EUGENE — When Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell were asked if they would return to Oregon next year following the Ducks’ Final Four loss to North Carolina, Casey Benson began pondering the same question about himself.
Benson surprised many he when announced on Wednesday that he would leave the Ducks as a graduate transfer to play his senior season at another school. The 6-foot-3 point guard has been a key player on Oregon’s last three NCAA Tournament teams.
“I felt like it was in my best interest to play my senior year at another place,” Benson said Thursday. “To be able to have that opportunity. Being here for three years and being part of building something was obviously special, but at the end of the day I felt like this was the best thing for me to do.”
Benson, a second-team all-academic selection in the Pac-12 with a 3.23 grade-point average, will graduate in June with a degree in general social science and be eligible to play for his new school next season.
“Once the season ended I kind of sat down and thought about it,” Benson said. “During the season, it was all about buying in and going to the Final Four. When it ended, I was weighing everything to see what the best move was for me.”
Dana Altman has added a few graduate transfers at Oregon including Dylan Ennis, Mike Moser and Jason Calliste, but now he will lose Benson to that rule.
“Coach and I had a great relationship. He was backing me whatever I chose to do,” Benson said. “He wanted me to stay, but he said he’d back me. He and I have always been good. I enjoyed playing for him for three seasons.”
Benson played in all 113 games during his Oregon career and made nine starts as a freshman when he averaged 3.5 points, 2.0 assists and 1.9 rebounds.
He started all 38 games as a sophomore, helping Oregon reach the Elite Eight. He averaged 6.0 points, 3.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds during his second season as a Duck.
Benson started the first four games this past season before being replaced by freshman Payton Pritchard in the starting lineup.
He still played 20.9 minutes per game and averaged 4.9 points, 1.9 assists and 1.7 rebounds. He shot career bests of .440 from the field, .405 on 3-pointers and .771 from the line.
The Tempe, Arizona, native ended his Oregon career close to home when North Carolina beat Oregon 77-76 in the national semifinal in Glendale, Arizona, on April 1.
“I’m definitely thankful for everything that happened and for the opportunity,” Benson said. “It has been a blast. To win 90 games in three years and be part of two Pac-12 champions and go to the Final Four and Elite Eight, it has been special.”
Benson left the program after Brooks and Dorsey each declared for the NBA Draft.
“Each guy made a decision for what they felt was in their best interest,” Benson said. “Obviously we loved playing with each other, but I think everyone felt like they were doing what was best for them.”
Benson will see what schools are interested and then choose a destination for his final college season. He may stay close to home and play at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix where his brother, T.J., is an assistant coach.
“I am open now so I am just kind of sorting things out with my family and see who contacts me and calls,” he said. “Obviously, with my brother being at Grand Canyon, that is an option.”
Benson leaves Oregon with a 3.23-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio that ranks second in Pac-12 history behind Darren Collison of UCLA.
“I think what I will remember most is my relationship with the guys,” Benson said. “How we got close and knowing we will still remain in contact. I will look back in 20 years at all the fun we had and going to the Final Four for the first time since winning the first national championship, that is something I will tell my grandkids about.”