Catching Up With Tony Bennett
May 16, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The second session of summer school at UVa begins June 10, and London Perrantes and Devon Hall will be among the students taking classes. That same week, the freshman guards will join the returning players on the Virginia men’s basketball team to begin preparations for the 2013-14 season.
The NCAA allows each Division I team to practice two hours per week, under its coaching staff’s supervision, when summer school is in session. Players can also train six hours per week with the team’s strength-and-conditioning coach, who in the Cavaliers’ case is Mike Curtis.
Two of UVa’s top players — senior swingman Joe Harris and sophomore center Mike Tobey — are enrolled in the second session of summer school, but they’ll miss some of the team’s workouts. That’s fine with head coach Tony Bennett, who’ll miss some too.
Harris, who made the All-ACC first team in 2012-13, has been invited to try out for USA Basketball’s World University Games team.
Tobey will try out for USA Basketball’s under-19 national team, whose assistant coaches are Bennett and VCU’s Shaka Smart. Florida’s Billy Donovan is the team’s head coach.
The teams will be selected during training camps at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 14-19 for the U19 squad and June 24 to July 1 for the World University Games team.
FIBA’s U19 World Championships will be held June 27 to July 7 in Prague, in the Czech Republic. The World University Games are July 5-17 in Kazan, Russia.
Should Harris and Tobey be selected, Bennett acknowledged, it would “mess a little bit with their summer school. But to play for this organization, it’s worth it. They’ve showed that they’re some of the better kids in their age groups. And if they don’t make it, they can get back and just resume school.”
The University’s third session of summer school starts July 8 and ends Aug. 3.
For Bennett, this will be his fourth experience with USA Basketball. In 1989, as a Wisconsin-Green Bay standout, he played for the North team at the U.S. Olympic Festival. Two years later, he played for the U.S. team that won the bronze medal in the Pan American Games in Cuba. In 2011, he spent three days in Colorado Springs as one of the court coaches — along with Smart and Arizona’s Sean Miller — who helped select the members of the World University Games team.
Moreover, four of the players Bennett coached at Washington State — Klay Thompson, DeAngelo Casto, Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver — played on USA Basketball teams.
Bennett, a strong supporter of USA Basketball, believes UVa’s program should benefit from his and his players’ association with the organization this summer.
“Absolutely it’s good,” Bennett said, “because USA Basketball is a great opportunity for those guys to get exposure and play.”
USA Basketball has not announced which players have accepted invitations to try out for the U19 team, but the group could include such incoming freshmen as Julius Randle (Kentucky) and Jabari Parker (Duke) and such current college standouts as Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes, Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon and Wake Forest’s Devin Thomas.
In the U19 training camp, Tobey is “going to see some studs,” Bennett said, “some big, physical guys.”
In Bennett’s absence, associate head coach Ritchie McKay and assistant coaches Jason Williford and Ron Sanchez will oversee the team’s workouts in Charlottesville. When Bennett returns from the Czech Republic in July, he won’t be home for long. The first evaluation period of the summer recruiting calendar begins July 10.
“It’ll be busy,” Bennett said. “It’s going to be a long June and July, but it’s just too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
STATUS QUO: Bennett is heading into his fifth year at UVa, where is record is 76-53. McKay, Sanchez and Williford have been on his staff each season.
Williford, a former Virginia player, was a finalist early this month for the head job at American University, where he had been an assistant under Jeff Jones, who’s now at ODU. American ended up hiring Georgetown assistant Mike Brennan.
“My thought is, their loss is our gain,” Bennett said. “I think Jason is going to make a very good head coach. I told Jason, `It just means there’s something better in store for you.’ I really believe that. Obviously, they had a fine candidate that they hired, and he and Jason were great options.
“I wish Jason would have gotten that chance. But selfishly, for us, it’s great, because there is continuity, and Jason’s just very good.”
McKay is a former head coach — at Portland State, Colorado State, Oregon State, New Mexico and, most recently, Liberty — with a career record of 204-186 in those 13 seasons. McKay will run his own program again one day, Bennett said, and Williford and Sanchez have head jobs in their futures, too.
Sanchez recently participated in the Villa 7, a Nike-sponsored program that introduces well-regarded young assistant coaches to college athletic directors.For now, Bennett is thrilled to have his staff intact for at least another year. In each of the past four seasons, the Wahoos have won more than they did the previous year, and high school players are taking note.
“We’ve showed our momentum,” Bennett said. “I think we feel like we’re going in the right direction, and if we can continue to stack good year upon good year, I think it catches the attention of the young guys.
“Jason’s worked hard, and Ron has worked hard, to build those relationships and work with kids and coaches – same with Ritchie – and so to have Jason back, that’s all positive. It works both ways. I’m always thankful when the staff stays together, but I never want to hinder their opportunities, and I’ll work as hard as I can to place them or help them. But I think their times are coming, and they’re in a great situation.
“So in a way I think they feel like this is a win-win. When the day comes when it’s a good situation and it’s the right timing for a head job they’ll go after, so be it, but to be here is also very exciting, and I think that’s a good place for them to be.”
SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE: In 2012-13, when the Cavaliers finished 23-12 after losing in the NIT quarterfinals, they ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense (55.6 ppg) and 256th in scoring offense (64.2 ppg).
By contrast, VCU, which finished 27-9 after losing in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32, ranked 14th nationally in scoring offense (76.9) and 120th in scoring defense (64.5). The Rams ranked first in steals per game (11.7) and turnover margin (plus-8).
All of which makes the recently announced home-and-home series between UVa and VCU that much more compelling.
“We’ll have some contrasting styles,” Bennett said. “They’re a pressing, running team. You’ve watched them just take some people out of their games. So you know you’re going to have to be at your best. And we don’t have a lot of teams that press like that in our league.”
The Cavaliers will host the Rams at JPJ this coming season. They’ll meet at the Siegel Center in Richmond in 2014-15. The date of the 2013-14 game has yet to be announced, but tickets are likely to be in great demand at JPJ.
UVa and VCU haven’t met in men’s hoops since the 1998-99 opener. The `Hoos lead the series 10-1.
“Playing a very good team in the state and doing it home-and-home will bring a lot of excitement, I think,” Bennett said. “It’s a great game on the schedule, whether we were in-state opponents or not. But the fact that we are just adds to it, and we certainly have respect for what VCU has done.”
In four seasons under Smart, the Rams are 111-37, with three trips to the NCAA tournament. They reached the Final Four in 2011.
VCU and UVa met in a closed scrimmage in the practice gym at JPJ last fall. Neither Jontel Evans nor Teven Jones was available that day, which made the Rams’ full-court pressure even more challenging for Virginia to break.
“They have such athleticism, and I’ve seen them make good teams struggle with their pressure,” Bennett said. “They challenge you in ways that are different than the majority of teams, and early on you gotta be as prepared for that as you can, and certainly you’ve got to have enough ballhandling and sureness.”
Evans, who started 92 games during his UVa career, will graduate Sunday. Even so, point guard should be one of the Cavaliers’ deepest positions in 2013-14. Bennett’s options will include sophomores Jones and Malcolm Brogdon, as well as freshmen Perrantes and Hall.
Brogdon, UVa’s sixth man for much of the 2011-12 season, redshirted in 2012-13 while recovering from foot surgery. He was cleared this spring to resume full-court work.