Ishua Benjamin was playing professional basketball in Ireland when he got the call from his pregnant wife, Lisa, back in Raleigh. Their son Jalen was coming any day.
Benjamin was caught in a snowstorm and made it Raleigh five days later – but yet still two days early – to welcome Jalen into the world.
Years later, Lisa called Ishua to tell him Jalen scored 20-something points in his first recreational basketball game. That’s when Ishua knew it was time to retire from basketball, and he thought that meant everything.
“I said I’m done. My days are over. I’ll be home,” Ishua said.
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But Jalen, Ishua and Lisa are all sharing Leesville Road’s run to Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East final together. Jalen is a sophomore starter, Ishua is an assistant coach and Lisa keeps the scorebook.
“When I quit playing, I didn’t want to have any parts of it – until my kids started playing,” Ishua said.
Ishua, who scored 1,263 in his N.C. State career and was the state player of the year at Concord High, was talked into coaching AAU by another former Wolfpack player, Quinton Jackson.
The comparisons between the two are frequent, though Jalen stands 5 feet, 9 inches and Ishua is 6 feet, 4 inches.
Jalen has heard them for most of his life. But things have shifted from being “Ishua’s son” as of late.
“I’m known as Jalen Benjamin’s dad, and that’s what you want,” Ishua said.
Ishua doesn’t think it’s much of a comparison anyway.
“He’s way better than I was at this age,” he said. “Extremely skilled, extremely smart. He works hard. Jalen is his own person and his own player.”
Jalen interjected confidently: “I’m a lot better shooter than he ever was.”
Ishua has been coaching with Jalen for a number of years, and Ishua began assisting at Leesville Road before Jalen was enrolled.
“It’s been a pleasure,” Jalen said. “I never thought we’d make it this far.”
On Saturday, Leesville Road will be on the doorstep of making it to its first boys basketball championship since 2001. Jalen has played an integral part as one half of the Pride’s strong backcourt, with senior Alex Hunter, a Furman recruit.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ishua said. “The ability to be able to go on this journey with him and watch how hard he works, how he battles through all adversity, goes through the comparisons. I know all the things he does go through and it’s just a joy... to come out and get this far.”