CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) – A central Arkansas athlete is making NCAA history and inspiring others just like him. Basketball is more than just a game because for Kalin Bennett, basketball changed his life.
“That little orange ball that’s bouncing takes you a lot of places. Basketball was my key to getting my social pattern down,” Bennett said.
Bennett is a recent May graduate of Little Rock Christian Academy. He is currently attending “Link Year” in Branson, Missouri to prepare for college – and his history-making future in basketball.
"It's a way that I can communicate. If I feel bad, I can use it as an outlet,” he said.
The 6’10" center is preparing to move 900 miles away to not only play the sport he loves, but to be an inspiration to people like him.
"I'm not trying to sound cocky but I knew in my heart I could be one, one day,” Bennett said.
Bennett was born diagnosed with autism, doctors telling his parents he might not ever utter a word.
"Just never ever give up,” Bennett said.
But this week, he defied all of the odds against him. He is officially the first autistic athlete ever to receive a full ride D1 scholarship. He will be playing for the Kent State basketball team in Ohio next season.
"Crazy. My mom -- she pretty much knew before I did, but I didn't believe her at first,” Bennett said.
Link Year Head Coach Adam Donyes said Bennett is full of raw potential.
"He's a phenomenal player. He's strong. He's a great rebounder,” Donyes said. "He's going to make an impact at the division one level."
As good as he is on the court, Donyes said he is an even better young man off of it. He said he is a true team player that works hard to win games.
"He walks into a room and lights up and every person he encounters he makes them feel better about themselves,” Donyes said.
Bennett said it is his support system that got him to where he is today.
"A great mother. Great father. This is my family. They always been with me through thick and thin,” he said.
While the Arkansas native is preparing to play in Ohio next fall, he said he is prepared to tackle any obstacle that comes his way.
"No matter if the odds are not in the favor. And no matter what people think. Just keep fighting because there's always light at the end of the tunnel,” Bennett said.
Bennett said his goal when he gets to Ohio is to become the Mid-American Conference New Comer of the year and to take home a championship. He also hopes to play for the NBA one day.