Tony Bennett Press Conference Transcript - Oct. 6, 2011
QUESTION: A lot of the preseason, they’re pointing to an upward trend for you guys. As of yet, you haven’t done that. How do you manage those expectations with the players? How do you kind of balance that?
COACH BENNETT: I think that’s the case every year. But we do have more experience coming back. I think, starting my third year, this is, since I’ve been here, our best chance to take that next step.
I’m sure you’ll ask me about our goals, of course. Our goal every year is to make an NCAA Tournament and get into postseason play. So I think, out of my years here, we have our best chance to do that. There’s so many variables that come into it. With the experience returning, with even the younger guys that played last year, I think we’re in a better position to be improved. I think we improved from our first to our second year, and now I expect to be better this year.
Obviously, guys have to stay healthy. It’s easier said than done, but we’ve improved in the off season, and there’s a lot of experience there. So I don’t get too hung up in the early season projections, but I want our guys I don’t know if embrace is the right word but not shy away from those and expect to be a better team. We’re going to have to do it on a daily basis with our practices.
QUESTION: What’s your schedule in the days ahead? When will you start and what kind of limitations do you have this time of year?
COACH BENNETT: September 15th to October 15th, the NCAA, I don’t know how many years it’s been, but they allow you to work with your team for two hours a week. So we have roughly an hour left this week. And then there’s fall break here, where the guys will go on their break before we start official practice.
We’ll use up our hour today, and then the guys will go on fall break. Then we’ll have a two hour session, team session on I think we’ll go Wednesday, when they return, be off Thursday, and then Friday is the official start where you can go the 20 hours a week and work with them six out of seven days. In essence, you’ve been getting glimpses and working with things. It’s a natural progression. It’s not just cold turkey where it used to be in the past, okay, we start on the 15th, and we’re starting so basic.
So I think we’ll be a little further along. But that’s the schedule up to this point. And then before that, from school starting until September 15th, we were doing individual workouts with four guys at a time. So we did that two team workouts from September 15th till now, and then we do one 20, 25 minute individual workout.
Guys are playing pickup ball, lifting, working out on their own, but the structured time we have with them is broken into the two team and one individual workout. It goes fast. Two hours a week, you really can’t accomplish a ton of stuff, but it’s better than what it was.
QUESTION: Other than sheer physical talent, what’s the most important thing your players can have?
COACH BENNETT: I think for our guys the confidence that they’ve been there, they’ve been competitive. The next step for us, again, will be to we talk about finishing strong. We started playing some better basketball at the end of the year. We really did. I think we were stretched without Mike [Scott] early in the year and had to figure out ways to be in games without a lot of scoring in and around the lane.
I think the guys that benefited the most were the Assane’s [Sene] and the Akil’s [Mitchell] and even some of our perimeter guys. I think the guys should have some confidence from the experience in the game that they were competitive and successful at times and certainly the areas where we fell short where we didn’t finish games or struggled down the stretch, the ability to address those.
We really tried to have a productive off season, as most teams would, but use that as motivation going into this year knowing that we’ll have a little more depth. So I think that, besides the physical talent, adding as always the player experience.
I think you make your biggest jumps from first year to second year and second year to third. I think those are the two biggest gains in your game. And then going into your last year probably as a player, I think it’s a little more there’s subtle changes. A little more of a mental maturity than the physical. I think those will give our guys a little more advantage.
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 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.
The first challenge, we haven’t done that yet. I think we’re in a better position to do that, and our guys shouldn’t shy away from that. Just need to expect to be an improved team by paying the price leading up to it.
QUESTION: A million times last year where those of us who don’t know that much about basketball, we just look and see, if Mike [Scott] was out there, whether it’s inside scoring or open shots on the perimeter, how much his return would make everything seem easier. If you could just talk about having him back and all those guys, kind of having to soldier on without him. How much of a difference it makes for you.
