Postgame: Tony Bennett, De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, talk UVA national title

uva basketball bear creekTHE MODERATOR: We’re joined now by University of Virginia head coach, the coach of the national champions, Tony Bennett, and student-athletes De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome.

Coach, we’ll ask you to give us a couple thoughts on the game, and we’ll take questions first for the student-athletes.

TONY BENNETT: I think it was a terrific game, to see how these guys played. The one thing I said to them before in the locker room, I said, you guys faced pressure that no team in the history of the game has faced, well, really all year, but being down 14 against Gardner Webb, and you did not panic in that moment, and you fought, and you found a way out. That, I think, has prepared you for this moment to be able to handle the pressure or the intensity of a National Championship Game.

And these guys stepped up. What De’Andre — is that your career high, 27? Yeah, what a game to have it. He was terrific. These three all year have been unbelievable. If one was a little off, someone picked up the team. To me, that was — it appeared, from my standpoint, to be a high-level game. We scored 85 in that setting, so good stuff.

Q. De’Andre, what was the difference for you in the second half? Did anyone say anything to you at halftime?
DE’ANDRE HUNTER: No. I just tried to be aggressive. I was aggressive in the first half, I believe, but my shots just weren’t falling. And I just tried to do the same thing in the second half, and my shots were falling.

Just staying aggressive. That’s it.

Q. De’Andre, back here. On the last sequence in regulation just before you hit the three, as you’re coming down court, it appeared that Coach Bennett said something to you from the bench. Did he indeed, and do you recall what he said right before you got that look from the right corner to tie it?
DE’ANDRE HUNTER: Yeah, he was just telling me the play that we were running, because I don’t think I knew it. He was just relaying the play to me. And, yeah, that’s about it.

TONY BENNETT: Yeah, it was a great one. I’m not supposed to talk. Never mind.

DE’ANDRE HUNTER: Yeah, it was a great play. He drew it up —

TONY BENNETT: No, I didn’t mean that, I was saying it was a great screen by Kyle. I was trying to tell him, we’re running this action, and I thought he’d get it.

TY JEROME: The three you hit to send to overtime (indiscernible bantering back and forth) — no, it wasn’t bro. That was regular. I threw it to you.

DE’ANDRE HUNTER: It was a great pass and…

TONY BENNETT: We’re a little confused on which play you’re talking about.

Q. Kyle and Ty, a year ago sitting at the podium, the emotions you felt. To be here now as a national champion, can you guys just try to put into words what you’re feeling right now.
TY JEROME: I was about to say don’t ask me because I can’t yet. Forget last year, this is everything you dream of since you’re a little kid. I’m not even thinking about UMBC right now. I’m just thinking this is a dream come true, and it’s even more than that because you never even imagine you’ll be able to spend a year with people you actually love, your teammates and your coaches. Not a lot of people get along like we do, so to share this moment with them is unbelievable.

KYLE GUY: Yeah, we came in together and said that we were going to win a National Championship, and to be able to hug each other with confetti going everywhere and say we did it, it’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in basketball.

TY JEROME: Are you going to cry now?

Q. Kyle, first of all, have you changed your screen saver yet or your Twitter avatar, and what’s it going to be?
KYLE GUY: I’ll get around to it.

Q. And also, too, this is kind of a follow-up, but when you were writing the letters, did you visualize in your mind going from that to this, and how closely does it resemble that if you did?
KYLE GUY: I think everyone on the team, as soon as the buzzer sounded and we were done with the press conference and stuff, we knew we all had the same goal in mind for next year, and that was to win a National Championship.

We’ve all had our own battles, and I said earlier that it’s a really special group because we all had the same why amongst other whys, but to share the same one and to battle everything we battled through and come out on top is a fantastic feeling.

Q. You said to me that, when you got back to campus last time, you had the hood on, head down. What’s it going to be like now? What is this all like for you right now? You haven’t even shed a tear. Have any of you shed a tear yet?
TY JEROME: I have.

Q. You did. The other two haven’t. When did you shed a tear, Ty?
TONY BENNETT: When he missed that floater in regulation, I think.

TY JEROME: If I made that, they would have scored, and we would have lost. No, when I hugged my mom and dad and my brother, they were crying, so I couldn’t help it.

Q. Ty, what a roller coaster ride. Just talk about the whole tournament in general and just your mentality going in with these last-second wins all the time.
TY JEROME: Just to remain faithful to the little things. Coach Bennett always talks about staying faithful, and he told us don’t grow weary in doing good, and that’s for — that’s an every-possession mindset. It’s a life mindset. Just play till that buzzer sounds.

