Tony Bennett on PTI: Talks Duke loss, building culture at UVA

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ptiUVA basketball coach Tony Bennett was a guest on “Pardon The Interruption” with ESPN hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon on Thursday.

The first question for Bennett, from Wilbon, addressed the Cavs’ first loss of 2014-2015, the 69-63 home loss to Duke last weekend, and gauged Bennett’s thoughts on whether the loss may actually have been a good thing.

“You know, obviously, we didn’t want to drop the game, and we had a chance to win it, being up down the stretch, but Duke made some plays. But whenever adversity hits, we always say you have got to be thankful for what it teaches you,” Bennett said, calling Virginia’s 75-64 win at North Carolina on Monday a “nice bounceback” win.

“In a league like this, it’s more about how you finish, how you’re playing and the level of play as the season nears to an end than playing through it perfectly. Although I certainly wouldn’t have minded (going unbeaten).”

bennettBennett was next asked about his defense-first philosophy.

“When I got here, we tried to establish a defensive mindset, knowing that’s always going to give us a chance. Offense can kind of come and go, but if you’re always on on defense, it will give you a chance to be in games, and I think our guys are mature, they’ve been through the system, and it’s been validated in their minds when they play good, hard defense and not giving up easy stuff, they’ve had some success, and I think they know it’s such a key for us,” Bennettsaid.

“It’s not natural. You certainly have to work at it,” Bennett said. “Obviously seeing some of the results has been important. But we’ve also gotten better offensively, and the times we have struggled is when we’ve let up defensively. Duke had a bunch of transition buckets against us, and we’ve learned that way. So it’s kind of been a continuing thing that we’ve got to keep working at.”

Kornheiser asked Bennett how he’s able to sell recruits on playing tough-nosed defense when it’s much sexier to push offense to young players.

“If you watch us play, I think there’s great freedom offensively. But I kind of tell them, We’re going to try to rule you with an iron fist defensively, and give you some freedom offensively,” Bennet said. “One thing, I was fortunate to have a short period of time in the NBA. It’s really important, if you want to play at that level, that you really know how to defend. You need to guard ball screens, spread out and slide. If you develop those skills while you’re in college, and then you have a chance to play after, it really comes in handy.

“Not every player is for every program,” Bennett continued. “UVA is such a wonderful school, and you have to recruit young men who fit your system, that fit the vision you have, the school’s vision. And I think we’ve done a good job of finding those guys who believe in trying to turn a program around at UVA, that value the academic experience, which is incredible.

“We do have talent. I don’t want to undersell that. We have good players who have really developed. But they really have bought in, and that’s been special to see, guys that have really been unselfish and talk about a humble mindset, and who we really are, to play at our best.”

Last question: Bennett was asked his thoughts on the state of college basketball, and if he likes where the game is right now.

“What I like about the game, and I’ll give you a quote my father, and I don’t know if it’s from him, but he always says, The NBA has the players, but college has the game,” Bennett said. “I’ve been fortunate to play in the NBA, and I love the playoffs, and I love a lot of the NBA, but I really enjoy the college game, because I think it’s a place where it’s a cookie-cutter game. We have a different system and style than North Carolina, and how different teams play all over the country, and that’s the beauty of it, that it’s the interesting styles, the different kind of play, that gives everybody a chance. What’s appealing to me may not be appealing to others, but it makes it exciting.

“I think the game, with guys leaving early, maybe is not quite like it was with the experienced teams, but that’s been perhaps why we’ve been able to have some success, is we’ve had guys grow up in our system, and now we’ve got a team of upperclassmen, and that’s our formula, that’s who we are,” Bennett said.

“I like the game. Yeah, there’s little changes that could be made, it’s not perfect. But there’s such a collective aspect of it that gets to playing together and doing something beyond yourself. That’s the stuff that excites me, and I think our guys are seeing that, too.”

– Column by Chris Graham



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