Martellus Bennett often reflects on what could have happened had he taken a different path to professional athletics.
When NBA highlights flash across the television screen, the New York Giants tight end – whose knack for story telling matches his physical gifts on the football field – is quick to point out what might have been on the hardwood.
Bennett has bragged to the media about having a better handle than Carmelo Anthony and to his teammates about the time he knocked down 67 jump shots consecutively during a workout with the then-Seattle SuperSonics prior to the 2005 NBA draft.
Or so Martellus says.
Yes, before he went to Texas A&M to play football on scholarship, Bennett applied for early entrance into the NBA draft when he was a senior at Alief Taylor High School near Houston.
He did not hire an agent, however, and when scouts projected he would not be taken until the second round, Bennett pulled his name out of consideration and went to college.
Turns out the grandiose delusions of hoop dominance are not so outrageous after all.
“I’ll be honest – I bet there’s more fact than fiction,” Jeff Durnford, who coached Bennett in high school at Taylor, said in a phone interview this week. “We all know Martellus can tell a story and there’s probably a little exaggeration, but he was a really good high school basketball player and he had really good basketball instincts. ... His skill level was raw still; he made up for it with physical ability.
“But he was a guy whom had he committed to basketball I think he would be playing in the NBA right now. I do believe that.”
“If you give him a stage,” Durnford added, “he’ll perform.”
At least one of Bennett’s teammates with the Giants needs convincing that his basketball tale is more than part of the act.
“He’s told us stories of how people back home in playground games still pick him even though he’s not there, just in case he shows up,” Victor Cruz said with a laugh. “You want to believe it, but it just sounds so farfetched, it’s just like, ‘That can’t be true.’ ”
In the Giants’ reality, Bennett continues to emerge as the football player they hoped he’d when the former Cowboys tight end signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with them.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder has five touchdown receptions in 13 games with New York (8-5), including two in the past two weeks heading into today’s NFC showdown against the Falcons (11-2) at the Georgia Dome.
He had four touchdown catches in four previous seasons in Dallas.
“There are a lot of things I can do better,” said Bennett, 25. “The difference is in the details, and right now I’ve gotten the chance to really build up the confidence out there. ... I should be in the conversation with all the guys they talk about as elite tight ends.”
Bennett will share the field today with someone of whom he studies highlight video on a weekly basis – Falcons tight end and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
As fate would have it, Gonzalez is one of several NFL Pro Bowl players who has also left an imprint on the basketball court.
“You can’t be a true tight end and not watch Tony Gonzalez,” said Bennett, who also played two years of basketball at Texas A&M before leaving the team to focus solely on football. “He really pioneered the position to the way we’re playing tight end right now, what the tight end is and what they’re looking for.”
With body control and shifty moves in the open field, Bennett believes his basketball talent is a big part of what he accomplishes on the football field.
“I didn’t choose football,” he said. “Football chose me.”