By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He’s now considered a branch of another coaching tree, having worked for Dick Bennett at Washington State and, since 2006, for Bennett’s son, Tony, at WSU and the University of Virginia.
Before he hooked up with the Bennetts, however, Ron Sanchez studied under Mike Davis at Indiana University. And that adds another storyline to UVa’s next men’s basketball game.
“He’s an amazing guy,” Davis said of Sanchez. “It’s going to be kind of strange playing against him on Wednesday night.”
Davis is in his fourth season as head coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, which visits John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday. The Cavaliers (6-4) host the 24th-ranked Blazers (11-1) at 7 p.m.
This won’t be the first time Sanchez and Davis have sat on opposing benches. Sanchez was a Washington State assistant on Nov. 10, 2006, when the Cougars, in Tony Bennett’s debut as a head coach, beat UAB 71-60 in a tournament at Milwaukee, Wis.
Bennett left WSU last spring to come to UVa, and Sanchez followed him east. UAB already was on the Wahoos’ 2009-10 schedule when the new staff arrived in Charlottesville.
“I have not talked to Mike about this game,” Sanchez, 36, said Monday. “It’s kind of hard to do. I’ve definitely talked to him, a couple of weeks ago, not about this game in particular, but just about things in general.”
Sanchez was associate head coach at SUNY Delhi, a junior-college program in New York, when he was introduced to Davis during the 2000-01 season. At the time, Sanchez was dating Tara Jones, an Indiana women’s basketball player who’s now his wife.
She asked Davis, the men’s coach at IU, if her boyfriend could come to Bloomington and observe a couple of practices, and “he was extremely welcoming to me,” Sanchez recalled.
“There was no plan for anything to happen for me at Indiana at the time I showed up. I did that a few more times after that, because he was pretty kind with his time, and we kind of hit it off from the beginning.”
Davis didn’t have an assistant’s slot open on his staff, but he offered Sanchez a position as a volunteer assistant. Basketball would not provide a paycheck for Sanchez at IU, but his academic expenses would be covered as he pursued a master’s degree in athletic administration/sports management.
And so he left his home state and moved to the Midwest in 2001. In Sanchez’s first season with the Hoosiers, they advanced to the NCAA title game.
Of his role on the team, Sanchez said, “I was never on the floor. I was more like a fly on the wall. I just observed. I did a lot of work in the mornings, a lot of film stuff. Just the grunt work, to be honest with you.
“At the time they didn’t have a video coordinator. They didn’t have positions like that. They pretty much had their staff, they had their trainer and then they had an administrative assistant, so there was room for anyone who wanted to come in and really work, to work. So that was pretty much what I did.”
Davis said: “A lot of times when young coaches come in, you gotta give them direction every day. But with Ron, I never had to worry about him. He just was one of those guys that came in there and worked his butt off and stayed out of the way, but yet still he was always a part of what everybody was doing.
“Not only did he help me, but he helped everyone in the building. After about, I guess, three or four months everybody in the building knew him as this great guy who would help everybody. And to me, it’s hard to find a person like that. It’s hard to find somebody that wants you to be successful and wants everything to be right for you more than himself. He’s a total team player.”
Sanchez, who earned his master’s in 2002, spent two seasons at Indiana. The IU women’s coach then was Kathi Bennett. In 2003, her father, Dick, came out of retirement to take over the moribund program at Washington State, and she recommended that he consider Sanchez for a position on his staff.
“I guess she maybe saw something in me and said, ‘Hey, maybe somebody can give this kid a chance. He’d be OK,'” Sanchez said. “I’m really thankful. She was pretty much my agent in that whole situation with Washington State and her father. I guess I was in right place at the right time.”
In Pullman, Wash., Sanchez served as the Cougars’ coordinator of basketball operations for three seasons.
“When I got the phone call from Dick Bennett with the job offer at Washington State, I was sitting with Mike in New Orleans at the Final Four,” Sanchez recalled, “and Mike’s words to me were, ‘If you ever have an opportunity to work for someone like that, you will benefit from it the rest of your college coaching career, so I really encourage you to go work for Dick Bennett.'”
Davis called the Bennetts a “great family” and said Sanchez made a wise move.
“He had a chance to work with a legend and be a part of that tree,” Davis said.
Sanchez hasn’t forgotten how Davis helped him break into major-college basketball or the lessons he learned from Davis and John Treloar, then the Hoosiers’ associate head coach.
“My relationship with Mike was phenomenal,” Sanchez said. “Mike treated me like I was part of that family from the beginning. I can’t say a single negative word about his kindness, about his approach, about his mentoring.
“Mike opened up, obviously, a tremendous door for me at a storied program like Indiana University. There’s nothing like walking into Assembly Hall and seeing those banners and knowing what was accomplished there.
“And not only that, for me to have an opportunity to experience a Final Four, and NCAA tournaments and things like that, was obviously incredibly important for me as a young coach. The preparation that goes into it and the work ethic that came with the Indiana program, and just being a part of that culture as a whole, has been a tremendous influence for me.”