Q&A With Tony Bennett
Virginia men’s head basketball coach Tony Bennett sat down recently with media representatives during the Cavaliers’ Preseason Media Day event. Following are Coach Bennett’s answers to several of the questions he received.
Question: Virginia led the ACC in three point shooting last season, but I think was only 11th in overall shooting. How much of a function of that was not having Mike Scott’s inside presence, or were there other issues?
Coach Bennett: I think that had a lot to do with it. We tried not to be one dimensional. I talked a lot about okay we don’t have someone to feed the meter and go inside. We’ve got to try to get to the paint by drives or other ways in our offense, but our strength was our ability to shoot outside and score from our perimeter. We really tried to do that, and we didn’t throw the ball inside as much.
So just closer shots, higher percentages, I think those go hand in hand. I think Mike will be able to do that, draw the fouls and things that I hope will help us shoot at a higher percent and get some of those easier baskets. It’s hard because if our outside shot wasn’t going down last year, it was hard to generate or manufacture points.
I think again assuming he’s healthy and the improvement of other guys, we’ll have a few more weapons that way. It’s always about can you get good shots? I always look at the quality of shots and sometimes even if you’re getting good shots and your percentages aren’t there, I look more at the quality of the shots. But I’d like to have a little more inside outside attack.
Question: What was your assessment of the quality of shots last season?
Coach Bennett: For the most part pretty good. As I mentioned, we probably didn’t have a guy who could go get his own. Mu [Farrakhan] could do that at times. I can remember from a long time ago, even from when I played, you can run the best offense, you can move the ball, you can get looks, but there are times when you have to just go get your own and create a shot or create a shot for someone else. That’s really important to have that. When you don’t, you’re going to come against it because that happens a lot in games late in shot clocks, end of the games when the defenses really tighten up. It’s just someone who can get to the lane and make a play. That’s where it affected us the most.
Question: Jontel [Evans] made a nice jump from year one to year two. Do you think he’s capable of similar improvements from year two to year three?
Coach Bennett: It appears he’s improved. It seems like they’ve all improved. We’re sitting here before practice and everything’s good and you’re real positive. But guys have physically improved and I think they’ve gone to work in a big way on their strengths and their deficiencies. In watching Jontel, is he a great shooter? No. But I think he’s taken a step to become more consistent. He’s worked on his finishing and trying to play a little more under control.
Until we get in real games and see how it plays out, you can only project that. But it looks like he’s made a nice improvement. When they play their pickup ball, which is different, but the guys will say, Jontel’s made a real nice improvement in his game.
Question: Of all the players, it seemed like Joe Harris’ role was most impacted by Mike Scott being injured last year. How will Mike’s return impact Joe’s role for this season, and what will it free him up to do a little more of that he couldn’t last season?
Coach Bennett: I think even when Will [Sherrill] came back we slid Joe a little more to his natural spot. But we also discovered some things. At times we played small and Joe, it’s not to say we’d never do that again this year, at times he rebounded pretty hard and he gave us some offensive mismatches that helped us, were advantages to us. But Joe, we can play a little more traditional, whether it’s with Assane and Mike or any of the other guys. And then I think Joe is a little more of a natural perimeter player that can certainly be most effective there.
But he has some opportunities, when we’ve gone small, he’s shown he can rebound and get some baskets that way too. He’s a mismatch problem.
Question: It seemed like midway through the season Assane Sene became a totally different player last year. Is he where he was at the end of the season? Do you see his hands as not being an issue any more?
Coach Bennett: I think so. He worked at it. He got better. He got confidence, as we talked about, because he had some success. He seems to be improved. Again, at times he’ll drop a pass or do some things, but I think he’s picked up where he left off.
He understands and really embraces who he is and how he’s got to help our team. He’s figured that out and that’s made an impact. And in the process, like I said, he’s improved his hands. He’s improved his finishing and slowly gotten better. He worked hard on his touch and certainly some more moves and all that, but I do think he looks like he’s in a good spot.
The competition, the intensity can’t be the same. We can’t mimic that. But the stuff we’ve done, we’ve been impressed. Again from the summer ball, according to our guys, they’re all so positive. They say he looks real good. That’s positive. He really wants to have a good year.
Those seniors, they really want to take the next step this year. You can see it in how they’re working and listen to what they say.
Question: Would you equate confidence with mental toughness?
Coach Bennett: To an extent. I think also success. You gain it through having success at something. Whether you step to the free throw line or you come through in a tough situation. I think that builds confidence. Certainly confidence is also the ability to fall flat on your face and say I’m going to be confident enough to get up and take this shot again and play with a certain type of mindset in the midst of not being able to do it. That will be the challenge.
We’re projected to finish a little higher, but we haven’t done that yet. I think again we’re in a better position to do that and our guys shouldn’t shy away from that. Just expect to be an improved team by paying the price leading up to it.