Bennett on NIT: ‘You get to grow in these experiences, and then try to win and advance’
Virginia fans are clamoring for Tony Bennett to “give” young players like Taine Murray, Igor Milicic Jr. and Carson McCorkle minutes in the NIT, but the coach isn’t about to “give” anybody anything.
“We’re in it, we get a chance to play it, try to win and advance and keep going. So that would be my mindset. And I believe everyone in it, that’s their mindset to certainly do it,” Bennett said Monday. “But it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t give a guy a chance or two. And again, a lot depends, our mindset, how our young men are, and how hungry they are, and how we prepare these two days, and then read what’s going on in the game, and go from there.”
Virginia (19-13) will host #3 seed Mississippi State (18-15) on Wednesday. It will be the first NIT game for the Virginia program since way back in 2013, before the run of five ACC regular-season championships, two ACC Tournament championships and one national championship got going a year later.
It’s an obvious down year for Virginia Basketball, but Bennett is looking to get most of the key guys back from this year’s rotation back for 2022-2023, with the nation’s 10th-ranked recruiting class adding a level of talent at least on par with the 2016 class that included De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and Jay Huff, the foundation of the 2019 national title team.
For guys expected to return for next season like Reece Beekman, Jayden Gardner, Armaan Franklin and Kadin Shedrick, the 2022 NIT is a chance to get some valuable postseason experience.
“I just want tournament experience, playing experience, and to play as well as you can,” Bennett said. “The reality of our team this year, you guys have covered us, is this, we’re that team that, when we’ve played tough and well, we have been able to win some really exciting, good games against tough opponents on the road, at home, and they’ve usually been close. And then at times where that team that has really struggled, and we’ve gotten separated on, like, you’ve seen it’s Carolina and just some of those games, and I told our guys, the reality is you’re both of those teams, you just got to fight and choose to try to be the one that is the one that has shown that, and so here you get an opportunity in one-and-done situation, to play against a team that’s good.
“You get to grow in these experiences, and then try to win and advance,” Bennett said. “And so, I think it’s important for our guys to have this experience and to be ready. You’ve got to move past not getting an NCAA bid, getting beat in the second or whatever the round we were in in the ACC Tournament, in the way we did, and then we got a couple prep days and then get ready to play and hopefully keep advancing. So, it’s a good opportunity, and it still is a privilege to be invited to that tournament.”
Story by Chris Graham