By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — UVa head coach Tony Bennett spent about 10 days in the Czech Republic in late June and early July, helping USA Basketball’s under-19 men’s team win the gold medal at the world championships in Prague.
Bennett, who was an assistant on the U.S. team, isn’t the only member of the Cavaliers’ coaching staff pursuing professional development outside the United States this summer.
Ron Sanchez, a native of the Dominican Republic, is an assistant coach on that country’s national team, which is preparing this month for the FIBA Americas Championship.
Ritchie McKay is head coach of an Athletes in Action team that will play five games in Jamaica this month. His players include 6-8 forward Anthony Gill, a redshirt sophomore who sat out last season after transferring to UVa from South Carolina.
Bennett said he’s glad Virginia’s coaches won’t be together in Charlottesville all month. “We get really sick of each other,” he said, laughing.
“No. It’s actually good,” Bennett added. “It’s good for the players to hear different voices, and it’s a good opportunity for the coaches, as it was for me [with USA Basketball], to be around a different kind of setting, with different players, different coaches. Ritchie and Ron will have an opportunity to experiment with some things.”
Working alongside different coaches “really sharpens your mind,” Bennett said. “You exchange ideas, and that part was as enjoyable as anything [with USA Basketball] — to be able to just be around each other and talk the game, figure out how we wanted to do things and share coaching philosophies, ideas.”
Bennett left Washington State, where his assistants included Sanchez, for UVa after the 2008-09 season. Sanchez followed Bennett from Pullman to Charlottesville. McKay joined Bennett’s staff that spring, too. He left Liberty University, where he was head coach, to become Virginia’s associate head coach.
Athletes in Action is a sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, and this is not McKay’s first involvement with the organization. In the summer of 2008, he and his wife, Julie, were part of an Athletes in Action group that traveled to Kenya. The group put on clinics for local basketball coaches and volunteered in Kibera, a slum in the city of Nairobi.
“There was unbelievable poverty,” McKay recalled. “But the unique thing about it that will be emblazoned in my mind forever is the joy those kids seemed to live their lives with. Personally, I take for granted just the basic amenities that we’re provided here: the freedom of speech, the shelter, hot showers, clean water. It was a life-changing experience.”
The Athletes in Action team will gather this week in Miami for three days of practice. In Kingston, Athletes in Action will play three games (Aug. 12-14) against Jamaican all-star teams. In Montego Bay, Athletes in Action will play two games (Aug. 16 and 17) against Jamaica’s national team.
In Jamaica, the Athletes in Action group will volunteer in the community most mornings, said McKay, whose assistant coaches are Liberty’s Matt Olinger and Ohio State’s Jake Diebler.
“I’m just excited to be a part of this,” McKay said. “I long to be a part of something bigger than myself, and I think for all of us, if we have that agenda, seemingly life goes better, because you feel like you’re making this world a better place.”
For Gill, the trip will be important athletically as well as spiritually. He practiced with the Cavaliers last season but hasn’t played in a game since March 8, 2012, when South Carolina lost 63-57 to Alabama in the SEC tournament. Gill started 26 games and averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds as a freshman that season.
“It’s been a long time,” Gill said recently at John Paul Jones Arena. “Too long. I can’t wait to get out there. It’s going to be fun, especially to get to play against different competition. Playing against the same guys in practice every day, you get better, but it’s good to play against different talent.”
McKay said: “When you put on a uniform, when there are fans in the stands and officials, I think the dynamic always changes. Anthony is a guy who has to shake off a little bit of rust before our season starts, so I just think it’s a great way in the preseason for him to maybe get re-acclimated to game speed.”
Gill said he’s thrilled that he’ll have an opportunity to strengthen his relationship with McKay. He’s also excited that he’ll be able to share his faith in Jamaica.
“This is going to be amazing, just to be able to evangelize what I believe to other people and see smiles on other people’s faces,” Gill said. “I’m going to learn a lot from different people. Most people think we go on these trips to change other people’s lives, but it’s most definitely going to change our lives in so many different ways.”
Another UVa player, redshirt sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, was invited to join the Athletes in Action team but, for precautionary reasons, declined.
Brogdon, who’s likely to start at point guard for the Cavaliers in 2013-14, sat out last season after having major surgery on his left foot in March 2012. He practiced without restrictions this summer and has stayed healthy — Brogdon was among the standouts in a June scrimmage against the USA Basketball U19 team in Washington, D.C. — but UVa’s staff did not want him to overexert himself.
“He’s played a lot,” Bennett said, “and so we just felt it was in his best interests to use this month, as we tell our guys, to enjoy some time with family, recuperate their bodies, and then when we come back, at the start of school, then we’ll start ramping it up and getting into it. These guys go for so long. They’re always working and playing, but in Malcolm’s case we want to be as smart as we can in terms of the volume and load we put on his body.”
Sanchez is an assistant on the Dominican national team, whose head coach is Orlando Antigua, an assistant at Kentucky. Antigua succeeded his boss at UK, John Calipari, as the Dominicans’ head coach.
A year ago, Sanchez assisted Calipari and Antigua at the Dominican team’s training camp in Lexington, Ky. When the opportunity arose this year for Sanchez to take on a larger role with the team, he accepted.
His fellow assistants include former NBA guard Rod Strickland and Orlando Antigua’s brother Oliver, who was on the coaching staff at Manhattan College in 2012-13.
“I’ve been invited to do a lot of different things [with Dominican basketball]. I just haven’t had the time to do it,” Sanchez said last week before leaving for Santiago, where the team is training.
“It just never worked. This seemed it was big enough that I could justify doing it.”
The Dominican team will play in a tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico, starting Aug. 22, then head to Caracas, Venezuela, for the FIBA Americas Championships. The top four teams in that tournament (Aug. 28 to Sept. 12) will qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Sanchez, who moved with his family to the Bronx, N.Y., when he was about 7, still has relatives in the Dominican Republic, including a brother.
Once Sanchez concluded that his time out of the country would not hurt UVa’s recruiting efforts, the decision to join Orlando Antigua’s staff this summer was easy for him.
“It’s my country,” Sanchez said. “I still have a lot of pride in that, and if I can help [the Dominican team] with what I’ve learned here from someone I think is one of the better coaches in the country, then I want to do it.
“My goal is to try to influence what we’re trying to do to really develop a culture, not just for that team, but get them to understand how important the younger kids are. We can’t do it the same way the USA does it, because we don’t have those kind of resources, but there are a lot of talented young kids [in the Dominican Republic].”
Unlike USA Basketball, the Dominican Republic doesn’t sponsor age-group national teams, Sanchez said, but “I think at some point our influence in this can probably lead to something like that. I think it can be something that lasts a long time.”
PRIME TIME: ESPN announced Wednesday that UVa will make three appearances on the network’s ACC Big Monday showcase in 2013-14.
Included in the ACC Big Monday lineup are these Virginia games: Jan. 13 at Duke, Jan. 20 against North Carolina at John Paul Jones Arena, and Feb. 10 against Maryland at JPJ. Each is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
The ACC will release Virginia’s complete non-conference schedule, along with the dates and times of conference games, late this month or early next month.
For more information or to purchase season tickets, call (800) 542-8821. Season tickets can also be purchased on-line at VirginiaSports.com or in-person at UVa’s athletic ticket office in Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium.