By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Tony Bennett is an even-keeled sort not given to excessive praise, so his comments about Mike Curtis are worth noting.

“He’s the best,” Bennett said last week during UVa’s media day at John Paul Jones Arena.

“I feel fortunate to have him. I really do.”

Curtis, 34, is in his second year as strength-and-conditioning coach for Bennett’s basketball team. He played college hoops — at UVa — and later spent six seasons as the head strength-and-conditioning coach for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, where he worked with such players as Pau Gasol, still a good friend.

“I think that’s a huge recruiting advantage for us,” Bennett said, having somebody “who’s been in the NBA for six years and who’s played basketball … When he meets with players and parents, he’s terrific. So I’m grateful that we have him.”

Curtis, who came to UVa as a walk-on in 1994, played for Jeff Jones in college. Curtis has two degrees from the University — a bachelor’s in sports medicine and a master’s in exercise physiology — and is determined to help its men’s basketball program move back into the ACC’s upper division.

“The people here probably get an enhanced side of me,” Curtis told recently, “because I’m so passionate about orange and blue.”

Curtis isn’t particularly concerned about how much weight his players can bench-press or squat. He’s focused on improving flexibility, athleticism and functional strength, tools that will help players on the court.

“He’s always studying the newest stuff, and he’s very sound in his approach,” Bennett said. “He has a big picture in mind.

“He looks at [players] in a two-, three-year block in how he builds them … If you came and watched one of our workouts, it’s unique, but it makes sense how he does it with the places he puts them in.”

Curtis, who grew up in Chesterfield County and graduated from Manchester High School, worked at the University of Dayton and then the University of South Carolina before taking the job with the Grizzlies.

He left the NBA in 2008 to become director of strength and conditioning for University of Michigan athletics. Curtis liked it in Ann Arbor, but he couldn’t ignore the call of his alma mater, or the opportunity to be closer to his parents.

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