COACH BENNETT: Well, it’s better. I don’t want to keep on these things, okay, we’re perfect. If you recall, I think Washington beat us pretty bad, and we lost some games early on when Mike was in the lineup. There’s no question he was playing some good basketball before he got hurt, and his last two games of health were Minnesota and at Virginia Tech, though he did play in the Seattle game and we had trouble.
What I think it will benefit who I think it will benefit the most are some of the guys who can score. He’ll draw attention, whether he’s scoring or not. You’re going to have to account for him on the offensive end, and then his play on the glass and his ability to shoot free throws, to get to the line, draw fouls, shoot free throws, those are important aspects.
You’re going to see he’s lost some weight in a good way. He’s leaner and more mobile this year. That was one of the challenges I presented him with. Okay, can you become more active and mobile in this off season? And he’s trimmed down, as KT has as well. Those are two guys that I think you’ll notice it. He’s moving better. So I want him to have a bigger impact in all areas this year.
Because he’ll be a marked man, but I think that’s going to help the Joe’s[Harris], the Sammy’s [Zeglinski], the KT’s [Harrell] and those guys and all the other guys that play alongside him.
I think I should probably say he has the ability to create his own shot, not all the time, but you need that in games. Sometimes you have to have guys who can create space, get their shot off. I think Mike has shown that in different stretches, whether he shoots his little patented fadeaway or gets to the line, he can create his own offense in his way. It’s helpful. That’s real big.
QUESTION: Tony, you led the ACC in three point shooting last season, I think only 11th in overall shooting. How much of a function of that was not having Mike’s inside presence, or were there other issues?
COACH BENNETT: I think that has a lot to do with it. We tried not to be one dimensional. We talked about we don’t have someone to feed the meter and go inside. We’ve got to try to get to the paint by drives and 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 your outside shot wasn’t going down last year, it was hard to generate or manufacture points.
I think we’ll have someone who’s healthy can help improve the other guys. We’ll have a few more weapons that way. It’s always about can you get the good shots? Even if you’re getting good shots and your percentages aren’t there, I look more at the quality of the shots. I’d like to have a little more inside outside attack.
QUESTION: What was your assessment of the quality of shots?
COACH BENNETT: For the most part pretty good. As I mentioned, we 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 move the offense and get looks, but there are times you have to 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. 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] had 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 looks like he’s improved. I think they’ve all improved. We’re sitting here in practice and everything’s good and you’re real positive. But guys have physically improved and gone a long way in their strength and efficiency. In watching Jontel, is he a great shooter? No. But he’s taken steps to become more consistent. He’s worked on finishing, 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. 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, Joe Harris’ role was most impacted by Mike 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 that he couldn’t?
COACH BENNETT: I think when Will [Sherrill] came back, we slid Joe more to his natural spot. We played small, and Joe it’s not to say we’d never do that again this year. At times we ran pretty hard and gave offensive mismatches that helped us, were advantages to us. Joe, we can play a little more traditional, whether it’s 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 go 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 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 in the problem?
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 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. 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: Coach, you mentioned that Mike Scott slimmed down. Can you talk a little about Assane physically and bulking up. Where he is physically?
COACH BENNETT: He’s gotten stronger. You know, I don’t know how much with him, I’m not sure pounds, how much weight. He’s put on some weight. But coordination wise and in the weight room with coach Curtis, he’s moving more weight around. A little more control with his body and his balance and things like that. We have a unique strength coach. He’s phenomenal. If you watch our guys train, it’s a little unconventional, but it’s so effective.
He gets our guys in a lot of specific, like sports specific or functional strength, and I think Assane has improved in those areas a lot and especially his pure strength. His weight has gone up a little bit. He hasn’t made a big jump. Probably James Johnson has made the biggest jump weight wise. Akil told me today he was 235. When we visited, I was surprised. He doesn’t look that, but they’ve all gotten stronger.
Joe and James have probably put on the most mass that you’d see. Assane, again, he’s older now, so it’s maybe a little more fine tuning. But definitely stronger like numbers wise and the specific things we’re doing, which will definitely help him.
QUESTION: Last year on media day a lot of guys were talking about James and what he was going to bring, and obviously we didn’t get to see that. Could you kind of give us a preview of what we’ll see out of him?
COACH BENNETT: James is physically talented. I talk about James and Akil and Darion I’ll talk about James specifically. But those guys whatever we can get this year is going to be, at least at the present time, gravy. Think in two year increments. When Assane and Mike depart the program, there’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for guys like James. They’ve got to keep developing, almost point to that, and this year give us as much as we can with James.
Because he didn’t play last year, and just like with Mike, there’s a little rust there with the feel. Once James gets used to the pace, the speed of the game, getting comfortable with all those things, you’ll see some ability. He’s athletic. He’s strong. He can step out and shoot. He’s just got to get comfortable at the pace of the game and in game experiences.
At times you’ll see James, and you’ll say, wow, he’s really coming at times. He’s not comfortable yet. I think that’s normal. He also didn’t play a year in high school so he’s kind of a baby or an infant in his game experience. I think that, once he catches up to that, he’s got the physical tools and the desire. He’s a tough, tough young man. He’ll go he’ll get real physical with our guys.
I’m hopeful for him. But I like to look at two year increments because I just want him to keep developing. It will be a little bit of unknown with him when the games and all that start. But I’m hopeful, and he’s worked real hard to improve his body and make the most of his redshirt year.
QUESTION: You mentioned the NCAA Tournament being a perennial goal. You’ve been around teams that have achieved that goal. Besides raw talent, what were the common threads, if any, among those teams, and do you sense that with this team?
COACH BENNETT: The first one of every one of those scenarios was experience, you had upper classmen, guys that had been through the ropes and really had gone through some hard times. We got that one covered. We can check that box off, I’m pretty sure. But guys that have really been through it and struggled.
So they had some upperclassmen and guys that have played a lot of game experience. So I think that was the first and most important thing. And then there was some every team has a burning desire and a passion, but it’s just different. There’s a the catchy term is a culture change, or change in the culture. But it’s just you sense it in they’re more professional or more businesslike when you walk in the gym. And before practice, and you see them working on their game 15 minutes before we’re to start practice. They’re not sitting on the side shooting shots from the chair or seeing if the Gatorade is sweet this day. They’re working.
And you just see a purpose and, I guess, a mindset that just kind of sets it apart from past years. I think we’re closer to that. I think we have the experience, and I think there’s a desperate desire to really want to improve. And I think they feel that. The guys feel there’s a better chance this is our best chance since we’ve been here for a lot of reasons.
Does that guarantee it? No, it never has. Then there’s got to be that ability to have some breakthrough moments in the season, whether it’s overcoming something or having a couple big wins or something goes your way that whether it’s by good fortune or you will it to happen, and it just happens. I think we have a nice schedule in terms of the challenging schedule. It’s all there to hopefully improve.
I just want our guys to fall in love with the process. You guys have heard me say that. I think that’s what you have to do. We know what our goal is. We know we have a better chance at it, but if you get so squeeze it so tight, you’ve got to hold that thing with open hands but realize you can you don’t have to fear that goal. You’ve got to go after that and make it happen.
So the experience and then the will and kind of that I like to use the word businesslike approach or professionalism is there.
QUESTION: Of your Virginia teams, this is the one best positioned to take that step. Does that cause you to be tougher on the guys or hold them more accountable than you would have been in a season that you didn’t think it was as close?
COACH BENNETT: That’s always your goal. We push our guys pretty hard. We try to demand certain things. We’re making little adjustments this year, things we’ve learned from guys. But certainly you read that situation. We’re going to drive them hard.
And more important than that, if they want to if we want to reach the goal, if they’re serious about it, they’ll drive themselves harder. They’ll go to another level. How will they handle there’s going to be those moments where you face failure. You’re going to have some adversity. How do we handle it then?
You’re not going to go through a year where it’s smooth sailing, we’re better this year. We don’t have to worry. We’ll have those moments. I’ll be looking at you going whew. But will we get back up and respond? Do we have enough of that? Do we learn from some of our losses last year? Did that motivate us when we were playing good ball and then we lost to Miami.
