Oct. 21, 2010

By Jeff White

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The arena that for three NBA seasons was his home court no longer exists, and that’s a little disconcerting to Tony Bennett.

UVa’s coach doesn’t make it back to the Queen City much, but Bennett was there Tuesday night and most of Wednesday for ACC Operation Basketball.

He stayed at a hotel not far from where the Charlotte Coliseum stood.

“We got limo rides from the ESPNU [studios in Charlotte] to here,” Bennett told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “When we got out of the limo, I asked Coach K, ‘Where is the old Charlotte Coliseum? Or where was it?’ ”

Alas, the Coliseum was demolished in June 2007, five years after the Hornets bolted for New Orleans, in part because the arena lacked the luxury suites now considered essential by NBA teams.

Bennett, a point guard who starred for his father, Dick, at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, played for Charlotte in 1992-93, ’93-94 and ’94-95. His teammates included Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson.

“This was the best for three years,” Bennett recalled. “We led the league in attendance, we made it to the playoffs two out of the three years … It was a special time in the Charlotte Hornets’ franchise history.”

Charlotte is where Bennett met his wife, Laurel. She’s from Baton Rouge, La., but she was an assistant youth pastor at a church in Charlotte when Bennett accepted an invitation to speak there in 1993.

When he saw Laurel, Bennett told reporters years later, he thought, “Now I know why the good Lord brought me here.”

Charlotte also was the city, Bennett noted Wednesday, where he had “the chance to live out a boyhood dream” by playing in the NBA.

“It’s a terrific place,” he said. “It makes me feel old. I thought the arena was new when I played in it, and now they imploded it, and it’s gone. That doesn’t seem right.”

The Hornets had a run of 364 straight sellouts at the Coliseum, which also hosted the NCAA tournament’s Final Four in 1994.

“Good memories, for sure,” Bennett said.

He’s not the only member of the UVa program with a connection to the city. The Cavaliers’ freshmen include Akil Mitchell, a 6-8 forward who played at Charlotte Christian School.

Jeff White

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