Three Skyforce players were named to the 2017 NBA Development League All-Star Team. Below, we take a deeper look at each of their careers and what has led them to their most recent all star selection. The game will air live on NBA TV on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 2:30 p.m. ET from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. View the whole All-Star Roster.
Keith Benson | C | 6-11 | 235 | Oakland
Keith Benson is a journeyman. He’s a veteran. He’s an All Star. He’s a champion, and he’s still getting better. The now-28-year-old was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 18th pick of the second round in the 2011 NBA Draft. After being waived by the Hawks, the Sioux Falls Skyforce claimed Benson from the player pool on January 26, 2012. He played 20 games (19 starts) for the Skyforce during the 2011-12 season, averaging 15.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
Benson earned an NBA Call Up to the Golden State Warriors on March 24, 2012 appearing in three games for the Warriors throughout the remainder of the season. After failing to make the Warriors’ opening day roster, Benson returned to the Skyforce at the start of the 2012-13 season. He was traded to the Erie BayHawks before the season started.
All throughout his early career, Benson was jumping back and forth between the NBA D-League and overseas competition. Sprinkled in with his time in both Sioux Falls and Erie, Benson played in 88 international league games for Banco di Sardegna Sassari, the Talk N Text Tropang Texters, Tsmoki-Minsk, Neptunas, and BC Kalev-Cramo combining to play in 10 different leagues.
Eventually, the Miami HEAT signed Benson in advance of the 2015-16 season and allocated him to the Skyforce as an affiliate player. Now in his second stint with the Skyforce, he was a different player. He’d improved each year. He’d gotten bigger, stronger, and more skilled, and he understood the importance of continuing to develop in order to get back to the NBA.
MEET THE CHAMPS | Keith Benson “Last year I played in Estonia. I played in China before. I played in Italy. Just being away from home makes you stronger. I played this year trying to stay in the U.S. and get my foot in the NBA Here. At a smaller school [like Oakland University], you get up for the big games. Like in my state, we play Michigan State so we had real good games against them. You only have a couple of shots to get seen on the national stage. A lot of us came from training camp with the Miami Heat, so we knew each other before everything started. I don’t think people were expecting us to be this good, but I knew the type of talent we had. … Despite how deep our team is, I think somebody will notice if you’re playing well. So I just try to pursue excellence and keep going hard. I’ll get my shot.”
Appearing in a team-leading 49 of 50 regular season games last season (23 starts), Benson averaged a consistent 13.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. With the full-time addition of Jarnell Stokes (who won D-League MVP a season ago), Benson was relegated to coming off of the bench for much of the year, something that he says was difficult, but made the team a lot better.
“At times it was frustrating because I knew what types of things I could have done with more minutes and everything,” said Benson. “It was just the situation we were in. It ended up having to be like that. It ended up making us a really good team to have someone like me coming off the bench. The other team had to deal with two talented big men all the time, so it made us better.”
Benson and last year’s star-studded Skyforce team went on to achieve a league-best regular season record of 40-10, and eventually won the 2016 NBA D-League Finals, the Skyforce’s first Championship as a member of the D-League and third overall in franchise history.
With Stokes’ departure for the Denver Nuggets to begin the 2016-17 campaign, Benson was given a new opportunity to prove what he could do with expanded minutes, and he hasn’t disappointed. In what has been a somewhat up-and-down campaign for the Skyforce, Benson has been one of the most consistent players in the league, averaging career-high numbers of 21.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. His league-leading 23rd double-double came in the team’s most recent loss to the Iowa Energy, where Benson recorded 29 points and 13 rebounds to lead the way for the Force.
— Sioux Falls Skyforce (@SFSkyforce) January 2, 2017
“I did a lot of work on my body this summer,” said Benson. “I think it’s just more experience and being more comfortable. More minutes obviously plays into it too. I’ve just been focusing on the main things: rebounds and blocks. I think the points will always come, so I’ve just been trying to focus on that. Getting double-doubles and things like that, and trying to be consistent so they know I can do it every night.”
Though he has yet to earn an NBA Call Up this season, the 2017 D-League All Star is certainly one of the most deserving players in the league, and should continue to be on NBA teams’ watch lists as the season continues to unfold.
Okaro White | F | 6-8 | 215 | Florida State
Okaro White comes from a very large family. His credits mother, Charmaine White, his brother, Neville, and his six sisters, Tiffany, Letoya, Starr, Chloe, and Cherish, with having a large role in the success he’s achieved today. White was a multi-sport athlete for the majority of his childhood. He ran track and played football in addition to basketball.
When he’s not playing basketball, White enjoys sleeping, reading, spending time on the internet and hanging out with family and friends. His favorite sport other than basketball is football, and he’s a huge New York Giants fan. He also watches quite a bit of baseball, but has split allegiances to the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.
White credits his mother for being one of the most influential people in his life, and says something most people would find surprising about him is that he is from Jamaican descent, and his mother ran track for the Jamaican National Team.