Do we run away from that and say, okay, we’ve got some areas we need to improve. Do we address those? Do we improve? When we come across those in the season and hit a rough patch, how do we respond? Do we have enough in the room as coaches and as a team to say we can overcome? That will be the test. But I think they’ll have to yeah, I’ll push them hard, and I’ll try to push them harder every year and dangle to the point where you feel like maybe they’re going to break, and then you pull back.
QUESTION: Just your take on the ARC rule. Clearly it’s something to prevent players from getting injured and stuff like that. I’m wondering if you were concerned it might inhibit some of your guys’ playing style at all, the way they play, or if you wonder about consistency and that kind of thing.
COACH BENNETT: I like it. It’s a foot less than the NBA. That was a pet peeve of mine as a player. You’d break your guy down and get in there, and those big boys would stand right underneath the hoop, and they’d call a charge on you. That used to light me up. You’ve got to protect the offensive guy. Too many charges, I think, are taken out of position. They call that too much, or guys flop.
This gives you it’s not going to be the perfect it won’t solve everything, but I think it’s a little more black and white. Were his heels on the line? Was he set? I think it will help the officials. That’s too much of a judgment call, and that takes that out of their hands. So I like it.
It really helped us in Maui when we were there. It was there in Maui as an experimental rule. I think as the season goes, they’ll clarify. I wouldn’t even mind how they do it in the NBA, the 4 foot, but for us hopefully the ball doesn’t get there as much and it won’t be as big a deal. Hopefully, it will help for the officials.
QUESTION: You have a situation where you have three players who played 600 minutes or more and shot under 60 percent at the line. What can you do during the off season? What can you do right now to really improve a guy’s free throw shooting that much?
COACH BENNETT: There are those stats of how many games are won and lost with free throws late in games. We’ve shot more free throws in the off season and kind of said you’re going to earn your confidence and your kind of comfort level at the line in the off season by working on your shot or the time you spend on the court.
So we shot a lot last year but even more so, kind of made that a challenge. But then putting ourselves in those situations in practice, trying to put them in you’ve got to run a few minutes, put time and score on the clock, and then when you get there, there’s a point where you’ve just got to step up and have success and keep trying to get there and get to the right getting the ball in the right hands.
That’s a hard one for us, when I look at that statistic. That hurts. Because it’s hard to be successful. As many close games as you’re going to be in, if you’re going to be competitive in this league and be successful, they’re going to come down to one or two possession games. To leave them on the table by three putting to use the golf terminology, giving one away, you can’t do that.
I think we’ve shot more, and I’ve got to keep trying to be creative. I’m always checking with other coaches, what do you do to put them in pressure? Anybody who’s played, you know you can shoot them in practice, shoot them on your own, and then you get in the game and there’s a just with some guys, most guys, there’s just a different feel that comes over you. And you’ve got to be able to handle that and not be an aimer like in baseball.
Instead of trying to throw it, you’ve got to be able to trust your stroke, trust your routine, and then let it go. Somehow we’ve got to get ourselves to where we’re more efficient, and getting in those spots is the key. My hope is that the guys that shot that will be that much better this year.
QUESTION: How’s Sammy?
COACH BENNETT: Good. This is his first I don’t know if it’s his first, but the two guys I met with today were Akil and Sammy, and I asked that question. How are you feeling? He said, coach, this is for me, the healthiest I’ve been, as far as having a summer really a spring, a summer, and now a fall where I haven’t had to either have a surgery or an injury that has set me back.
So I’m happy for him because he’s endured a lot, whether it’s an ankle surgery, knee surgery, hip surgery, in his college career. That’s a lot. And, again, I think now having some more time under Coach Curtis has helped him. I’m hoping like heck that he’s healthy this year and can enjoy a senior year of health and be able to play at his full potential and really get after it because that’s frustrating when you can’t.
