How Ashley and Kent Benson became the first father-daughter Hall of Famers in IU history

BLOOMINGTON -- Ashley Benson is inside a conference room at the north end of Memorial Stadium at Indiana University. It's 5 p.m. on Friday and she is an hour away from becoming the first volleyball player in IU history to be inducted into the school's athletics hall of fame.

She sits there, the greatest volleyball player ever to take the Hoosiers' court. She sits there next to another IU legend, a 6-10 man who has an uncanny resemblance to Ashely. Their features, the stark blue eyes, their towering figures, their athletic prowess.

That man next to Ashley is her father, Kent Benson, a member of IU's undefeated 1976 basketball team and two-time All-American.

Without him, Ashley says as she looks at her dad, without his support, her launch to volleyball greatness might never have happened. There was this crucial moment, she said, a father-daughter talk.

Both of them smile inside that conference room Friday evening. Both of them are remembering what Ashley is talking about -- that crucial moment.

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It was 20 years ago. Ashley was 13 and she had decided she wanted to give up basketball. The decision had come to her as she played in a summer league before her freshman year at Bloomington High School North, as she drove for layups, as she pounded the court.

"I just remember thinking, 'I am not having fun anymore. This is not where I want to be,'" Ashley, now 33, said. "'I can be good at basketball, but I can never be great at basketball.'"

Yet, inside those summer open gyms for volleyball, Ashley felt alive. This was a sport she could be great at. But how could she tell her dad? He loved basketball. He was basketball.

Trembling and shaking, Ashley walked in for that father-daughter talk. "I struggled to get up the courage. I didn't know how he would respond," said Ashley. "Here he is one of the greatest basketball players at Indiana ... ever."

And here she was ready to tell her father that the sport he loved was not the sport she loved.

Ashley doesn't know how, but she got the words out, ready to see the disappointment on his face. Instead, Kent Benson saw his daughter in tears and said something Ashley will never forget.

You want to play volleyball? That is great. You know I love you and will support you in anything you do.

"The pressure was off," said Ashley.

And the "magnificent obsession" was born, said Kent Benson. That's what he calls what Ashley did next. She poured her heart and soul into volleyball; training, doing extra workouts, learning the game from every angle. She grew to 6-3, a middle blocker with a lean build, quickness and explosion on the court.

Bloomington North's Ashley Benson during a high school match on Sept. 28, 2009. Benson, who was ranked top 20 in the nation as a preps player chose IU for her college volleyball career. Monty Howell | Herald-Times
Bloomington North's Ashley Benson during a high school match on Sept. 28, 2009. Benson, who was ranked top 20 in the nation as a preps player chose IU for her college volleyball career. Monty Howell | Herald-Times

"She did all the hard work. She was striving for excellence," said Kent Benson, 67. "And when you talk about excellence, you talk about being the very best you can be, in every way you can, in everything you do."

Ashley became the first IU volleyball player to earn All-American honors and did it twice. She took IU to its first Sweet Sixteen in program history. She left with a plethora of records that still stand today -- first in program history in block assists (568), total blocks (629) and hitting percentage (.339), as well as sixth in kills (1,492) while playing as a middle blocker.

And on Friday, Ashley became the first volleyball player to be inducted into the IU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Ashley is honored by that, but she is even more honored to be sitting next to her father, an hour before the ceremonies, knowing that they are the first father-daughter duo in the history of IU to be called hall-of-famers. Kent Benson is honored, too.

"I'm just so proud," he said. "So proud of her."

'I want to do what he did'

Ashley is the youngest of Kent Benson's four daughters. She was born in February 1989, the same year he was inducted into IU's hall of fame.

Growing up, Ashley was in awe of her giant 6-10 dad with the big heart. She listened to him talk about what it took to be a great athlete, one who left IU and became the No. 1 pick in the 1977 NBA draft, who played 11 years in the pros. She grew up watching people migrate toward him.

Kent Benson would get stopped everywhere they went, even on a routine run to the hardware store, said Ashley.

"People would just tell stories and just seeing that excitement he brought to those people, the joy that came from their faces. The light that just beamed off them," she said. "I was like, 'I want to do what he did. I want to make something happen, to carry on his legacy.'"

By the time Ashley was 5, she had a basketball in her hand. Her three older sisters played basketball and were great at the sport. She looked up to them. On the court, Ashley was a quick, agile player that people noticed.

