RALEIGH - Two NCAA Tournament appearances in 12 years. That was UVa's reality before coach Tony Bennett came to Charlottesville. Since he took over he's led UVa to three straight 20-win seasons and now a number one seed in the Tournament.
Bennett, without a doubt, got the loudest ovation when he went to cut the final string after UVa won the ACC Tournament Sunday. "He built this program. He gets the final straw. He gets the final say. He's the one that we all came into believe in and he's taken care of us tremendously. We look at him as father figure. He's a great role model, a great person on and off the court, great guy," sophomore guard Justin Anderson said Sunday.
Bennett first took to the floor in November 2009. He got his first win over Longwood. A year later he watched the Miami meltdown in the ACC Tournament. The following year the Cavaliers made the NCAA Tournament but got blown out by Florida. "Being a newer coach I think the one thing that I gained from that more than anything is when you're going to go through the hard times which are inevitable, that's usually when you're not as willing to stick to your guns - we're going to do it this way. I know what I want. I know the vision. Usually when you hit the bumps in the road, that's when you say we got to make some wholesale changes. I got to change my philosophy. I got to change a lot of things and I think those experiences shape me as much as anything," Bennett said.
When he was trying to decide whether to take the UVa job he looked at Virginia's basketball history and realized it lacked consistency but he's dealt with rebuilding jobs before. "That experience is priceless to go through that and see if you stick with it, if you get the right guys, if you can get some maturity, no guarantee you're going to win championships but you can become competitive and then you can become successful. I watched it play out three separate occasions," Bennett explained Thursday in Raleigh.
This season's team is considered to be his best. "Having spent some time in the ACC I want to applaud Virginia because I know how tough it is to win a championship , for them to win two championships in a year, when it goes outside the state of North Carolina you've really done something but I applaud Tony and his team," Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis said.