Shaq feels Iran Bennett’s pain.
Why wouldn’t he?
Goodness knows, Shaquille O’Neal can relate.
Blessed – or is it cursed? – with a 7-foot-1, 325-pound physique, O’Neal was burdened with the very same problem that is plaguing Marshall University’s 6-10, 310-pound Bennett.
They’re punished for being big.
It happened to O’Neal throughout his collegiate and NBA careers and it’s happening now to Bennett. Officiating crews call fouls on them simply because they are big.
Just ask Danny D’Antoni.
He watched it happen to Shaq when D’Antoni was coaching O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers and, now, he’s witnessing it again with Bennett as Marshall’s head coach.
“I was talking to Shaq one time,” recalled D’Antoni, “and I asked him if he felt like he got punished for being big. Shaq said, ‘Every day of my life.’”
When that conversation was relayed to Bennett, he smiled and said, “Those are words to live by.”
Indeed, they are.
It’s the cross these larger-than-life behemoths are forced to bear.
“Shaq used to say, ‘I get beat to death and all the fouls are called on me,’” said D’Antoni. “He told me that the whole time he was with us. He felt like he had to tip-toe. If he didn’t tip-toe, they’d call a foul. And that’s a shame because he should be able to play as a player, regardless of his size.”
The same premise applies to Bennett.
Yet, the redshirt sophomore has been whistled for 3.5 fouls per game (84 in 24 contests) during 23.4 minutes of action.
It’s often feast or famine for Bennett. He has fouled out of four games (Akron, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic and Louisiana Tech) and was whistled for four fouls in seven other contests.
But when he’s allowed to play, Bennett has had such games as 16 points at Florida, 21 points and 16 rebounds vs. Eastern Kentucky, 17 points and 11 rebounds at Middle Tennessee, 18 points at FIU and 18 points and 12 rebounds vs. Southern Miss.
“It gets very frustrating,” said Bennett. “A lot of the times I just feel like I can’t play the way I play. I have to play limited just because I am so much bigger. Anything I do, I guess the refs assume it’s a foul.
“It’s very frustrating when I’ve got to limit myself and not play as aggressively as I want to play.”
It means Bennett often can’t give 100 percent effort.
“If I do, I’m going to get a call,” said Bennett. “I’m going to get something called on me. And, then, I’m going to be on the bench.”
That’s a “big” problem in every sense of the word.
“Well, some of it is just size,” said D’Antoni. “I’m going to give the referees a little out, but not a lot. A little rope. It’s hard to ref that. Because Iran’s touches are accentuated as opposed to other touches. If you are a referee and you’re just looking and you catch it out of the side of your eye, it looks a lot worse than it really was.
“I understand that. It’s part of basketball. I listened to Shaq complain about it for years.”
The good-natured Bennett tries to shrug it off, but it isn’t easy.
“I get pretty heated in the moment,” he said. “But after the game, I move on because there’s nothing I can do about it. I just move on to the next game and try to be in better positions, better spots, so I don’t get those calls. That’s all I try to do.”
He has a simple plea.
“Don’t ref his size,” said D’Antoni. “Ref him as a regular player. You can’t ref his size.”
Yet, far too often, they do.