The fact that I missed that floater in regulation and Coach Bennett called the exact same play just shows how much my teammates believe in me, how much he believes in me. We just play until that buzzer sounds. We all believe in each other, and it’s the most special team I’ve ever been on.

Q. Ty, you talked yesterday about how growing up you would watch National Championship games, staying up late to watch, and you mentioned the Mario Chalmers shot. What’s it like knowing that little kids probably stayed up past their bedtime watching what you guys just did?
TY JEROME: It’s unreal. I haven’t really thought about all that stuff yet. I haven’t really had time to reflect on anything. I’ve just been trying to enjoy the moment.

KYLE GUY: It don’t feel real, bro.

TY JEROME: It still don’t feel real. Still doesn’t feel real. Come on, bro. Talk properly.

Q. This is for Kyle. The question was kind of asked before, but how much did last weekend’s games help prepare you guys for a stretch run like this? Particularly also the semifinal game.
KYLE GUY: Absolutely. I think we’ve taken every experience that we’ve been through together and tried to use it in a way that could propel us to a National Championship. All those close games and all the practices where we practice late-game situations, we tried to execute, and we’re very disciplined, and I think that got us through a lot of games, along with just trying to leave it all on the floor, and I think we succeeded at those things.

THE MODERATOR: This will be the final question for the student-athletes before they head back to the locker room.

Q. This is for Kyle and Ty. It’s a long haul to a National Championship for any team, probably a little bit longer for you guys. Can you imagine going through it and surviving it and getting to this point without — with any other coach other than Coach Bennett?
KYLE GUY: Ty first.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll go straight down the line. Ty, you can go first, then Kyle, then De’Andre.

TY JEROME: Why would it be longer for us than other teams, though?

Q. Perhaps because you don’t want to mention or think about how last year ended.
TY JEROME: Oh, yeah. For us, it actually wasn’t like that, you know what I mean? Last year it drew us even closer together, and it made us enjoy every part of the season even more and made us enjoy each other’s company more on the road. We grew closer together off the court.

So it wasn’t like a rush to get to this championship game and then win it so the season could be over so we could prove all you guys wrong. It was more just we grew even more united, and we enjoyed every part of the season.

Then, obviously, to finish the year like this is unreal. And to answer your question, no, we couldn’t have done this with any other coach.

KYLE GUY: Yeah, to expand more on that, Coach said something that really resonated with us, is to run to the start line, not the finish line, and we’ve done that every single game this year.

TY JEROME: Joy is in the competition.

KYLE GUY: Yeah, joy is in the competition. But to be able to give him a National Championship and do it for him, the program, and our families, it means the world, and I wish I had the words, but it still does not feel real.

THE MODERATOR: De’Andre?

TY JEROME: Yeah!

DE’ANDRE HUNTER: Joy is in the competition, like Coach said. It’s a great win for our program, great win for our coach. We worked for this all season, and all that work just paid off.

THE MODERATOR: We want to congratulate and thank Ty, Kyle, and De’Andre. They’re going to head back to the Virginia locker room, which is open for student-athlete availability right now.

First question for Coach Bennett.

Q. Hey, Coach Bennett, there’s a picture in your house you’ve talked about before with these three guys and Jay Huff as part of that 2016 class. They’ve seen a lot of things in their time at UVA. What are the emotions attached to that picture, and how does this change that picture and the feelings you’ll see when you see it?
TONY BENNETT: When they came on the recruiting visit, I remember telling them, look, the foundation has been laid by guys — Joe and Malcolm were here and all the guys who went before. We had won some ACC championships, we’ve been to the Elite Eight. I said, We’re asking you to build on that foundation, and even at that house, that’s going to be the hardest step. But if you’re willing, we’ll take a chance. That’s why I mentioned the Rocky poster, I said I want guys who want a chance at a title fight.

To see them come either in as young men or boys and grow into men, this season and — I’ll mention what happened last year, that can only mature you. I don’t know of anything else that would allow these guys to be able to handle this situation, to play through stuff and to have a perspective and a poise and resiliency unless they went through something that hard.

They’re very — they’re really good players. They don’t probably get enough credit — well, I think some of them do for their talent — but they had something different about them collectively.

One of our themes, I told them before the Auburn game, Just bring your two fish and your five loaves — that’s a story in the Bible — I said, It will be enough. It will be enough for the masses. When you guys play the right way, the collectiveness of it takes over, and I’ve watched it and stepped back and I’ve seen them mature through everything. For them to do what they did and how they’ve won, it’s a great story. It really is.

