While Maryland basketball closed out the regular season with a win over Minnesota, the most important moment of Ivan Bender’s senior night came before the game started. While he was being recognized before the game, the senior got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Andrea Knezevic.
The plan had been in the works since last September, and with Friday marking his last time playing in Xfinity Center, he knew it was time. She said yes as a surprised Maryland team came up to celebrate with the forward.
She said YES! @TerrapinHoops' Ivan Bender proposed to his long-time girlfriend on senior night. pic.twitter.com/g9AEii7BTs— ESPN (@espn) March 9, 2019
He’s known his now-fiancee since middle school, and they’ve been dating since each were 16. Knezevic has been in the States visiting Bender for the last two weeks, and keeping her off his trail was getting difficult.
“It was hard [to keep her in the dark],” Bender said. “She kept asking questions about it, but I couldn’t tell her. She’s now happy that I didn’t say anything, it all worked out. She kept asking questions about [the engagement], when is it going to happen, how was I going to do it?”
Head coach Mark Turgeon was one of just five people who knew Bender’s plan, having been asked to bring out the ring earlier in the week. Bender brought the ring to Turgeon’s office at shootaround, and the coach and former point guard pulled off the assist to his senior, something Bender says he’s “grateful” for.
“[Bender] told me about it this week, [that] we were going to do it. He made me the ring bearer, which I happily did,” Turgeon said after the game. “[This team] loves each other, like crazy. They had no idea Ivan was going to do it. The way they reacted to Ivan just shows the love, and how young they are.”
While the rest of the Terps had no idea the proposal was coming, it didn’t take long for them to realize and get excited for their teammate. Before Knezevic could even say yes, the team was already at Bender’s back hyping him up. Once she said yes, they went nuts.
“I had no idea he was doing it,” sophomore center Bruno Fernando said after the game. “That was crazy. It’s good though, I’m happy for him. That was great to see. He told us we got to learn from him, we gotta take some notes. That was great to see, that’s amazing.”
The team’s excitement from the proposal carried over to the game, with at least Jalen Smith crediting it for his energy at the start. Smith came out firing and would finish with his fourth double-double of the season with 19 points, 11 rebounds, a career-high tying three blocks and a career-high three made three-pointers.
“I was already fired up, it was senior night, it was the last night of the regular season. But I think it was Ivan’s proposal that kind of fired me up,” Smith said after the game. “Because I was already hype from it, so I was like alright, might as well carry this energy over.”
Bender would go on to play just six minutes in the win, adding an assist and a rebound to go with three fouls, but even a clanked corner three on Maryland’s last possession couldn’t bring him down. His proposal wouldn’t be the only one of the night, as a fan got engaged as well. July 2020, Ivan Bender will be a married man.
“I always wanted to do it [in College Park] because this is my second home,” Bender said. “Being here for four-and-a-half years, being around my teammates. Keeping them in the dark was hard, but it was priceless at the end to see the reaction.”