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Tony Bennett: Driven, more than ever, to succeed

tony bennett national champsTony Bennett still gets the dumb question: can he recruit guys to play in a system that requires them to go hard every play, every night, for five months?

You know, that trophy that they handed to him in Minneapolis in April might tell you, um, yeah, but yet, the question still has life, for some reason.

“There is plenty of freedom in this system; you learn how to play the right way,” Bennett told ESPN’s Paul Biancardi in a recent interview. “There are different ways to play. Is this system helping you to prepare to be a successful NBA player or professional player? That has proven itself out with a number of players over the years.”

Guys like Malcolm Brogdon, one of the Class of 2019’s most sought after free agents. And Joe Harris, the reigning NBA three-point champion.

Maybe 2019 first-round draft picks De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome, you could throw them in there.

Justin Anderson, Mike Scott, Kyle Guy.

None were pegged as surefire NBA talents when they were high school recruits.

Bennett’s message to kids who have NBA dreams – and honestly, if you’re being recruited by an ACC school, you have NBA dreams, however realistic or unrealistic they may be – is that you’d better accept that you’ll be a role player at least at the outset.

“You better know how to be efficient, how to guard and make the next pass, take good shots, make open shots and not cost your team, and that’s the reality of it. In talking with NBA teams, they like efficiency. You better learn to be efficient before you get there, because if you try to learn efficiency in the NBA, you are not going to be there a long time,” Bennett said.

Think, now, about the kids that Bennett has helped prepare for the NBA.

Brogdon was started one game at UVA as a freshman. Ty Jerome started five, and Kyle Guy seven, as freshmen in 2016-2017.

De’Andre Hunter and Justin Anderson were both ACC sixth men of the year.

Bennett, the recruiter, is obviously looking for talent, but more so is looking for talents who are also competitors.

“There are too many talented guys out there. You are always going to face guys who are better or bigger, so if you are not a competitor, it’s not going to work. Watching Ty, Kyle and De’Andre, they were all competitive. It’s a separator,” said Bennett, who beneath his quiet demeanor is a driven competitor himself.

“The quote by Steve Prefontaine drives me: to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift,” Bennett said. “The Lord has blessed me with the gift to coach; I want to honor and maximize that gift. That drives me to be my best as a coach, and as a program to prepare them to win, to help develop them and it’s my why factor to win at the highest level. I don’t want to sacrifice the gift and opportunity I have been given.”

Bennett has talked in the past about the poster for the movie “Rocky” in his office, and his favorite quote from the movie: “I just want a chance at a title fight.”

“I want guys who have that mentality that want to go toe-to-toe against the best for a title. You can do that in this league [the ACC],” Bennett said. “My message before was, Look, this program has done everything but go to a Final Four and win a national championship. Well, now that has happened, and there is nothing wrong with saying let’s do that again. It validates what we are doing.

“We can give kids a great education, offer players a chance to be on a successful team and have individual success to reach your dreams of playing professionally. As long as those things keep happening, it enhances the attractiveness of what this is about,” Bennett said.

Story by Chris Graham

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