newstony bennetts five pillars words to live by and i do literally

Tony Bennett’s Five Pillars: Wise words to live by, and I do, literally

tony bennett
Tony Bennett. Photo by Dan Grogan.

Reporters usually only ask Tony Bennett about his Five Pillars after a Virginia win, so, par for the course, he got the question after the 71-58 win over Miami on Saturday.

“It’s challenging when you lose a couple games, or when things aren’t going well, but that is that effort, you make a decision as a staff and you say, ‘No, we’re going to embrace this, win or lose. We’re going to love what we’re doing, and we’re going to love these guys and keep pursuing things.’ I think that’s where the perspective and the pillars of our program come in, through the highs and the lows,” Bennett said.

I’m writing this column because, as the few of you who follow my every word are aware, the past year has been a bit of a struggle at times for me.

It’s almost all good now, but after a health scare during last year’s ACC Tournament, I’m not ashamed to admit that I spiraled a bit for the next six months or so afterward.

The health scare, which was, looking back on it, almost totally resolved within a few days, nonetheless zapped my confidence.

It took courage for me to admit that I needed help, and I’ve been seeing a behavioral therapist regularly since the summer, and that’s helped me start to get back on track.

Among the things that I do each day is read and muse on an ever-evolving set of deep thoughts that I’ve culled from a variety of sources – a Buddhist monk, a self-help guru, Instagram.

At the top of my deep thoughts is, and I’m not making this up, Bennett’s Five Pillars.

Humility. Passion. Unity. Servanthood. Thankfulness.

I have personal notes for each.

For humility, it’s, I’m smart, but not the smartest.

Passion: love doing what you’re doing.

Unity: no one can be successful on their own.

Servanthood: help others so we can all reach our goals.

Thankfulness: you’re lucky, be thankful.

The more these precepts sink in, the more I’ve come to a sense of peace with myself, but, and this was unexpected, I’ve also come to understand more deeply how Virginia Basketball works.

The Pack Line defense, for instance. It doesn’t matter if you are the best one-on-one defender in the universe; the defense works because it’s five guys working as one (unity), hard hedging on screens (humility), helping on the back end (servanthood), going at it hard on every possession (passion).

The offense, same song. There are no isos, no clearouts: just bigs setting screens, guards running off them, perpetual motion.

The sum effect is to wear the other team down on both ends, putting the lie to the popular conception that Virginia plays slow.

There may be only 55, 57, 60 possessions per team in a game, but they’re all hard possessions, on both ends.

This thinking has helped me adjust my approach to what I do, particularly the middle three Pillars – passion, unity and servanthood.

I’m making it a point to love doing what I’m doing, and thankful to have the opportunity, whether it’s writing about sports, taking out the trash, riding the Peloton, meditating.

And making it a point to seek out opportunities to reconnect with the world, which has been hard for all of us the past couple of years, but is so, so important.

And, servanthood: it’s not just about me; I want to be a part of helping others have success.

The humility part, I’m still working on.

As Bennett said, it’s easy to point to things like the Pillars when things are going great.

Where they’re put to the test is when things aren’t going so great, like for me, with my health scare, and like for Virginia Basketball, which isn’t anywhere near a sure bet to get an NCAA Tournament bid this season, uncharacteristically.

I’ll let Bennett take it over from here.

“I think we try to make a conscientious effort to have a spirit, or an atmosphere of, of joy,” Bennett said. “We talk about that a lot. That’s the greatest compliment that I ever get. When people come and watch us practice, they say that you guys are serious, you’re intense, and you go about, but there’s just a joyfulness about the guys. They enjoy each other, and they play with joy.

“Of course it’s easy when shots are going in and you’re getting stops. That makes everyone joyful. But they did play with the freedom that was required. And hopefully we can keep doing that and continuing in that regard.”

These are words to live by, and I do, literally.

Story by Chris Graham



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