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Bennett: Stand by me


Column by Chris Graham
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What a day for Tony Bennett on Saturday. First he sent Sylven Landesberg packing for the NBA or Europe or wherever his next destination might be by suspending the star second-year forward for the remainder of what promises to be a short rest of the season citing academic issues. Then the first-year UVa. coach blew his team’s chances to upset ACC regular-season co-champion Maryland with an ill-timed technical foul in the final minute of what turned out to be a 74-68 loss.

You half-expect to hear that he walked out to his car to find a dent in the door and no note and that he later got a speeding ticket on his way home.

“It is a hard game to swallow, but it is what it is. I feel bad about it though, I really do,” Bennett said at the end of the whirlwind day, that began with his announcement to his team that Landesberg, Mr. Everything for Virginia in 2009-2010, leading the Cavs in scoring (17.3 points per game), assists, (2.9 per game) while averaging 4.9 rebounds and a team-leading 32.1 minutes per game, would not be participating against Maryland or in the postseason, which presumably will come to a quick end in Greensboro in this week’s ACC Tournament.

What followed was almost predictable. Maryland jumped out to an early double-digit lead and was still up 12 midway through the second half when the ‘Hoos came to life, cutting the lead to one inside two minutes to go and holding the deficit there before being assessed the first T in his career following a bang-bang block call on Jerome Meyinsse on a drive to the basket by the Terps’ Sean Mosley.

Bennett stormed down the sideline in front of the scorers table before turning and taking his coat off and throwing it down in front of the UVa. bench. Referee Jamie Lucky called the technical foul, and four free throws by Greivis Vasquez and Mosley essentially put the game out of reach.

“I saw the referee wasn’t looking, and I took my jacket off and threw it down. It was a mistake to do that, but there was a lot of emotion from both coaches,” said Bennett, referring obliquely to the tirade thrown by Maryland coach Gary Williams on Maryland’s preceding possession on an offensive-foul call that went against his team that didn’t even lead to a verbal warning from the game officials.

Maybe things don’t get to that stage if Landesberg is on the court. Tracking comments on the fan boards, it’s hard to tell where fans think Bennett screwed up the most – on the T or on the decision to sit Landesberg.

“It’s important for our current and future players to understand it’s a privilege to compete in the ACC and attend one of the finest institutions in the country. My hope is through this action it will help Sylven and the other young men in our program understand the value of a degree from the University of Virginia and the opportunities it provides for life after basketball,” Bennett said in a statement that was released to the media after the opening tip.

After the game, the key words were “expectations” and “consequences.” “It was not easy to do considering the circumstances, but again, there are expectations and consequences for not meeting those expectations,” Bennett said. “We’re really trying to establish this program on the right values. When you come to the University of Virginia, there are some expectations and the young men on the team need to know that when we say things, we mean them.”

The T was something that happened, and something that Bennett will learn from. The lesson will be that you have to win a few games in the ACC to be able to get away with what Gary Williams and Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski can get away with in terms of working the refs and exploding from time to time on the sidelines.

The Landesberg move, on the other hand, is something that UVa. fans will learn from. If you’re so much about winning games that you turn a blind eye to a kid not going to class, your star player or whoever, you’re eventually going to lose your compass.

If you have to choose between losing a basketball game or what you stand for, Tony Bennett is telling you he’d rather lose a basketball game. Actually, yesterday, he told you that twice.

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