Virginia at the Final Four: Tony Bennett, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy

uva basketball bear creekTHE MODERATOR: Virginia head coach Tony Bennett is first. Then we’ll be joined by Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, student-athletes from Virginia. As soon as the session wraps up, the student-athletes will head down to the breakout sessions for the starters, and I believe the locker room is open for the non-starters.

Coach Bennett has arrived. We have a lot of questions. We’ll try to get through as many as possible over the course of the next half hour.

Q. Tony, obviously, your father’s a big influence on your coaching career, but I’m just curious, coming from the NBA, where teams score a lot of points, how did you decide that when you wanted to become a coach, that you wanted to build a program around defense?
TONY BENNETT: I think I saw it — you know, as a player, I was fortunate to — Green Bay, where I played for my father, it was a rebuilding situation, so I was part of that as a player, and I watched it even when I was in high school.

Then I observed him at Wisconsin when he went there, and I think they’d only been to one NCAA Tournament. I’m sorry, one NCAA Tournament win in like — it was like 40 years. I don’t want to misquote it, but it was an amazing stat, and I saw him have to rebuild it in the Big Ten and how he did it, and then the same thing at Washington State.

So to have that experience to know that defense can be an equalizer and use that is important. I think at all levels not many teams advance without being strong defensively, even in the NBA. That’s what I knew, and I’ve seen it work and be successful, and then you always continue to adjust your offense, but that probably sealed it for me as I watched the success come. And then even being under Coach Ryan for those two years, those experiences watching good programs.

Q. Tony, staying on the defense, one of the least talked about aspects of your defense is blocked shots. As you reflected on last night getting nine, how essential were they, and could they loom large again tomorrow night?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, rim protection is so important. The quickness of Auburn. And sometimes your defense just breaks down. So the ability for guys to either erase mistakes, and Mamadi’s been significant in that, and I know Texas Tech is significant in that capacity too, but that is — when you can play good defense but you have some length or shot blocking behind it, it just adds another element to being harder to score against.

So those were key plays, and they have been all year, whether it was someone coming from the weak side. Over the years, you saw Isaiah do it, Darion Atkins and guys, and so that is important.

Q. Your program has never been this far. Texas Tech has never been this far. It’s a unique situation. I’m wondering how much of the challenge of building a program to get to this point is literally convincing players, coaches, the administration that it can be done? The hierarchy of college basketball is just so established.
TONY BENNETT: Right. That’s one of the things that drew me to have a chance to coach in the ACC because of the storied programs and the storied coaches, the Hall of Fame coaches. Can you go and take a team and build your program in a way that you think is best and compete against the best?

There’s a way that I know works — or that I believe works. So when you get in those spots, you hope, you have a vision and you hope, but you never truly know. When you come in and say, This is going to happen. We’re going to be a Final Four team, or we’re going to win the ACC, you believe it, and you hope it, and then you just go to work. That’s what it is.

So, yes, everyone has the dreams and the goals, but it’s — that’s why we have a door knocker. You just keep knocking. You never know when sometimes the door gets slammed in your face, but sometimes you get your foot in the door and then your shoulder, and then you can bust through. It’s just a continual process.

Having gone through that as a player and a coach, that was an incredible advantage for me. It is can you build a program and compete against the best, and then how far can you push it?

Having watched Wisconsin get to the Final Four, having seen other things, it gave me a blueprint, and then you also add to that.

Q. Several of your colleagues back at UVA have won NCAA titles in their sports. What’s the response been from your fellow coaches during this run? Do you hear a lot from them? Or because they know you’re busy, have they backed off?
TONY BENNETT: You can tell they’ve been through it: Great job; no need to reply on the text messages. The hundreds come in, so they’ve been through it. The support you have — the Debbie Ryan, when she was there, Joanne Boyle from the women’s program, now Tina (Thompson), Brian O’Connor, Coach (Bruce) Arena, all down the list, I can name them all, all the coaches. It’s a close-knit family at UVA because I think we appreciate how it has to be done there, but there’s so many great coaches there.

