“I knew I was going to Georgia State”: 35 minutes with Malik Benlevi

The former Georgia State Panther started his journey at Jenkins High School in Savannah and has made his way to the Salt Lake City Stars. Photo courtesy of @finessepapi

Malik Benelvi is a guy who loves the game of basketball and has so since his middle school days when he won his 8th-grade basketball championship. His impact on the court is imperative — just ask The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which named him to their all-state team in 2016. 

Along his journey, Benlevi blessed with a great support system, including Georgia State teammates, with whom he still shares a Snapchat group chat. Fittingly, the group name changed to a trophy emoji after the Panthers won their second straight Sun Belt Conference Championship in 2018.

Coming out of Jenkins High School in Savannah, Georgia, he had three offers to play at the collegiate level: South Carolina State, Kennesaw State and Georgia State.

For Benlevi, the choice could not have been easier.

“I knew I was going to Georgia State,” Benlevi said in a phone interview with The Signal. “If you ask [former Panthers head coach Ron Hunter], he’ll say I’m one of the worst AAU players [he has ever seen],” he said with a laugh.

Despite Coach Hunter’s choice of words for Benlevi, his son and former Georgia State player RJ Hunter hosted Benlevi. The future NBA player took Benlevi under his wing.

“I got hosted by the best of the best,” he said, referring to Hunter and Jeremy Hollowell as he reflected on his time as a recruit.

For four seasons, Benlevi called Atlanta home and gave 100% to Georgia State on and off the court.

We spoke to the former three-time Sun Belt Conference tournament champion about his life and the past year for him. To summarize, it has involved a lot of moving and lots of signing on the dots.

Benlevi knew he wanted to come to play at the place they light it blue his junior season in high school. When the coaching staff for the team continued appearing at his AAU games, he began waiting to receive the offer.

Benlevi created some of his best memories of playing the game here at Georgia State. He made many friends and developed a bond with teammates, in particular, Kavonte Ivery, Nelson Phillips and Josh Linder.

But Benlevi also thrived in road games — ask the University of Alabama. They remember the game-winner he hit against them on a Tuesday in December 2018.

“I believe it’s top 5,” Benlevi said, reflecting on the top moments of his four-year collegiate career. 

What else is up there? 

“The two March Madnesses—one and two—then both of the Sun Belt [Championships], and I think maybe that shot,” Benlevi said.

For the next few months, it was Mexico. 

Benlevi signed his first professional contract with the Ostioneros de Guaymas in Mexico. Fresh out of college, the former Georgia State forward moved from Atlanta to the south of the border in Sonora, Mexico.

“At first, I was kinda nervous going down there, being by myself, not being close to anybody,” Benlevi said. “I had three other Americans on my team, so that made it kind of easier.”

Despite the nerves, he moved to Mexico and overcame all the cultural difficulties seen by playing internationally. Benlevi enjoyed a lot of what Mexico had to offer, especially the “exquisite” cuisine.

Of course, we asked him about the food there. Something tells us he enjoyed it and misses it.

“The Mexican food? Ah, it was delicious. Quesadillas and all of that stuff tastes way better down in Mexico,” Benlevi said.

He was talking about 5-star restaurants, right? Think again.

“I remember when I first got there, probably like twelve o’clock at midnight, and they had the driver come pick me up from the airport,” Benlevi said, reminiscing on that first night in Mexico. “He picks me up from the airport, and we stop at just a gas station, and we get these quesadillas, and it’s, like, the best quesadilla I’ve ever had.”

While in the CIBACOPA, he did well for his time, averaging 11.4 points, 5.7 rebounds while shooting 35.8% from three-point range.

Less than a year after graduating, Benlevi lives in the United States again, continuing to do what he loves: hooping. 

He is in the NBA’s G-League, playing for the Salt Lake Stars, one step away from every basketball player’s dream.

“It’s what I always dreamed of: being a professional ballplayer,” Benlevi said. “One step from the NBA, [it feels] pretty good.”

He never gave up on his dream and is an inspiration to many. The first ones to congratulate him on his signing? His brothers at Georgia State.

“[Jeff] Thomas was blowing up [the group chat] and everything,” Benlevi said. “Everybody [was] posting it [on social media].”

Benlevi signed with the Stars in October of 2019. Benlevi is not a starter, but he continues to embrace a new role with a new team.

“My role is basically [to] come off the bench and basically be who I am,” he said. “Best defender out there, I’m [going to] rebound and when my shot is there, take it.”

Benelvi looks back at his days at Georgia State, never regretting the decision he made as a high school junior. The former Georgia State forward couldn’t be more thankful for his four years as a Panther.

“Thanks for everything, those four years at Georgia State has been the best four years of my life, I loved it there,” Benlevi said. “I loved everyone there, I wanna thank them for everything they [did] for me those four years, I’ll never forget those four years at Georgia State.”