QUESTION: Coach, you mentioned that any production you got from James Johnson would be kind of gravy this year. What about your incoming true freshmen? How much impact are you hoping or expecting from them? Especially Malcolm Brogdon.
COACH BENNETT: I don’t want to maybe when I say gravy, one of those guys can step up, but I don’t want to put too many expectations. It’s too uncertain with freshmen. You just can’t determine how they’re going to perform when they’re playing to know what you’re going to get.
They all have something to offer. Malcolm is the most physically of the true freshmen ready to compete. He’s very physical. Unusually physical for a freshman. You know, in some of our preseason workouts, he’s played some point guard for us or just some kind of combo guard. So he’ll have a chance because of his physicality.
And Darion is interesting. He’s one of the quicker jumpers you’re going to see. He’s real bouncy, real athletic. And, again, like an Assane and an Akil, I think he understands how he’s going to help this team early on in his career. We’ll see how quickly he can adapt to the game and the pace of it. Paul in the individual stuff struggled a little bit with the quickness and the strength. But now that we’ve been doing more team stuff, his natural feel, his ability to shoot, and his understanding has really shown. There’s some highlights there.
He’s going to have to defensively all of them have adjustments to make. That’s part of it with the incoming guys. They all have a chance, but from a physical standpoint, Malcolm, I would say, would be the most ready. That is a big part of it for freshmen.
QUESTION: From what you’ve seen of Malcolm in the little time you’ve spent with him over the last month or so, what do you think?
COACH BENNETT: Good feel. Real good feel. Certainly with his physicality, when he gets to the lane, he’s a good decision maker and really can get to the lane. If he has an angle on a player in our workouts, he finds a way of getting there and has a knack of finishing and just finding the right people.
His hands are real big, and I think that helps him control the ball and make good decisions.
QUESTION: Coach, you mentioned Miami. Kind of a tough meltdown for your players. Is everybody over that?
COACH BENNETT: No, we use that with our guys. That’s got to be fuel for you in the off season. Whenever you’re tired or don’t feel like working that much harder or shooting extra free throws, just replay that one in your mind. If that doesn’t motivate you, we say try to be thankful for what you learn in adversity, and if that doesn’t motivate you, then you’re in the wrong program or wrong sport or wrong place.
So from that standpoint, it is what it is. Yeah, that was a tough loss and all that, but let’s use it for the positive and use it for that fuel for the off season. Like I said, the way our guys have worked and the way they look coming back, I think that helped.
But only they can answer that as far as how they are.
QUESTION: How much do you think I hate to make this all about Mike. How much has Akil benefited from going against him, watching him work offensively, and maybe Assane? How much more might that open things up for the other guys?
COACH BENNETT: It will certainly for the guards and those guys too going against him. Good competition brings it out. When they’re playing their one-on-one or two-on-two stuff, it’s just better. Certainly whether they, at times, try to double team him, and those guys can either get to the open spots for shots or get more offensive rebounds because they’ll bring some people at him. I think that will benefit both of those guys or James or whoever it is. That will be important.
So I thought that helped. When Will and Mike were in there together, that was an interesting duo because we could stretch it, and you could just see the difference when he wasn’t. So for those other the other forward or center or whoever it is, I think it will help them a lot. Certainly for the guards.
QUESTION: Was the Green Bay game your idea?
COACH BENNETT: We have a contract that we play them. They’re here twice, and we go there once. You’re always looking for quality opponents, quality games. Yeah, quite honestly, since I’ve been a head coach, they’ve been after me to play a lot. I said this is a situation where we’re going to they’re going to be solid, and then going back there, it will be an interesting experience down the road.
I don’t know how I’ll be received. I’m not sure yet. But I thought good for Green Bay but good for us to be able to get a two for ones are hard to get now. I had a little leverage. With family being back there. And also the other thing too is we always look and say we got guys on our roster. Can we get them near their home? Not that it’s ideal that you can always do that, but it’s one of those where for Paul at that point his family would be able to see him.
We’re going to get a tour of the Hall of Fame and Lambeau field when we go. I’ll promise you that.