I remember when I got the job, I said, what’s the key to building a program? And I listened to them intently about finding guys that fit your system, your culture, and the culture of UVA.

Q. On Ty, before you secured his commitment, why do you think he flew under the radar a little bit as a recruit?
TONY BENNETT: He grew a little bit. You know, you look at him, and he’s not the most intimidating guy athletically. You say, well, is he quick enough? Can he do things? I think, did he pass the eye test? Perhaps not for some of the high majors, and it was early, but sometimes you have to go with your gut.

I’ve been fortunate, I think when I had to coach at Washington State, we had to trust our gut. Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t, but you have to say I see it in him and not be afraid to get those guys because, if guys are mentally tough and have the courage and the heart, maybe in certain areas they’re lacking. It has to be a minimal level of athleticism or whatever it is, but if you see that, those guys usually just take off.

Most of our guys that haven’t been the most highly touted recruiting-wise, when I was at Washington State and now here, have just blossomed. Joe Harris, even Malcolm Brogdon, I could go down the list. They’re just great stories. I think maybe he’s part of it, and then he obviously kept going. There’s something in him that is just so special.

Q. Kyle’s been very open about his battles to manage anxiety, to kind of keep himself from getting overpressured. I’m curious how you maybe helped him get through some of that, and what stood out to you about the way he handled those issues to get to where he is now?
TONY BENNETT: The best thing I could do for Kyle is I pray for him a lot. I do, and I’m there for him. Everyone — we have a saying, be kind because everyone you meet is facing a hard battle. Some things you have to work through with yourself and the right kind of help, and he’s very honest about it. I try to encourage him and challenge him in ways and be there for him, coach him hard.

We always talk about encouragement and also accountability, you know, being that way with him. I constantly think about him, and for all my guys, that’s one of the fortunate things. You’re kind of — you know, it’s an extended family, so you are a father figure, to an extent, to them. I think about that stuff, and I do that for me. That’s really important for him. That’s probably the best thing I could say I did.

And then we’re together in this journey. That’s the one thing you talk about being able to go through the highs and the lows together. We’ve had some. I mentioned the times we’ve been up here together in tough situations and then watching them grow through it. Just, again, thankful that he was entrusted to me for this time, and that’s why you want to be a good steward when you have him for the time you get him.

Q. Tony, you guys have heard ad nauseam this year about the UMBC loss. How gratifying is it to then be in this position? And is there some kind of, I don’t know, karmic payback that you went to where you were then to where you are now?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, I’m just incredibly thankful. Heard about it a lot, and we knew that. I feel like I repeat myself too much. In a way, it’s a painful gift. It did draw us nearer to each other as a team. I think it helped us as coaches. I think it helped the players on the court and helped us in the other areas that rely on things that were significant.

But I — you know, I think that karmic payback, I don’t know. I knew it was going to be a significant year in all of our lives. I knew that going into this year because of what was going to be coming at us because of that from a basketball standpoint. So I just knew we needed each other.

Everything was pretty intentional about this year and how we’re going, and did I know we were going to be in this spot after last year? And you say what a difference a year makes. I didn’t, but I knew it was going to be a really important marked year for all of us in our lives, and it’s certainly playing out that way.

Q. Sort of a followup to that, how much of a believer are you now, maybe destiny, fate, however you want to call it, how the last couple games have gone that you’ve emerged from improbable situations and to be on the brink of playing for a National Championship?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah. Again, I believe our steps are ordered. I think you walk and you do everything you can with the abilities you’ve been given as players, as coaches, and then you trust. I just, I believe that. So the fact that we’re here, yeah, I think there’s been a hand in this. In my life, I’d be foolish not to believe that.

