Home Build your winning team: The UVa. basketball blueprint

Build your winning team: The UVa. basketball blueprint


tony bennett1It didn’t take Coach K to put in perspective what Tony Bennett has been able to do in turning the UVa. basketball program around, but having a guy with four national championships and two Olympic gold medals to his credit pointing it out doesn’t hurt.

What has Bennett done to turn Virginia basketball around, a reporter asked the Duke coach before the ACC Tournament Championship. Mike Krzyzewski was quick with the answer.

“It’s not just a Virginia team. It’s a Virginia program,” Coach K said. “It’s based on solid play and solid character. Those kids on that team have great character, and it’s obvious that they don’t care who scores, as long as Virginia scores.”

There you have it, in a nutshell. As long as Virginia scores, it doesn’t matter who gets the points in the box score. And you can take it further: that as long as Virginia wins, it doesn’t matter to these guys who gets the credit.

That’s how you build a program. Arguably, the Virginia basketball program is in much better shape than it’s ever been, even during the vaunted Ralph Sampson era, which saw the program ranked at or near the top of the national polls for the better part of three years.

Because that success was built largely around one player who was bound to leave at some point, and of course Virginia fans were lucky that Sampson hung around for four years.

There are no stars in the Bennett system. The leading scorer on this #1 seed UVa. team, Malcolm Brogdon, averages 12.6 points per game. Only one other player, Joe Harris, averages in double figures. Nine players play at least nine minutes a game.

“It’s obvious that they don’t care who scores, as long as Virginia scores.”

Extend that to your situation, now. Your family, for instance. It doesn’t matter who brings home the bacon, as long as the Smiths bring home the bacon, doesn’t matter who takes out the trash, as long as the Andersons take out the trash. Take it to your business: It doesn’t matter who lands the big new client, as long as Acme Construction lands the new client.

There are bumps along the road to building this kind of winning team. Frankly, it’s easier to build around a star like a Ralph Sampson or Jabari Parker, a one-and-done cornerstone for Coach K at Duke this year. Build around the star, put some role players around the star as complements, and there you have your winning formula.

The Bennett way makes everyone a role player, and it can take some time for everyone to get comfortable with their roles. Bennett told the recruits in his first recruiting class that they were going to have to learn how to lose before they would learn how to win. Think about that one for a second. You’re trying to lure players to play for you and telling them up front that they’re going to lose games first. Joe Harris came across the country from the Pacific Northwest after that sales pitch, which says a lot about him as a young man, but most people aren’t going to respond well to being told that they’re going to have to work for their success.

And lose Virginia did. The first season for Harris and classmate Akil Mitchell ended with a historic loss for Virginia in the ACC Tournament, in a game that UVa. led by 10 over Miami with 40 seconds left, and lost in overtime. Their second year ended in the NCAA Tournament, but with a late-season fade that saw Virginia lose in the first rounds of both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

Their third year ended with another late-season fade that actually pushed UVa. out of the NCAA Tournament and into the NIT.

Even this year’s team had to learn how to lose before it could learn how to win, starting just 9-4 before turning it on in ACC play.

There’s no guarantee that this year’s #1 East Regional-seeded ‘Hoos won’t end with a loss; in fact, it’s likely that this season will end with a loss, given that there will only be one team that will go 6-0 in March Madness and cut down the nets in AT&T Stadium in North Texas in April.

But if the season does indeed end with an L, it won’t mar what has not only been one of the more successful seasons in Virginia basketball history, but also has been a learning experience for everyone along for the ride.

If you do things the right way, if you focus on the goal, not on who gets the credit, you can achieve far more than anyone on the outside can expect.

That’s the UVa. basketball blueprint. We can all learn from looking at the drawings.

– Column by Chris Graham



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