Q. Congratulations, first of all, as the game went on from a perspective of somebody who’s definitely not a coach, it seemed like Texas Tech was trying to do more and more things to get someone other than De’Andre onto Culver. How did you see that? Why did De’Andre have so much success against Culver, and did you sort of evaluate his defensive performance?
TONY BENNETT: That’s the match. Let me see his stats. Wow, 5 of 22. I didn’t realize it was that. He’s such a talented player. We wanted that matchup. We really wanted to have that matchup. So Chris, Coach Beard, did a great job of they went small. When they went small, we had to match and go small. Braxton did a great job. And we wanted to switch the ball screens. Then we’re a little worried because he is so good, but we just tried to make it happen as much as possible, and Dre made him work to get shots.

De’Andre, he was just named Defensive Player of the Year, and his ability to lock in and slide is as good as most, and I thought that was a great two-way performance, defensively and offensively, in this game and this setting, and he saved his best for last. That tells you there’s something in that young man. He’s got more — he’s scratching the surface.

But we had to have that because I don’t know of anybody else one-on-one who can guard him. I said it comes down to making plays. Yes, offensively, but it comes down to making plays defensively, and I thought he did that and made Culver earn certainly.

Q. You kind of alluded to it, but offensively it seemed as if De’Andre took charge there at the end. Do you tell him to take charge? Sometimes it seems like he’s trying not to take over.
TONY BENNETT: De’Andre usually lets it come, and that — I think he grew up in a way in this tournament in the second half of the Auburn game, and definitely — and he was getting his shots, but he just — you saw it in him, and that — when he puts that into it, boy, he’s special. But, no, we were trying to get him the ball.

Ty is so good, and our players, they understand, he’s like, all right, we’ve got to get him the ball in these situations and go to work. We did call — I’m not sure I can answer the question. We did call an action for him to hit that three in the corner, and one time Ty made a great pass. Yeah, I thought he really showed an aggressiveness that we needed. You need your top players to step up and make plays, and he did it on both ends.

Q. I believe you were 12 for 12 at the free-throw line in the overtime. Can you just speak to, one, the poise your guys showed in the overtime, and also did the previous games prepare them for — they didn’t seem either out of gas, they didn’t seem too emotional in handling the overtime.
TONY BENNETT: I’ll tell you, we had three Saturday, Monday games. We played Duke at home, and then we had to go to Carolina. I think I said this on the podium before. But I said, this is how it’s going to be in the tournament, and this is how we’re going to prepare on Sunday, and we did that every time we had those games, and we did it in the NCAA Tournament, the day in between. And they knew what to expect. I said, You’re built for this, you’re prepared for this, because this is what we did. We started that process in January in the Duke, Carolina weekend, and I said just get after it.

We worked in between. A lot of people just walk through — actually, I don’t know what people do. I just know from my experience as a coach in the Pac-10 how important that day is in between. Just prepare well, prepare well, and get after it. They stepped in the moment. They faced pressure through the year, through the tournament, and all that stuff played into it.

That, a lot goes to our strength coach, Mike Curtis. He has those guys as finely tuned machines. They work. We were smart at the end of the year with how much rest we gave them and prepared them. It’s just a balance, and obviously it hit.

Q. Tony, this is a two-parter. You said that what happened last year really forged them this year, but there are a lot of people twice their age that wouldn’t have been able to do this. What is it about them that allowed them to do it? And then also tonight, they didn’t seem to really survive this. They seemed to be having fun tonight. And is that part of it?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, the quote that De’Andre said, and I told them this, it’s about the joy of competition and the fun in the pursuit of a championship. That, I love it. They — the quote that my wife — actually, I just saw, she went to that TED Talk, and you talk about being almost prophetic. What that says, if you learn to use it right, the adversity, it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way. I don’t know, maybe we could have, but I don’t know, going through what we did last year and having to — you know, it helped me as a coach. All the stuff that they talked about, I think, bought us a ticket to a National Championship.

At the time, you wouldn’t have thought it, but they were battle tested. They were — you can’t go through the stuff that no one’s experienced. Again, it’s a game. We talked about it, but they had to deal with things, their own stuff inside and the opinion of others, and just come together and tighten in a way, and they went after it in terms of developing their own game and then how they played.

They were a joy to coach. I mean, they worked, and anything I said, Yes, sir. They would just go after it. We pushed them hard, but we also loved on them too, and I think it was the balance of that, and they knew it. And they knew we were in this together.