Q. Tony, I wanted to ask you specifically about this matchup. Do you see similarities in the way Texas Tech defends? And then, big picture, do you feel any sense of vindication after so many years of people saying this system won’t get you here, but there’s two teams that pride themselves on defense playing for the championship?
TONY BENNETT: First, defensively, Texas Tech — no, they’re different than us. They’re really special defensively. I have the utmost respect for how they play, but it is a different system. I think someone said, statistically, we’re two of the top five teams defensively. You can see it. They’re very physical. Their ability to take your ball, and some of the — just look at the games in the tournament and what they’ve done to some of the great offensive teams has been so impressive.

But there’s some different things. I mean, we work, and there’s the similarities of what we value, but it’s sort of different in that regard. They’ll switch. They’ll do — they’ve got some different things they do.

As far as vindication or people saying that, no, not really. That doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t.

Q. De’Andre had a very good second half last night.
TONY BENNETT: Yes.

Q. But had been kind of in a bit of a funk or whatever you want to call it. Are you concerned that he was pressing? How do you feel he’s been playing, especially coming back in the second half of last night?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, I was really impressed with how he responded in that second half. Even in the Purdue game, he made two big free throws and made the basket to seal it. He’s always defending, and we’re always — I just keep challenging him. I think he’s — again, he’s just scratching the surface of what he’s going to become.

But who knows? It’s intense. I mean, the physicality goes up, the pace, everything, when you get in these settings. He really stepped up when we needed it in that second half, and I know we’re going to need it, obviously, tomorrow.

Again, I think he’s hard on himself. If he’s missing shots or not helping his team, he puts a lot on himself. We talked about it. Be free, man. Go after this. We need you. Be a player. If the shot’s not going or whatever, impact the game in other ways. That’s kind of what we talked about, and I thought he took a step for sure in that game.

Q. Pardon the cliche, but at what point in your mind did Mamadi become a prime-time player?
TONY BENNETT: He’s shown flashes of that this year, and there’s certainly been stretches, and he’s been real consistent since the NCAA Tournament has started for these five games, but definitely in stretches before. It’s just kind of being consistent with it. Some of it was staying out of foul trouble. Some of it was me probably giving him more opportunities. I think it’s all of those things, but his impact has been significant in this run without a doubt.

Q. Tony, as far back as ACC Media Day, you had said that you really wanted to get to the Final Four, you really wanted to win a National Championship, but if you didn’t, you’d been through the worst, and you had come through that and survived it. In the back of your mind, I know that you — in the front of your mind, I know that you want to win a National Championship. In the back of your mind, are you — not thinking, but aware that, if things don’t work out tomorrow night, you still have that foundation, and you’ll still be able to handle it?
TONY BENNETT: Let’s clarify something. I’ve been through the worst basketball-wise, okay? Let’s keep this in perspective. Yeah, it’s hard, and we grew from it, but understand — and that’s the one thing. There’s going to be — people go through so many hard things. I understand that.

To answer your question or your statement, yes.

Q. Tony, I understand it was your idea to do the whitewater rafting trip, to choose that. Why did you choose that activity in particular for the team-building exercise? And was there anything that you learned about your group dynamics that maybe you didn’t know going into that trip?
TONY BENNETT: Because it’s a blast. Have you ever been whitewater rafting? I mean, come on. And some of our guys were scared to death, so it was even more fun to watch them be scared to death. It was the highest point of the rapids, and we had — our guys’ eyes were big. We had to beg Dre — I can’t remember some of them; I call him out — “It’s going to be okay.” But, no, we just wanted to have a blast.

Look, it was the summer. We had worked out hard, and I said let’s do something. We had a little miniature golf tournament somewhere in West Virginia the night before. Again, everything was about let’s enjoy this, let’s have fun.

It was ironic. You know, when we got here to Minneapolis, they gave us a paddle when we got off the plane, and it said, “The Road Ends Here.” Before the Purdue game, I told our guys, I just went through some experiences that I observed and how powerful it was. I said, But one that stands out is when we were on our whitewater rafting trip, kind of the first thing we did after our summer workouts — and literally, they tipped the boat on purpose, and you float down the river. It’s one of the oldest rivers, they say, in the world, if you can believe that, where we were rafting. And I remember floating down the river, and you’re just going. And I remember saying to myself, Okay. All right, Lord. What’s this year going to bring? I wonder.