But as a sixth grader at Bloomington's St. Charles Catholic School, on a whim, Ashley tried out for volleyball. There weren't enough girls to field a team and she wanted to help.

Ashley ended up loving volleyball. The sport seemed to love her, too.

At Bloomington North, Ashley was ranked 17th in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com. She placed 13th at Nationals in the American Division as a member of the 18-1 Hoosierland club team in 2006. She was named team MVP at Bloomington North her senior season, touted as the top blocker her junior and senior years, and was twice an all-conference selection.

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Colleges were recruiting this volleyball phenom with the Benson basketball name. But Ashely knew where she wanted to go. She knew where her heart was, at IU, where her dad had been a star.

Kent Benson had another idea. "I struggled with her going to IU," he said. Benson wanted his daughter to play at Purdue, under legendary coach Dave Shondell. He and Benson were good friends. He saw where Shondell had taken that program.

"His program far exceeded IU and I wanted her to experience the best opportunities that she had," Kent Benson said. "But she grew up in Bloomington, an IU fan, everything was IU so that was already instilled within her heart, her mind and her body. And I don't blame her at all. I supported her."

Ashley said she looked at going to IU through a different lens than her dad. She saw a program that might not be as good as Purdue's, but "I knew what I could do," she said.

In her first meeting as a freshman player at IU with new coach Sherry Dunbar, Ashley laid it out. "I have ideas of what I want to do for this program and I hope you're on board with it," Ashley remembers telling Dunbar. "And she was just like, 'You know what girl? I am right on board with you. We are going to make some great things happen.'"

Together, they did.

When Ashley arrived at IU, the Hoosiers were last in the Big Ten. During her four seasons, the team recorded at least 15 wins each year, including 23 her senior season in 2010 when Ashley led the team to its first Sweet Sixteen in program history. During her college career, she was named a two-time All-American, just like her dad.

"She was a kid growing up in Indiana, her dad was an All-American here and I think she just bleeds it," Dunbar said as she coached Ashley from 2007 to 2010. "She just loves Indiana. And the great thing about Ashley is that everything she does is with this program in mind and her desire to leave it better than how she found it."

Just like her dad had done all those years ago at IU playing basketball.

'It really choked me up'

Kent Benson can't remember his hall of fame call, the one in 1989. "It's been so long ago," he says.

Ashley's came as she was putting her 2-year-old daughter Daisy down for a nap. The phone rang from IU athletic director Scott Dolson. She couldn't answer. He left a message.

Ashley and Kent Benson talk about their father and daughter relationship and their Indiana University athletic careers at Henke Hall at Memorial Stadium before Ashely was inducted into the Indiana University Athletics Hall of Fame. They will become the  first father-daughter duo  in the hall of fame.
Ashley and Kent Benson talk about their father and daughter relationship and their Indiana University athletic careers at Henke Hall at Memorial Stadium before Ashely was inducted into the Indiana University Athletics Hall of Fame. They will become the first father-daughter duo in the hall of fame.

"Hey Ashley, I just wanted to call and talk. Nothing urgent, just wanted to see how things are going," Dolson's message said. Ashley had no idea what this could be about. She got nervous. Her fiancé, Brad, told her not to worry. Just call Dolson back and see what he wants.

When she did, Dolson told Ashley she was being inducted into IU's athletics hall of fame.

"And I was just like, 'Oh my goodness. What?'" she said. "I knew it was coming. I didn't realize it would be so soon. I can't even put into words what I feel because I am constantly thinking about the volleyball program and how far we've come. But to be the first (volleyball player) in the hall of fame? It's unreal."

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It was unreal and it was wonderful and Ashley had someone she needed to tell. Her first phone call was to her dad.

"I was so proud and so excited for her," said Kent Benson. "It really choked me up. She's had a very storied career and I'm so proud of what she's done to become the best and so blessed to have her as my daughter."

Twenty years later, Kent Benson still looks at Ashley, now an assistant volleyball coach at Bloomington North, and remembers that 13-year-old who came to him with tears in her eyes.

"For her to make that kind of adult decision at 13 with that kind of conviction in her heart and concern for what I would think and how I would respond, that was pretty amazing. She made the right decision," he says smiling. "She sure did."

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: dbenbow@indystar.com.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Kent and Ashley Benson: First father-daughter duo in IU hall of fame