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Former Ferris standout Erik Benzel happy to root for Denver, even in loss to hometown Gonzaga

Erik Benzel watches the Denver Pioneers play Gonzaga on Friday  in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Erik Benzel watches the Denver Pioneers play Gonzaga on Friday in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

Hours after watching his brother, Cody Benzel, lead Eastern Washington to a 92-73 win over Corban University, Erik Benzel was in the McCarthey Athletic Center to watch his alma mater, the University of Denver, play Gonzaga, his hometown team.

“My brother had a heck of a game, 23 points, 7 of 13 from the 3-point line, so it was a good way to start the day,” Benzel said.

Benzel hadn’t been to a GU game in a while, even after moving back to the Spokane area a few years ago.

So was he hoping for a Pioneers win or a Bulldogs win on Friday night?

“I’m obviously rooting for Denver. I have always rooted for Denver,” Benzel said.

Benzel played at Denver from 2001-2005, averaging 11.6 points a game alongside current DU head coach Rodney Billups.

Billups is in his third season as head coach for Denver. He is the younger brother to former NBA star Chauncey Billups. The former teammates had not seen each other since November 2016, when Denver traveled to Cheney to play the Eagles.

Unfortunately for Benzel, the Bulldogs shot out of the gate and used the 40 minutes of game time to break two program records – the largest margin of victory as well as the highest shooting percentage in a half (84.6 percent in the first half) during a 101-40 victory.

“The way the first half unfolded, I mean the shooting percentage that Gonzaga had, that’s unheard of,” Benzel said. “To go 22 for 26, that is something else.”

A Ferris High product, Benzel graduated from in 2001 after guiding the Saxons to a second-place finish in the state tournament. He was a team captain and played alongside Sean Mallon, the former Bulldogs player and current boys basketball coach at Ferris.

“Saw Sean Mallon last night and he is doing a great job. He has the demeanor and the mentality for a head coach and he really has those kids playing,” Benzel said. “Still a very proud Saxon.

“Who would have thought that two of my ex-teammates are teaching my alma maters in high school and college?”

Benzel continued his playing days long after college, taking his skills from the hardwood to the asphalt every summer for Hoopfest. A constant staple in the elite bracket, Benzel took home a few championships, but he hung up his Hoopfest shoes a few years back.

“I miss it. I go down and watch it and that is almost more painful to see it because then the adrenaline starts to kick in,” Benzel said. “Who knows, maybe I’ll give it another shot, but we had a good run and it has been nice to go down there as a spectator just to appreciate the event for what it is, the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world.”

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