I remember just like it was the most beautiful setting just floating down the river with these guys, and I remember saying that in my mind. And I relay that to them before the Purdue game, and I said — and I actually got a little emotional with them. I said, Here we are. This was on the verge of the Elite Eight game. I’m floating on that river. What’s this year going to bring? Because it’s a significant year I thought that. I was thinking, wow, here I am.

And then interesting we come to Minneapolis, and the first thing they give us are these paddles or oars that say “The Road Ends Here.” So it was kind of a significant or poignant moment for me.

Q. I want to ask you about tomorrow, another late tip. What’s your day going to be like? What’s the routine? And also, you’ve used the TED Talks. You’ve used “Friday Night Lights.” Do you have another bullet left in the chamber pre-National Championship?
TONY BENNETT: I think we played Oregon about 10:30. That was a late one. We’ve played some late games. You know, just you push everything back, you keep your routine the same. We have something we do at the hotel. I don’t know if I have another TED Talk or anything. I’ll have to ask my wife. She’s the one who gave me the TED Talk. She was actually at that TED Talk. Paul, you talked to her about that, and that was five years before this, and then after we lost, she’s the one who told me.

We’ll think of something, but as I said, it will be a joy to get ready for this game.

Q. Coach, first of all, I’d like to say I appreciate your spirituality and faith. It’s awesome and a blessing. I’ve got to ask you, what’s it like for you personally to see a lot of these programs and schools adopt your defensive personality and everything like that and what you do with your program?
TONY BENNETT: I mean, I don’t know how many do. Texas Tech, they do something different, and that was poured into Coach Beard and Coach Adams, and he was under Coach Knight. Coach Knight influenced my father.

I think, as far as our pack defense that some programs use, I think my father established that when he was at Green Bay, and other people probably did it before him.

I think people are always looking for ways how can we close the gap against teams that are so talented? And I think, as I mentioned to Dan, I think it was, who asked a question — I got your attention. You looked up. Stop texting while we’re doing this thing here. No, I’m just kidding — defense can be a great equalizer. You play against all different types of systems.

That’s the beauty of the game. People put their own little twist on it. But I think from a basketball standpoint it’s one of the best legacies my father left, those five pillars that many teams have adopted, but that defensive system.

Q. Tony, you’ve been very open talking about some really important things that have happened in the last year, like faith and family and relationships, sort of an outgrowth from the UMBC game. Are you amazed at all that the impact and the changes in important areas that have come from one basketball game?
TONY BENNETT: Well, I go back to — and I talked to these guys the other day. This has been going for — this is my tenth year. This has been a process for ten years. I’ve been humbled so many times in this game as a head coach, and I shared that with these guys when we got — we played in the ACC Tournament my second year, and we were up ten points with 42 seconds and got beat in overtime to Miami. We got to the Elite Eight and it was a great experience and lost that year.

One thing I told them, again, I use scripture — and I understand everybody is at different places. But I told them one of the things we talked about is don’t grow weary in doing good; for at the due time, you’ll reap a harvest. These guys have been so faithful this year, and that’s been such a joy to me. And the players I’ve been under, when they faced adversity in a basketball sense — I’m not talking about a world sense, a basketball sense — they haven’t grown weary in doing the right stuff.

That’s not been from one game. Yeah, that was a significant game, and I knew the light would shine on them, and how they responded would have an impact. But this has been going — this is life, it really is, but this is the basketball thing.

THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. We’ll take questions for the next ten minutes for the student-athletes and for Coach Bennett.

