one team, who would it be and why?
Bennett: Definitely Illinois. I want revenge for that loss my last season. That still stings.
GH.com: If you could give any advice to the current Gopher team, what would it be?
Bennett: I hope they keep their heads up and stay positive. I know they are working hard, and it will eventually pay off. They’ll learn from these hard times.
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