That’s why we said this was our united pursuit. That was our theme, and I loved it because it was everything we had.

Q. Kyle Guy, Most Outstanding Tournament Player. Why do you think he’s at his best when the lights are brightest?
TONY BENNETT: I got a text from Dabo Swinney, who said let the light that shines in you be brighter than the light that shines on you. I think he has something in him — I love that quote. I don’t know where it was, but I thought it was so good, and I shared it with the guys, and he has something in big games and makes plays that it’s just he has it in him.

I know he’s a young man of faith and he has great confidence in himself, and he’s honest, and he’s just got it. He did it again and made big shots, and I’ve seen that from — you look at him, and he’s not the most physical guy, but it’s inside.

Ty has that in him, and so does Kyle. De’Andre showed that tonight. De’Andre has all the ability in the world, and that’s coming, and Kihei has it. I could go down the list, but that’s what you look for. You take guys who are tough mentally and skilled and smart and have enough athleticism, and you can be really good.

Q. Tony, for you, has the pain gone away completely now?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, I mean, you have scars, right? You have a scar, and it reminds you of that, but it’s a memory. Does it go away completely? No, I wish it wouldn’t have happened in some ways. Now I say, well, it bought us a ticket here. So be it.

I’m thankful in a way for what happened because it did, it drew me closer, most importantly, to my faith in the Lord, drew me closer to my wife and children, just because you realize what’s unconditional. In those spots when the world’s telling you you’re a failure, you’re a loser, and you’re the worst thing going, and all that stuff, you say, okay, what really matters? And it pushed me to that in a way.

Then it drove me — I think as a staff we became better. We had to look at how can we change if we’re in this spot again and we play certain teams, and we adjusted to things. Again, that helped, all the lessons from that.

Is the pain gone? I still feel a little “uhh” because I remember that feeling, but I think we’re okay.

Q. I’m not sure if you know this, but you still have a huge fan base in the Northwest. Just talk about how your days at Wazzu and those teams with Rochestie and Lowe and Baynes, and just talk about how they propelled you on your way.
TONY BENNETT: Derrick Low was here. Ben Johnson, who is my dear friend and coach. Taylor Rochestie was at the games. I think Daven Harmeling was here. Jeff Varem was here. These are guys I played for. I was given a chance by Jim Sterk and Anne McCoy to take that job, and my dad came out of retirement, that whole story. Those were my formative years.

We did special things there. It prepared me in ways. It allowed me to take chances on guys like Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, guys that I saw, because I had to do that at Washington State, and I realized, if their heart is right and their character is right and they’re tough and skilled, you can maybe miss in some areas, but that will end up taking you further than maybe just looking at talent alone or skimping on some others, and that was everything.

Q. Tony, a great philosopher might say one can only appreciate the highest of highs if one has experienced the lowest of lows. And in the sports sense, in a basketball NCAA playoff sense, you have had both those experiences. Would you agree with that? Do you think that makes this special because you understand the depths that you can appreciate the heights tonight?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, I think for sure it added to it. Absolutely. It makes you appreciate it. I never thought of myself being a National Championship coach. I wasn’t even going to really get into coaching. I wasn’t crazy about it. I loved playing, and then I saw my dad’s team go to the Final Four. I was a volunteer manager, and I got into it. I love the young men. I love the game. But it’s not my end all, be all.

I just — I think there was a bigger plan going on here, and I didn’t need it, but I was used in it. I hope that it’s a message for some people out there that there can be hope and joy and resiliency. I’m thankful for what happened. That’s why I did what I did at the end. When that horn went off, I just put my head down and said, Thank You. I’m humbled, Lord, because I don’t deserve to be in this spot, but You chose me to be here, and I’ll give thanks.

And I told our guys in the locker room, I said put your arms around each other, take a look at every guy in here, look at each other. Promise me you will remain humble and thankful for this. Don’t let this change you. It doesn’t have to. We’ll have memories. We’ll be at each other’s weddings — or I’ll be at their weddings. (Laughter.) Yes.

But stay humble and stay thankful. It’s a great story. That’s probably the best way I can end this. It’s a great story.

THE MODERATOR: Want to thank Coach Bennett for appearing here all week long and taking our questions. Congratulations, Coach.


Augusta Free Press coverage of the 2019 postseason is presented by Bear Creek. Serving Waynesboro, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg and surrounding communities, Bear Creek provides a hassle-free process to help homeowners create outdoor living spaces that bring people together. Schedule a consultation at BearCreek.co.
uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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