Q. Texas Tech has the No. 1 rated defense in college basketball, points per possession. It’s actually historically tracking as the toughest defense in college basketball in the past two decades. With that in mind, given you and your staff and your program’s history of being a top five defense year over year over year, how much of a benefit will that be, do you expect, going into tomorrow’s game given the guys going up A team playing B team have not faced the exact same scheme but have encountered such stifling defense from within the league and within the team?
TONY BENNETT: I think, when you try to play hard defense, you understand the value of offensively how mentally tough you have to be, how sound you have to be, and you have to take what the defense gives you. But it’s a challenge. When our defense is at its best, it really makes people work to get contested shots.

Obviously, Texas Tech, in their own way, they make people work, and they swarm. So understanding that and not just saying, oh, they haven’t seen our offense, they’ve seen offenses before. That would be false confidence. But understand and, hey, it takes hard, tough offense, and you work to get quality shots, and then you turn around and play the same way against them.

THE MODERATOR: If this question isn’t for the student-athletes, we’ll take the next one for the student-athletes.

Q. I’ll ask Tony this and then maybe Kyle can also answer it. You’ve played, Tony, obviously at the highest level. What does it take for a guy like Kyle to step up and have that ability to perform under pressure, hitting those three free throws with 70,000 fans and the nation looking on? And then even before that, if he doesn’t hit that three-pointer in pressure, doesn’t even get to that stage. What does it take to have that ability to perform under pressure? And then maybe, Kyle, could you talk about maybe your ability to perform under pressure.
TONY BENNETT: Well, I’ve been fortunate to watch both of these two young men, Ty and Kyle, over their years do that in different settings, in pressure settings. Obviously, in that setting in the college basketball world, that’s as big as it gets, but it doesn’t surprise me. I think it just takes to be in the moment. There’s a saying the art of doing what you’re doing and not getting too lost in it.

I was sitting next to Kyle. He said, I just put my jersey in my face to focus, before he went there. No, it takes this (indicating head), and it takes this (indicating heart). And that’s what he’s shown, that’s why Ty has shown since I’ve seen these guys from little guys on up to young men. They have it both. They got it in both places, which is everything.

KYLE GUY: I think for me and probably every basketball player, everyone’s envisioned themselves winning a game on this stage. Like you said, I just try to get in my own zone and focus in. I knew that my teammates had confidence in me, and that gives me more confidence than I’ll ever be able to give myself.

Q. For the players, Frankie mentioned, starting with the North Carolina game, you changed up the road trip stuff a little bit. Didn’t do shootaround, added a name that tune, friendly competition. How have those things benefited you at this point, having done it on the road and done the team building? And, Coach, if you could add something about the drive for doing that instead of the normal.
TY JEROME: Yeah, I think it was because we wanted to get off our feet more, because that Carolina game, we were coming off Duke two days before. So they wanted us to get off our feet as much as possible and get as much rest, and Frankie started playing the piano, and he’s so talented in that. I think Coach just selfishly wants to hear him play.

We’ve been doing so many team-bonding activities since my first year here, and this group is as close of a team I’ve ever been on in my whole life, and that’s what makes it so special.

KYLE GUY: Yeah, the past two years, those teams have been so close, and Ty’s right, we’ve done so many team-bonding exercises with Coach and then with ourselves. We play cards all the time. I couldn’t be happier for our team and what we’ve accomplished so far. We still have one more.

TONY BENNETT: Same thing I said about the whitewater rafting trip, it’s fun. We still do a walkthrough. We do sometimes — guys will shoot, but we do our stuff, but then it’s just to come together and have some fun. We’ve done a bunch of different things and just enjoy that time and get ready to play. I think there has to be a balance to it. Just have a good time with it.

Q. This is for Tony. The players can answer a similar question. Tony, how has it helped you as a head coach to have been an NBA player? Guys, you could answer perhaps if he mentioned that much to you during the course of your conversations, Coach, and that sort of thing.
TONY BENNETT: I think every experience you have as a player is invaluable, and a lot of times I’ll rely on these guys, like, hey, what are you seeing out there? And I trust what they have to say because I trust their feel and their understanding of the game.

