If there is one player who epitomized hustle in the early years of the Southwest Missouri State University-West Plains (Missouri State University-West Plains) Grizzly basketball program, it was Ben Avery. The 6-4, 200-pound guard from Atlanta, Ga., often spent as much time on the floor trying to reel in loose balls as he did running up and down it. That determination and never-say-die attitude earned him the respect of his peers and his coaches.
“I think Ben set the tempo in what we wanted in a Grizzly player,” Grizzly Head Coach Tom Barr said. “He was a great kid and a great team player. He was a key component to getting the Grizzly basketball program off on the right foot.”
Avery came to Missouri State University-West Plains in 1993 after graduating from Columbia High School in Atlanta. His court skills helped lead his team to a 22-8 record and the quarterfinals of the Georgia Class AAA State Tournament during his senior year. He also led DeKalb County athletes with a 79.4 free throw percentage and received his team’s defensive player of the year award that same year.
At Missouri State University-West Plains, Avery became known for his athleticism. Whether he was driving to the basket with a “Jordanesque” flair, launching a three-point shot or maintaining his dribble as he slid across the court to keep from being called for traveling, as he did in one memorable game against Forest Park Community College, Avery used every skill he possessed to help the Grizzlies quickly establish themselves as a power in Region 16 basketball.
He became the first Grizzly to receive first-team All-Region honors in 1993, and he remains No. 2 among all Grizzly players in the most steals during a career with 138. His 1,057 points and 16.5 points per game average between 1993 and 1995 is still good enough to be second on the team’s all-time list for most points in a career and scoring average in a career, respectively, and his 210 shots from the charity stripe keeps him at No. 3 on the list of most free throws during a career.
After receiving his Associate of Arts in General Studies degree from Missouri State University-West Plains in May 1995, Avery transferred his talents to Coastal Carolina University where he led the Chanticleers in scoring during the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons. His 16.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game during the 1995-96 season earned him fourth and ninth place, respectively, among all Big South Conference players in those categories that season, and his two steals per game average that same season was second best among conference players.
Avery graduated from Coastal Carolina in May 1998 with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education degree, with an emphasis on Recreation and Leisure Management, then traveled to the United Kingdom to play one season for the Milton Keynes Lions, a professional team in the Budweiser League. He returned to the U.S. and joined Athletes in Action for one season before returning to his hometown.
He now works as a temporary elementary school physical education teacher in the Atlanta area, but he said he would like to return to school to become a school administrator someday. He and his wife, Jacqueline, have two children, a five-year-old son, Andre, and an eight-year-old daughter, Alexus.
Avery fondly remembers his time at Missouri State University-West Plains. “It was an honor to be part of a first-year team, to have started something that hadn’t been there before. To have accomplished what we did… it was a big part of my life. I still feel like I’m a part of Missouri State University-West Plains. People will ask where I went to school. That carries on where ever I go.”