After nine games of his first pro-season, this much can be determined about Milwaukee's Kent Benson, the first player chosen in the last NBA [WORD ILLEGIBLE]

He is a sucker for a blind-side punch from a 7 foot-2 opponent.

He is glad to get away from his college coach, Bobby Knight.

He is not a dominating center and he especially needs to improve his rebounding.

He can only get better.

The last point is backed up by Benson's current statistics. The 6-foot-9 rookie is averaging only four rebounds a game going into tonight's meeting with the Bullets at 8:05 in Capital Centre. That ranks him fourth on his own team, just ahead of guard Brian Winters.

Yet coach Don Nelson says Benson has been the most pleasant surprise of all his rookies, including phenom Marques Johnson.

"That might sound strange," Nelson said, "but we actually thought he might have more trouble than he is having. You are always concerned when your center doesn't rebond much, but he often keeps his man from getting the ball."

Of course, Benson wasn't helped by his first-game run-in with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He is still having headaches from Jabbar's roundhouse punch, although the pains are not the shooting kind he first experienced.

While recovering from that confrontation, he began to understand how to relax, expecially since a particularly impressive effort Nov. 1 against Kansas City.

"Since that game, I have felt so much more comfortable," Benson said. "I am at far greater ease than I ever was in college. The difference is the atmosphere, the players, the coaches, during games, during practice, whatever. It's much looser."

"Here, if you make a mistake, you learn from it instead of being yelled at. In college I was so afraid I'd make a mistake that I just tried not to make one.

Here you don't have the pressure of someone hollering at you at the time. You just play hard, and if you make a mistake, you try not to make it again."

Although Benson refused to criticized Knight by name, that relationship between the player and coach often was strained.

Benson wanted to transfer during his freshman year at Indiana, but he changed his mind and conformed to Knight's aggressive demands. He always had difficulty accepting the earthy language of the Hoosiers coaching staff because it conflicted with his deep religious beliefs.

And he rebelled last year when Knight wanted him to take over the leadership role that had been filed by Quinn Buckner now a Milwaukee teammate on the Indiana championship team the previous season.

The result was an unhappy senior season followed by a decision to take last summer off and think about his future in basketball. The Bucks were disappointed he didn't use the summer to some of his talents, but he said it was the only way he could properly get ready for this season.

Things still weren't right during his first few weeks with the Bucks. He says he was thinking "more negative than posistive. I said, 'Hey, I went through this in college and I won't go through that misery again as a pro. If I have a shot, I'll take it and if I miss it, I'll do better the next time.'"

Benson has raised his scoring average to almost eight points, but he's averaging only 20 minutes a game, far below what the Bucks eventually want him to play.

Nelson, however, is bringing him along carefully. He realizes Benson is not a rebounder in the class of Bill Walton or Jabbar (against Denver Tuesday he didn't have a defensive rebound), but he thinks his aggressiveness, unselfshness and blocking out ability will lessen this problem.

Besides, the young Bucks (average age 23.8 years) are doing well while he develops. They are 5-4 and second in the Midwest Division. Once Benson improves his statistics, especially his medium-range shooting, the Bucks figure to play even better.

Certainly, the other rookies, Johnson and Ernie Grunfeld, are doing their share, Johnson has been spectacular at times. He is second in scoring (18 a game), the term's No. 1 rebounder and is shooting 51 per cent. Grunfeld has come off the bench to average 10 points and become a steadying influence.

Veterans Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Buckner start, along with Benson and Johnson. Nelson uses three reserves - John Gianelli, Scott Lloyd and Kevin Restani - to back up Benson, although Meyers also has swung to the center position.

The Bucks have yet to win a game on the road. Of their five home victories, three have come on the strength of second-half rallies.

This will be Bob Dandridge's first game against his old team. The Bullet forward says it's not a grudge match, "I never had anything against the team, so why should it be?" . . . Buckner is third in the NBA in assists and first in steals. He also is a much improved shooter (almost 50 per cent).