QUESTION: Pete [Gillen] and Dave [Leitao] lost assistants early in their tenure here. You’ve been able to keep the staff going into a third year. How big of a deal do you think that is having that continuity particularly when you’re out recruiting?
COACH BENNETT: No, that is important, the continuity. I think we’re all committed. Let’s get this thing established. I want those guys to have desires. Certainly Ritchie for 14 years has been a head coach. I’m sure, if he wants, he’ll have other opportunities. And I want certainly Ron and Jason, I’m sure they desire at some point to do it, but I think that we’re all committed to let’s get this in a great spot, and if those opportunities present themselves, if it’s right, I would encourage them.
There’s nothing wrong with being a longtime assistant. I’m telling you, I enjoyed my years as an assistant, and hopefully, if we can get this thing clicking like I’m hopeful, it will be fun. So it’s a good place. They’re treated well by everybody.
QUESTION: You mentioned that Joe Harris gained some strength and some size. Last year you kind of felt that shooters all showed a few things as far as moving toward the basket. Is there more diversity to his game?
COACH BENNETT: With each guy at the end of the year we took video clips, and we wrote down, these are the areas you have to address to be more complete and be better. We’d show them kind of their deficiencies. I know you’ve got to have four positives to every negative, all that stuff. But this is where we said, no, no, no, here we are right here. Look at your deficiencies.
Every week you’re at home, you take out that card and say, am I working on these? Am I getting better? Every couple of weeks, watch that DVD and watch your shot getting swatted against Florida State when you go to the rim because you didn’t have a left hand or shoved it in his armpit because you couldn’t do what you really needed to do and really challenged them.
One of the things with Joe is add that diversity. Look, you set your game up with that outside shot because it’s a weapon. But he’s actually got some quickness that he’s not just your typical spot up shooter or zone buster. He can get by you. He’s worked that attack. I’ll always ask him, are you getting to the rim? Are you getting to the lane? Whether you’re creating for yourself or others.
He’s getting there. I think he’s very natural with his ability to get that shot. Whether it’s one dribble and pull and step back or getting in there, he’s really addressed that. It will be better. I still won’t say he’s going to break a guy’s ankles and be able to go down low, but I think he’s more explosive and able to absorb. When he gets maybe a little step on a guy, he can absorb a bump and then play off that.
So I hope because with a shot like his and a release as quick as it is, they have to press up on him, and it gives him the opportunities to get in the lane. You can’t live always outside like that.
QUESTION: Coach, you mentioned you’re excited about the Green Bay game, but is there an early game that first month or so of play that you feel is going to be a good litmus test for where your squad is at?
COACH BENNETT: We play two closed door scrimmages. We’re playing Vanderbilt, and we’re playing Baylor in the closed scrimmages. Vanderbilt is a top five, top three team in the country. Baylor is, depending on the poll, a top 20, top 15 team. In those settings, and you can sort of make those how you want. You can do it in one day. You can do situations, do it in the morning, come back in the afternoon and have a second scrimmage. So I think those will be we’ll practice against each other.
We’ve done it with Marquette the last two years I’ve been here. We did St. John’s and Marquette my first year. Last year was Marquette, and then we played an exhibition game. So this year I think those will be great measuring sticks, reality checks.
QUESTION: Where will they be?
COACH BENNETT: Vanderbilt is there, and Baylor’s here.
QUESTION: KT played pretty well against Miami, but the 10 games before that he had a stretch where he really struggled after playing so well early. If you talked to him at the end of the year, what did you talk about to make him better?
COACH BENNETT: I think it’s both. I think he did get fatigued and hit the wall, and I think some people figured out things that he had to address and become more complete. His was kind of like Mike, can you play a little lighter? Trim down so you’re more mobile a little quicker defensively and offensively. He might be under 200. He’s down about eight to ten pounds. He looks good. He’s moving better so you can see that and really attacking his ball handling.
