Clarksville, TN – Three exceptional former Austin Peay State University athletes were inducted into University’s Athletics Hall of Fame, Saturday morning.
The inductees included Adrian Henning, a two-time first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference forward who led the Austin Peay State University men’s basketball team to back-to-back league championships and a 2003 NCAA tournament appearance; Paige Smith, who helped lead the Lady Govs basketball team to a trio of NCAA tournaments also during the early part of this decade, and Ryan Bennett, one of the best two-way catchers in APSU history who helped lead the Bats Govs to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 1996.
Their respective inductions saw the Austin Peay Athletic Hall of Fame membership grow to 97. They were honored Saturday morning during a ceremony in the Dunn Center front lobby, and again at the APSU vs Murray State Men’s Basketball Game that evening.
About Adrian Henning
Henning, who currently is playing professionally in Mexico and who has played literally all over the world, was unable to attend Saturday morning’s ceremony but arrived Saturday night to be honored with the other two inductees at halftime of Murray State-APSU contest.
Henning’s road to Austin Peay came at an early age. His father, Wes Henning, was a graduate assistant coach at Memphis when Dave Loos was an assistant coach. That is when Loos first met a young Adrian and kept tabs on him at Ridgeway High School, where he starred for his father, who has built an exceptional prep coaching career.
Adrian Henning would become part of a four-year senior class at Austin Peay that won 81 games, including a trio of 20-win seasons. Henning, in fact, was the leading scorer (15.5 ppg) on the 2002-03 Governors basketball team that captured the OVC tourney championship and advanced to the 2003 NCAA tournament against Louisville.
A year later, the 6-7 Henning also was the leading scorer (13.7 ppg) on the defensive-minded team that went an unprecedented 16-0 during OVC play to claim a second-straight OVC title. The Governors later that season gained their first-ever NIT victory. That team held opponents to less than 60 points on 18 occasions.
The Memphis native ranks 12th all-time in career scoring (1353 points) and 11th in rebounding (661). He is third all-time in blocked shots with 105. His numbers aside, his leaping ability and corresponding dunks were legendary
About Paige Smith
At the same time Henning was the focal point of the Governors success, Smith was enjoying similar glory as a Lady Gov.
She came to Austin Peay with the reputation as a long-range shooter, but she literally became chameleon-like, whatever head coach Susie Gardner and the Lady Govs needed, that was what Smith became: shooter, ball-handler, defender, distributor.
It helped the Lady Govs achieve almost unmatched success in OVC basketball history. Serving as all-time leading scorer Brooke Armistead’s running mate at guard, the Lady Govs won three straight OVC tournament championships and made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including a 72-70 loss to North Carolina in the 2003 first-round game. The Lady Govs posted a 27-4 record, including a 16-0 OVC mark, during that magical 2002-03 season.
Smith is Austin Peay’s seventh all-time leading scorer with 1324 points. She also ranks in several other Lady Govs categories, including three pointers made (258/2nd), free-throw percentage (.852/2nd), assists (435/3rd), steals (177/7th), minutes played (4144/1st), games played (122/3rd) and games started (119/1st).
Smith was a member of the OVC All-Freshman team in 1999-00-her 72 three-pointers made still stands as a Lady Govs freshman record as does her .873 free-throw percentage mark-and a three-time OVC all-tournament team member. The Livingston native owns three of the Lady Govs Top-10 single-season free-throw percentage marks.
Smith is now teaching at Allons Elementary School and is serving as middle school coach.
About Ryan Bennett
Bennett was born to be a catcher. His brother Gary was a minor league catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies organization (on the way to a double-digit season major league career) when Ryan arrived in Clarksville.
The younger brother came to APSU with the reputation as a good-field no-hit catcher before developing into a terrific two-way player, especially during his final two seasons. As a junior, he earned team most valuable player honors and honorable mention All-OVC when he batted a team-best .356-31 points higher than anyone else-while leading the team in RBI (43). He paced the team with 25 extra-base hits, including 17 doubles. He also had just four errors from the catcher’s position, particularly impressive since he was known for someone who was not shy about attempting to pick off runners at both first and second bases.
But his senior season was even better. In fact, he became the first catcher-and remains the only catcher-in Austin Peay history to hit .400 during a season. His .407 batting average remains seventh best in APSU history and helped lead the Govs to a school-record 44 victories and the program’s first NCAA appearance. He had 99 hits that season, one fewer than teammate and single-season record holder Nate Manning, who was inducted into APSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004. The Waukegan, Ill., native set the APSU mark, which stills stands, for doubles with 29 while also driving in 58 runs, second in the OVC to teammate Manning’s 82 and the seventh-best figure all-time.
Bennett was consistently good in 1996 in earning first-team All-OVC after being honorable mention the previous season. He opened that season with an eight-game hitting streak and later had three other nine-game hitting streaks.
Durability also was his hallmark. He played in all but three games that season and caught 12 doubleheaders that season.
In doing so Bennett earned trust from the coaching staff to allow him to call pitches, something almost unheard of in the college game more than a decade later. He coaxed strong performances from a pitching staff by being unafraid to call for two-strike breaking balls or split-finger pitches with a runner on third base. Bennett was exceptional at blocking balls in the dirt and it was nothing for him to scoop up a low pitch and throw behind runners on the base paths. Literally everything defensively ran through him.
Despite playing the game’s most taxing position, Bennett ranks seventh all-time in batting average (.339), with his 211 career hits ranking ninth and 54 doubles ranking third. He also is ranked ninth all-time in RBI with 125.
He would go onto a six-year minor league career with the New York Mets and now owns a medical supply business in Austin, Texas.