Tony Bennett on COVID-19 challenges: ‘The testing of your faith produces perseverance’

tony bennett

Tony Bennett coaching from the sidelines during UVA’s win over William & Mary. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett maybe has the best attitude about things that I have come across now 10 months into this Year of Our COVID-19.

“I wrote this at the bottom of my practice plan today: consider it pure joy, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, character and hope,” Bennett told reporters on a Zoom call Monday.

“It’s a Bible verse. Not trying to evangelize or anything,” Bennett said. “It’s just, to me, it was like, okay, when you face challenges, and that’s, wherever you’re at, you need to think, okay, how can we use this setback, or certain guys that are there or not there to, to grow to be stronger for hopefully, the longer term? It always is that way.”

This is a healthy perspective, to say the least, from Bennett, whose team had just had to miss another game due to COVID-19 protocols – a Top 25 matchup with in-state ACC rival Virginia Tech – two days earlier when it was revealed that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.

The program appears to have learned lessons from its first unscheduled COVID vacation, which forced the defending champs to miss out on December games with two other Top 25 foes, Michigan State and Villanova.

Bennett, his staff and the student-athletes are now outfitted with Kinexon SafeZone wearables that records the proximity and duration of contacts, and can be quickly accessed to trace and evaluate chains of possible COVID-19 infection.

That’s what allowed the team to be able to return for limited practices on Sunday and Monday, and to move ahead with plans to face Wake Forest (3-1, 0-1 ACC) in a matchup at John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday.

“That has something to do with it, and then also, you always are dealing with the contact tracer. And again, just trying to be as smart and sound as you can. And then there’s situations you can avoid, whether it’s games or practices or huddles, you know, so, but that was used as part of the equation, for sure,” said Bennett, who suggested that the Kinexon SafeZone wearables should be uniform this season as college hoops tries to navigate its way around COVID-19.

“There it more than others, and I wish we could be uniform, but those are decisions we’ve got to make,” Bennett said.

A good part of the Zoom call was reporters trying to get Bennett to admit to being frustrated, and the coach trying to fend them off.

“You know, you’re always at the whim of, okay, well, what if something else pops up? And then you have to adjust that from that standpoint,” Bennett said. “But we’re very conservative here. And we’re trying to make the right decisions. And obviously, always, you know, have you hear every coach say, and I hope they mean it, you know, in the best interests of everybody being healthy and safe. And then you know, you’re also have that tension of, you’re trying to have a team and a staff to, to work and get ready. And so this is our second, you know, pause of certain certain guys, so we’ll, we’ll make the most of it, but that’s kind of how it played out.”

Virginia (5-2, 1-0 ACC) won’t be at full strength Wednesday, Bennett conceded.

“We’ll have enough. I mean, we’ll have enough to play, and we’ll miss a few guys,” Bennett said. “It’s more staffing, and some players, but we’ll, if everything stays the way it is, we’ll be good to go. Not at full strength, of course, but in a spot where you know, if you can get games, you’ve got to try to play them, and you want to be as ready as you can and, you know, by being smart and safe, but then trying to be ready to go with opportunities that are in front of you.”

In response to another question trying to get Bennett to admit to being frustrated:

“You know, you’ve heard me say it before, you guys have covered me, you’ve got to hold things with open hands, right? You can’t control everything. And when you’re in a position when you can’t control when you’re trying to do things right, when certain stuff happens, it does make you step back, and you you just learn from it. I think your attitude is really important, and how you look at it,” Bennett said.

“So that’s the mindset, and yeah, frustration, sure, that’s human nature. There’s so many things always in perspective that are way more severe. So, this is just, alright, here’s where we’re at, and go with it. And again, I’m not trying to make it anything more than just what it is. And you step through it.

“You hear coaches always talking about COVID fatigue, and, yeah, sure, that stuff’s there, because you want to be able to have a normal deal, but it’s not normal. So, you step into it the right way. And that’s sort of the attitude.”

More of us – including those of us who aren’t basketball coaches – would do well to adopt that mindset.

One other attitude that we should adopt: don’t use the challenges of the current situation as an excuse to just go through the motions.

Bennett was asked his thoughts on a thought attributed to Notre Dame coach Mike Brey to the effect that the focus this season shouldn’t be so much on wins and losses, but on making sure the student-athletes are having the best possible experience.

“My initial reaction to that question is, no way,” Bennett said. “I understand what Coach Brey saying, but no, you want to want your team to be as ready as you can, whatever you got to do. And that’s the hard part, the fun part, the challenging part, is competing to win. It wasn’t fun to get beat by San Francisco, nor get, you know, hammered by Gonzaga. Again, there’s certain challenges that come with it. But no, we want to, you know, the older guys want to be as good as we can.

“But of course, there’s always that to me, whether it’s COVID-based, anything. It’s always about, you know, how can you build these young men, how can we grow as people and then as a team. We chose to compete, we chose to be part of this profession, the players chose to play. You want to try to be as good as you can, and go after the brass ring, so to speak. And then again, hold it with open hands, when situations aren’t under your control, like they should be so. It’s absolutely about welfare and all that, but you got to go, and you’ve got to try to be as good as you can compete to win.”

Story by Chris Graham


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