KT gets to the elbow, and he’s got that pull up, which is such a weapon. He really worked on continuing to develop the strengths, but improving the ball handling and overall athleticism in terms of sliding and trying to get places on the court and work at that. I think that will help him because when people pressed up on him, maybe it was more of a confidence thing, but you had to be able to go places a little better with the ball, and he certainly worked on that with his mobility.
QUESTION: Coach, you mentioned last year you were in Maui. They’re certainly different fields, but how did your approach to the Virgin Islands tournament this year and your outlook for how that will help build the season. How does that compare this coming year to last year?
COACH BENNETT: We want to play well. You’re right. It’s probably not the same field as the Maui, but with Marquette, Ole Miss, we open up with TCU, Drexel or Norfolk State. So there’s some there’s good teams in it. But, yeah, you want to go in there. I don’t even know when that is on the schedule. If we play a couple games and then go there, but you want to play well.
Certainly you want to go in, and it would be tremendous to get a championship and win something. Maybe that’s one of the things where you could go to those tournaments and win one of those and have some big wins that are sort of a breakthrough.
You know, it was a big win as a player, whether it was in one of those tournaments. I remember we beat Purdue when I played at Green Bay in their own tournament. That was the one thing we pointed to. I think there’s a big win earlier in the year that really gets you going. Last year we thought with Minnesota and then the early road win at Virginia Tech, we thought those were some things that could catapult us in the right direction.
But that tournament, that could go in trying to win that thing. Of course, every team is going to have that hope. Got to be able to do it.
QUESTION: Any new thoughts on the ACC expansion? How does that whole thing hit you? Caught by surprise?
COACH BENNETT: I’m not in the know on all that stuff. What’s it going to be. They’re not calling me and consulting me if they want to add this team or that team. It was certainly a unique thing in college athletics with what was going on with the Pac 12 and the rumors with the Big 12.
I had to do a couple interviews on this before. To be completely honest, I feel two things. I feel the good part is this is going to be a great, great basketball league. There’s going to be more opportunities for more teams into the tournament. All that stuff will improve in terms of your RPI. With Syracuse winning a national title and Pitt, you’re talking about two of the best basketball programs. So there’s no denying that it will enhance the image of this league in a big way. Is there an advantage to recruiting in Pittsburgh and New York? I don’t know. Virginia has gotten some there. But this gives you a better chance in terms of knowing they’ll play in front of their home people.
Realistically, the other side too, these are two good teams coming in, and you’re going to have to fight like crazy to finish in the top half of this league and get yourself in position to go to the postseason. So excited about all the good things but knowing I’m not going to stick my head in the sand and say take it all as it comes. These are two great teams, and you’re going to have to improve to keep up. That’s the reality of it.
QUESTION: You’re really starting to load up the roster with a lot of talent, a lot of guys that can play. I was just curious. Do you have a sense in your mind what is the ideal number for your player rotation? For example, a short bench. Some guys like to play ten people. Do you have a preference in that regard?
COACH BENNETT: There will be more depth this year and more competition. I think it evolves as the season goes. I’ve always been a shorter rotation guy. Always have been. But if you could it’s hard to play more. I think ten might be the limit, nine or ten. If there’s a way you can do it. If guys are that competitive and give you that much more energy, maybe it’s shorter stints, I’m okay with that. I’ve never had the luxury of playing that. We’ve always had six, seven guys that we’ve had to ride them because those were our best players.
But as we’re recruiting quality depth, we may have to look at that. But you’ve got to have your best players. Whatever you’ve got to do to win, you do it. You can’t keep everybody happy. I know that. That’s why in the recruiting process I will not promise guys anything: minutes, starting spots, playing time. You get what you earn, and there’s going to be a process to be adhered to. If you’re good enough to play as a freshman, you play. If you’ve got to wait your turn, I hope you’ll be confident and faithful enough to wait and develop and really enjoy some things like there’s great cases of in our Jerome [Meyinsse] and guys that have waited their turn, even Mu as of last year, and Sherrill.
If you can get ten guys that can play and figure it out, absolutely, I’ll do it. But never had that luxury. Not sure if we’ll have it this year or not. It will be determined.