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What’s on his plate? Fruits, vegetables

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Through a combination of God-given gifts and a versatile skill set developed through years of hard work, junior Michael Benkert has evolved into one of the top players on the Center Grove High School boys basketball team.

As a result, the last thing the 6-foot-4, 195-pound forward — who can play all five positions on the floor — needs in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter of a tight game is an endurance letdown.

To make sure that never happens, Benkert pays as close attention to his diet as he does to strength and conditioning preparation.

Unlimited information regarding nutritional do’s and don’ts for teenagers desiring to maximize their athletic potential usually is no more than a few clicks away. Eat these foods and not those; slam-dunk your thirst with these drinks rather than those.

In a landscape dotted with vending machines and fast-food options, making the wisest of choices isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Benkert, though, is something of a rare commodity — the 17-year-old whose good habits had been firmly established long before he reached varsity competition as a freshman.

“I’m pretty blessed in that I actually enjoy eating fruits and vegetables and don’t drink pop,” said Benkert, who last season finished second on Center Grove’s team in points (12.3), rebounds (5.2) and steals (1.3) and third in assists (2.2). “I’m pretty lucky, but most teenagers eat fast food because it’s so convenient.

“I would say I’m pretty consistent with my diet. Once school starts back up, I’m one of those kids who brings his lunch to school every day.”

Among the items he commonly packs are a turkey sandwich (with a slice of American cheese), an apple, a cheese stick and one of two flavors of yogurt (blueberry or strawberry/banana).

Benkert, who sometimes includes a small pack of Cheez-It crackers as part of his lunch, washes it down with chocolate milk.

Although he admits to sometimes caving to the temptation of ice cream, chocolate, in particular, Benkert claims that is the worst of his vices.

“My eating habits are more handed down from my mom (Anita) more than anything else,” Benkert said. “She would always make me eat healthy, feeding me the stuff I needed to eat.”

Every season, Center Grove plays an arduous regular-season schedule. The Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference alone includes five programs that since 1995 have won a combined 12 state titles, including two-time defending Class 4A champion Carmel.

Pinpointing any potential edge is vital.

“Our athletic director, Jon Zwitt, does a great job of emphasizing the importance of nutrition, and it’s one of the things I wanted to really emphasize this season,” said Trojans coach Cliff Hawkins, whose program has averaged 13 wins per season since he arrived in 2004. “One of our assistant coaches, Kevin Branigan, talked to a lot of people in the offseason. We’re really into it right now, and you have to look at a way to get an edge.

“Nutrition factors into all of it. Strength-training factors into it. Work-rest ratio factors into it.”

One of the sayings Hawkins and his staff like to preach is to eat for performance rather than pleasure.

Boys basketball practice for boys IHSAA members started Monday. Those first few days have a way of weeding out players who haven’t adhered to proper diet during the off-season from those who have.

Benkert isn’t concerned. Nor should he be.

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