Despite receiving offers from Florida, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Clemson, and Miami (FL), White chose to play collegiately at Florida State University, where he proved to be much more than just an athlete. White spent four years at Florida State, graduating with a degree in Sociology, and averaging career numbers of 10.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 0.7 assists while on the court.
Though White wasn’t part of last years’ NBA D-League Championship team, he entered the season as decorated as the rest of his teammates. Prior to joining the Skyforce, the 2014 Florida State graduate had played two seasons overseas. During the 2014-15 season, White averaged 12.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.0 blocks per game while playing for Virtus Bologna in the top division of the Italian Basketball League.
Later that season, he signed with Aris Thessaloniki of the Greek Basket League and the EuroCup. After signing with Aris Thessaloniki of the Greek Basket League and EuroCup later that season, White appeared in a total of 62 regular season Greek League games averaging 13.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.
He was named to the 2015-16 Greek League Best Five team, and was named the 2015-16 Greek League Most Spectacular Player before eventually joining the Miami HEAT for NBA Summer League games in July, 2016.
White took the D-League by storm as he made his Skyforce debut. He recorded double-doubles in three out of his first four contests, including a 29-point, 17-rebound game against the Delaware 87ers in just the second game of his D-League career. In 23 games for the Skyforce, White averaged 18.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, including an individual season and career-high 36 points against the Los Angeles D-Fenders on December 26, 2016.
White was the first NBA Gatorade Call Up of the season for the Skyforce, being called up by the Miami HEAT on Tuesday, January 17. After his first 10-day contract was up, he was immediately resigned to a second 10-day, and ultimately was signed to a multi-year contract for the remainder of the season on Monday, February 6 as the HEAT waived veteran Derrick Williams in the process.
White has appeared in 14 games for the HEAT this season, averaging 4.2 points and 2.5 rebounds in just over 16 minutes per contest. He’s scored a career-high 10 points on two separate occasions, including a 10-point, seven-rebounds, four-block performance in a comeback win against the Brooklyn Nets on January 25.
"I've been chasing this dream for a long time." pic.twitter.com/lBTvrzM305
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) February 7, 2017
Briante Weber | G | 6-2 | 165 | VCU
Briante Weber has been through a lot in both life and playing career. Yet, he has always found a way to persevere. He credits his mother and stepfather, LaSandra and Ricky Wingate, with being one of the most consistent and influential people in his life along with his former college coach Shaka Smart.
Weber attended Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake Virginia where he averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals per game as a senior before choosing to continue his playing career at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).
It’s clear to see that Weber has been stuffing the stat sheet throughout his entire career, something Sioux Falls fans have come to know well, and something NBA fans eventually will too. Weber played four seasons at VCU, finishing his career by graduating with a degree in Psychology, and becoming the school’s all-time leader in steals with 374, shattering the previous mark by 117.
His college career came to an abrupt end, as a devastating knee injury caused him to miss the final 10 games of his senior season. Weber finished just 12 steals shy of becoming the all-time steals leader in NCAA history, a number he easily could have recorded as he was averaging 3.9 steals per game on the year.
As we know now, Weber never thought of his knee injury as “the end”. It was just another obstacle. A bump in the road. A stop along the way in his journey back to playing at full strength, and his journey to playing at the highest level of basketball that the world has to offer. He has stayed hungry, and his work ethic has been unwavering. The fans in Sioux Falls had the privilege to see his recovery unfold before their eyes, and had the chance to encourage him along the way.
It didn’t take long for Weber to become a Skyforce fan favorite. Even as he sat out the first 19 games of the 2015-16 season, his energy and enthusiasm on the bench were contagious. Over the next 28 games of the season, Weber redefined himself as one of the best playmakers in the league. He finished last season with modest averages of 10.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
Weber accounted for both of the Skyforce’s NBA Gatorade Call Ups last season, signing a 10-day contract with the Memphis Grizzlies on March 11, 2016 and then signing a multi-year contract with the Miami HEAT for the remainder of last season on April 10, 2016.
At the beginning of this season, Weber was again allocated to the Sioux Falls Skyforce as an affiliate player from the Miami HEAT. Just another bump in the road in Weber’s journey toward establishing himself as an NBA talent. While others might have been discouraged, Weber embraced his time in the D-League, and picked up this season right where he left off a year ago.
Weber set the tone by recording a triple-double in his first game of the 2016-17 season, tallying 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the Salt Lake City Stars. He has gone on to record four more triple-doubles this season, and has 11 total double-doubles as well. In total, Weber averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 3.3 steals per game in 31 starts for the Skyforce this season.
Weber became the second NBA Gatorade Call Up of the 2016-17 season for the Skyforce, signing a 10-day contract with the Golden State Warriors on February 4. Despite playing limited minutes behind a former league MVP in Stephen Curry, Weber earned a second consecutive 10-day contract with the Warriors that was recently signed on February 14.