Sometimes in recruiting, you can say, hey, I’ve walked a path you guys want to go. I mean, I wasn’t — listen, I played about 15, 13 minutes a game. I was a backup point guard. I don’t pretend like I was this big-time player, but I was in the rotation, and I played. I think that helps guys say, hey, I had to work my way to get there. So I think maybe in some ways, recruiting-wise, it helps, and just things I learned from watching them. When you played against Michael Jordan 15 times in your career and get to play in the playoffs and go against the players, there’s just stuff you figure out.

Muggsy Bogues, I got asked that. What did you see in Kihei? I saw Muggsy Bogues live it out for three years, and that kind of stuff helps. I have good relationships with NBA people, so I can learn and get ideas from. I think maybe that stuff helps.

I hope I don’t talk about it too much in front of you guys because that wouldn’t be good.

KYLE GUY: I was just going to say he doesn’t really talk about himself at all. He’s just so humble and genuine. The only thing he really mentions about the NBA is, again, the Muggsy to Kihei comparison, and then anything he learned that could help the team. It’s never about him. That’s why he’s such a great leader.

Q. If you actually visualize yourselves cutting down the nets tomorrow night, what would that mean to you?
TY JEROME: I feel like you got to ask me that tomorrow night. It’s going to be — I mean, we know what we’re in for. We know how good Texas Tech is, so we know it’s going to be a dogfight. Coach always says, the joy is in the competition. So we’re mostly excited to go out there and compete. We’d love to cut down the nets. I can’t — I would probably be speechless if we’re able to do it. I’m sure it would mean the world to me. It’s what every kid hopes for and what we work so hard for, but like Coach said, the joy is in the competition.

KYLE GUY: Both teams have probably envisioned it. Every player and coach on every team has envisioned it, I’m sure, but I think it’s important to realize that you don’t get to skip the game and just go down and cut the nets. We’ve got to focus on what’s in front of us. We’ve got to practice today, a little bit more media, I think, and just focus on we’re in for a battle and we’re excited.

Q. For Ty and for Kyle, what’s the first NCAA Tournament final you guys remember watching growing up? And then has it hit you yet, or when did it hit you that you guys were going to be on that stage?
TY JEROME: I don’t remember exactly the order of all The Finals I’ve watched, but I vividly remember watching Mario Chalmers hitting that shot. I remember I was supposed to be asleep and my mom coming in my room and telling me to shut the TV off because it was a 9:00 game Eastern Time, and I was trying to stay up and watch it. Then the game went into overtime.

Being on this stage is incredible. It’s everything I dreamed of and more. Just being with this group of guys and this coaching staff makes it all that much better.

KYLE GUY: Yeah, I obviously listened to my parents more. I was asleep when Mario Chalmers hit the shot.

TONY BENNETT: I can’t believe you had a TV in your room. That’s what I’m thinking about.

KYLE GUY: I said to my stepdad, if it’s close, wake me up. He woke me up, and we watched that together. But then probably 2007 or 2008 with (Greg) Oden and (Michael) Conley. Obviously they grew up close to me, so I was rooting for them. They fell short, but those are probably two memories I remember the most.

Q. Just reflecting on what Kyle did last night, what were the most pressurized free throws you ever took as a player, either at Green Bay or in the NBA or high school?
TONY BENNETT: There’s been a bunch of them, but I’ve got kind of a funny story. I got fouled, and we were maybe down two. This was at Green Bay when I played there. We were down one or down two. I went to the line, and for some reason, before I went to the line, I just looked back over my shoulder because I knew where my mom sat.

And when I looked at my mom, she was like this. She had her hands in her face. I was like, oh, great. And I remember making them, and I gave her the business ever since from that, like, thanks, Mom, you’re supposed to believe in your son, but she wasn’t looking. I hope your mom wasn’t doing that, and you didn’t look at her.

THE MODERATOR: We’d like to thank Coach Bennett, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome for joining us here in the main interview room.


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.


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Team of Destiny: Inside UVA Basketball's improbable run

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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