February 05, 2004 11:00 pm
IT'S A TOUGH JOB: La Grande's Ben Pettit takes a pounding in the paint every game, but has had an outstanding season so far in leading the Tigers to a 6-0 mark in Greater Oregon League play. (The Observer/RAENELLE KWOCK).
IT'S A TOUGH JOB: La Grande's Ben Pettit takes a pounding in the paint every game, but has had an outstanding season so far in leading the Tigers to a 6-0 mark in Greater Oregon League play. (The Observer/RAENELLE KWOCK).

By Pierre LaBossire

Observer Staff Writer

Ben Pettit is a first in his family.

He can play four instruments, sing and has even cut his own CD.

But, for the Pettit family, that isn't all that unusual. Pettit's older siblings — Rachel, Will, Sam and Nate — are all musically gifted.

What makes Ben so unique in his household is that he's the first Pettit to play high school sports.

No pun intended, but Pettit is one of the big reasons La Grande is 6-0 in Greater Oregon League play.

He not only plays, but the 6-foot-6 post player (the tallest kid in a tall family, Pettit said) just might be one of the top 3A basketball sophomores in the state, according to his coach Aaron Mills. That's quite a statement in of itself, but consider this, Pettit has only really been playing basketball since the eighth grade. Double-doubles in points and rebounds have become routine for Pettit. He's probably a lock for a slot on either the first or second all-star team of the Greater Oregon League.

"I can't think of any (sophomore) better," said Mills. Mills pointed out that Pettit was the only freshman in the state who got significant varsity time at the 3A state tournament last year.

Mills said what impresses him about Pettit is how far his basketball skills have progressed in such a short period of time.

"He's developed a lot. He improves quickly," said Mills.

Pettit admitted it took his family a little while to adjust to the idea of one of their kids playing competitive high school sports, but that this year, they are really getting into it.

"It was a big change. I'm the first one (in the family) to play sports," Pettit said.

Pettit said that at first, at games, his family was a "little timid.

"They weren't used to it," he said. "This year, they're really supporting it."

His mom, Julie Pettit, said that it was a hard initially being a sports parent. Ben does much of his work in the paint, where the play can get rough and physical.

"I love watching him play. We're having so much fun (being sports parents)," said Julie.

"Just don't get hurt," she added to Ben.

Don't feel sorry for Pettit over that rough play. Anyone who's had to face him under the rim has discovered the hard way how intense he becomes with the ball in his hands. Mills agreed that he's becoming much tougher and more physical under the bucket.

"I like working hard. I like the games," said Pettit.

Pettit also plays with a flare for style. He made a shot against The Dalles, an off-balance reverse flip shot while being fouled, that had La Grande fans buzzing for days.

Then, against Riverside, Pettit had a reverse slam dunk (his second dunk of the season, but surely not his last), a shot Mills called "a college kind of dunk" that fired up his teammates en route to a big win.

Pettit began playing piano when he was four or five years old. He says he likes "all kinds of music," ranging from classical to rock, though when really pressed, he reluctantly concedes that he doesn't like country and western that much.

Pettit recorded his own CD of music he described as alternative soft rock. He played all the instruments himself and did all the singing. He gave away copies of it to his friends and got good reviews, he said.

Pettit also sang the national anthem before a recent home game in a duet with Kim Gleason.

Pettit isn't sure he's going to play college basketball, though Mills thinks he has the potential. He plans to attend Brigham Young University, which has a top-flight NCAA Division I basketball program. Would Ben like to play for the Cougars?

"If I'm good enough, maybe. I'll try to play there," he said.

After a year of school, Ben also plans to serve a one-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

For now, Ben's goal is to "help the team get back to State."

Ben also said none of the other kids at La Grande High kiddingly call him "Bob." Bob Pettit, one of the pioneers of the NBA with the old St. Louis Hawks, is a little too far in the past for high school kids.

"Some adults have mentioned him," Pettit said.