Former Corona Del Sol star Casey Benson reflects on 'surreal' trip home for Final Four

Posted at 2:39 PM, Mar 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-30 17:39:45-04

Former Tempe Corona Del Sol High School star Casey Benson won three state high school basketball championships in games played at Glendale's Gila River Arena from 2012-14.

Now, the Tempe native and Oregon Ducks sharpshooter is looking to add a fourth championship -- this time, an NCAA national title -- in the building right across the street.

"It's kind of surreal. I'm still just soaking it up and enjoying every minute of it," Benson said Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of the 2017 Final Four, as his Ducks prepare to take on North Carolina in the national semifinals. "Just imagining being here, that was the thing. I'm just thinking to myself, 'Man, this is a realistic opportunity.' And now we're here.

"Any Final Four would be special, but to be able to play in your home state -- I mean, there's nothing like that."

The 2014 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, Benson chose Oregon ahead of offers from Arizona State and 10 other college programs. He's averaging 4.9 points per game this season and is shooting 40.3 percent from 3-point range, and he's one of just five Ducks to play in all 38 of his team's games this season.

Benson is no stranger to UOP Stadium, as he took in a number of Arizona Cardinals games growing up. The last game he attended was the Wild Card playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons in 2008, in what turned out to be the beginning of the Cards' run all the way to the Super Bowl.

Benson said there's something much different about seeing a basketball court in the middle of a 60,000-seat football stadium.

"I just really had to take it all in," he said. "It's awesome to be here and I'm just enjoying every minute of it."

Benson's coach and teammates are just as thrilled for Benson's homecoming as Benson himself is.

"I'm really happy for Casey and his family -- a hometown guy and three state championships. It's great for him to come home," Oregon coach Dana Altman said.

"I just hope the family can handle all the ticket requests ... He'll have a lot of family there, I'm sure."

Senior Oregon guard Dylan Ennis echoed his coach's sentiments.

"Oh, I'm so happy for him. He's been talking about coming back home for a while, to play in the Final Four," he said. "He has friends and family here. I'm happy. He deserves it."

Even though he's about to take the court on the largest stage of his life (in more ways than one), Benson said the familiar surroundings have him feeling right at home heading into Saturday's matchup against the top-seeded Tar Heels.

"It definitely feels a lot more comfortable than going somewhere else, to say the least," he said. "Seeing some family and stuff is awesome, and (I'm) just soaking it all up.

"Obviously the Final Four is a much bigger stage than the Arizona state basketball championship, but just taking that experience and knowing it was right next door, (I'm) looking forward to trying and winning a fourth one in Glendale."