This is the third in a series honoring outstanding high school student-athletes during the 2014-15 school year.
Student-athletes were nominated by representatives of their schools in the categories of Scholar-Athlete, Most Inspirational, Leadership and Community Service. A panel of Tennessean editors and reporters selected the winners in those categories as well as Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
Ian Bennie’s basketball career nearly was over before it even began.
Dennis King, then-varsity basketball coach at Brentwood High School, wrestled with what to do with Bennie after tryouts his sophomore year.
“There’s 15 jerseys,” Bennie said. “You’re only allowed to keep 15 people. I was right at the bottom, probably 16th or 17th.”
His ball-handling and quickness worked against him. But, because Bennie excelled in the classroom if not on the hardwood, King decided to take a chance on a kid he now calls “probably the absolute highest academically performing athlete I’ve ever had.”
Were it not for those “intangibles,” as King puts it, Bennie’s Brentwood career might only have been noteworthy for his classroom success. Instead, Bennie went on to play three years of varsity basketball, as well as three years of soccer.
“When you have that kind of pride in your academics, that’s just overall character revelations,” said King, who retired earlier this summer after 28 seasons at Brentwood. “It was certainly a factor in keeping a kid like that.”
Over the next three seasons, Bennie developed into one of the city’s top sixth men, tilted the GPA scale well past 4.0 and, in doing both, solidified himself as The Tennessean’s 2015 Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
The ‘consummate teammate’
Bennie’s Brentwood teammates loved him — and not just because he’s lights out as a spot-up shooter. King would frequently hear stories about Bennie, who aced the math section of the ACT and nearly the entire test, tutoring his teammates in math.
“He is the consummate teammate,” said Brentwood athletics director Ronnie Seigenthaler. “On the outside, nobody sees that side. They see this undersized, left-handed shooter that you better close out on and please don’t foul him because he’s money at the free-throw line. That’s what they see. We see the inside.”
Bennie’s natural intelligence that, coupled with an intense work ethic, allowed him to finish second in his class with a 4.707 GPA didn’t necessarily translate to the basketball court, though. A player’s basketball IQ, King said, doesn’t always correlate with general smarts.
Court vision, for example, didn’t come nearly as easily to Bennie as, say, calculus. That’s not to say, however, that his input didn’t carry considerable weight; his duties as team captain were not ones Bennie took lightly.
“When he gave us an observation, especially his senior year, about what he was seeing from the bench or in a film session, all heads were turned toward him,” King said.
Role player to remember
Bennie never developed into a starter for the basketball team, which, Seigenthaler said, says far less about him than how he reacted to his bench role. When underclassmen start over seniors, there’s a chance that the slighted senior will become “a negative distraction,” according to Seigenthaler.
“If a senior doesn’t start, there’s a risk that they could be the other side of the coin,” he said. “(Bennie’s) not. He’s the bright, shiny side of the coin.”
Bennie took his role as sixth man in stride, and King estimated that he won three or four games for Brentwood by providing a spark off the bench.
This fall, Bennie will begin a new role: full-time college student. He will study at the University of Alabama, which granted him a full scholarship to study engineering and attracted him with its honors program, large student body and sports culture.
After his undergrad career, Bennie, whose family traveled to Malawi earlier this month on a medical mission trip, plans to apply to medical school.
“Right now, I think I want to be an orthopedic surgeon in sports medicine,” Bennie said, “like a team doctor. Sports are a pretty big part of my life.”
Reach Matt Slovin at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MattSlovin.
Ian the Intellectual
Class rank: Second out of 376
Favorite class: AP United States history
Honors: National Merit Commended Student, recipient of Presidential Scholarship and Engineering Leadership Scholarship from the University of Alabama, AP Scholar with Distinction
Activities: Three-year member of Brentwood High School’s varsity soccer and basketball teams, camp counselor at local basketball camp
Other scholar-athlete honorees
• Haley Barnette, Ravenwood
• Annika Brakebill, Harpeth Hall
• Elena Escalas, University School of Nashville
• Nicole Garner, Siegel
• Daryl Harris, Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet School
• Kathryn Pickett, Hume-Fogg Magnet High School
• Claudia Smith, Central Magnet School
• Ben Weisel, Father Ryan