Near the conclusion of the new “Benedict Men” docuseries produced by Stephen Curry, an assistant coach and main character in the 12-part shortform series offers the high school basketball players under his tutelage an ultimatum of sorts. He explains they can either obsess over the pursuit of basketball scholarships or band together to reach their full potential as a team.
The 20-second scene encapsulates the tug-of-war on the grassroots basketball scene that is explored through an in-depth look at the powerhouse St. Benedict’s program in New Jersey. The school’s motto is that “whatever hurts my brother hurts me.” But the team’s devotion to that principle is tested as players also work to achieve individual goals during a trying 2018-19 season. The series, which debuted this week on the streaming platform Quibi, is directed by renowned sports documentartian Jonathan Hock and features cameos from Curry.
“To me, it’s the struggle for the very soul of basketball in America,” Curry says in one episode. “If the St. Benedict’s team can hang together as brothers — win or lose — then I know that the future of the game is in strong hands.”
Basketball junkies will appreciate the caliber of players featured in the show. C.J. Wilcher, a former four-star prospect who is now a freshman guard at Xavier, is a focus throughout the series. Aaron Estrada, who was named the MAAC Rookie of the Year after a standout freshman season at Saint Peter’s, is also featured prominently. Estrada has since transferred to Oregon.
Several other players on the 2018-19 St. Benedict roster earned Division I scholarships as well, but not without navigating many challenges first. The show explores the immense pressures that high school athletes face from their families, coaches and themselves as teenagers navigating the emotional and physical challenges posed on the court and in the classroom.
“I just want people to see what it’s like being a student-athlete in high school at a high level program,” said Wilcher, who chose Xavier over offers from Cincinnati, Minnesota and St. John’s, among others.
Wilcher, who was a junior during the show’s filming, transferred to another high school for his senior season of high school basketball. His departure from St. Benedict’s offers a reality check for viewers hoping for a “Kumbaya” ending to all the show’s subplots.
But the show does bring a satisfying resolution to the plight of one character. Madani Diarra, originally from Mali, is depicted working his way back from injury during his senior season with hopes of earning a basketball scholarship. He’s one of the team’s most-beloved players and does earn a scholarship in the end. Diarra credits his experience at St. Benedict’s for his basketball success and for lasting relationships that are in keeping with the school’s motto.
“We check on each other all of the time,” Diarra said. “It’s like a family. That’s how St. Benedict’s is. It’s not just going to school there and then you graduate and forget where you came from.”
In the end, Curry’s voice and backing for “Benedict Men” is a thought-provoking reminder that even one of basketball’s top stars sees issues with the all-or-nothing mentality adopted by young players, most of whom will never play professionally.
“Is it fair that so much should be on the line for teenage boys?” Curry said. “That their families’ dreams should live or die with them out on the court? That’s the hardest question facing those of us who care about the future of basketball in America. It’s my hope that this story will help us figure that out.”