BEMIDJI -- As the Bemidji State men’s basketball team departs for its most distant road games of the season, Benly Olizia is heading home.
The 6-foot-3 guard is visiting his old stomping grounds with the Beavers for the Eckerd College Classic in St. Petersburg, Fla., a short jaunt from his hometown of Orlando.
“It’s exciting, going back to your hometown,” Olizia said. “I’m from Orlando, and we’re going down to Tampa, but Florida is my home. It’ll be good to play in that environment.”
Olizia should have a large cheering section when BSU plays in the Sunshine State for the second straight season, but the first with Olizia on the roster. The latest two trips are the program’s first to Florida since 1998.
“I’m sure he’s really excited to go back home and see his family. I know he’s going to have a pretty good crowd,” Bemidji State head coach Mike Boschee said. “Hopefully we get a chance to use him and have him showcase what he can do. He’s a talented young man. He just has to keep on learning and growing. I expect really good things from him.”
In Olizia’s first three games as a Beaver, the sophomore transfer from Tallahassee Community College has averaged 6.3 points per game over 11.7 minutes a night. His highly touted explosiveness is still waiting to truly burst onto the scene, and Boschee expects Olizia to carve out a role as he further ingrains himself to the program.
“He’s definitely got the physical tools to be really good,” Boschee said. “Hopefully his mental aspect of the game keeps progressing so we can use him a little bit more out there. … (We expect) continued growth in practice and showing that he knows what’s going on, how we do things on both ends of the court.”
The Thanksgiving tournament presents a rare homecoming opportunity for Olizia, yet he still recognized it as a business trip. And even though BSU has never faced the Spartans nor the Tritons in program history, Bemidji State still expects to know its X’s and O’s about them come tipoff.
“The coaches give us a heads up, we’re watching film, (learning) their personnel,” Olizia said. “We get a good feel for who we’re playing against.”
“We’ll know a decent amount,” Boschee added. “… We’ve been able to watch a few games, so we’ll know a little bit about them. They’re going to be really talented, athletic groups. We’ll have to play really well this weekend.”
The Beavers open against Tampa at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, and close against host Eckerd at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30. Francis Marion of Florence, S.C., is the other participant in the invitational.
While the games are the most important aspect of the trip, BSU is also excited about the opportunity for camaraderie on the journey -- which can benefit the team on the court, as well.
“I think it’s huge,” Boschee said. “It’s a chance to get away, learn a little bit about ourselves, play against some great competition. But the guys do get the chance to spend a ton of time with each other. … Hopefully it builds our closeness, our communication, a lot of little things that go unnoticed.”
And for Olizia, there’s a little something extra in getting to play in familiar territory.
“It’s going to be real good,” he said. “I know the support is there. They love me, they like to see me do good. They’re going to come and support.”