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Managing personalities and players who want more playing time

In a recent radio show, Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett asked lacrosse coach Dom Starsia about the toughest part of coaching. Starsia said it was dealing with players who want to play more and have a larger role on the team.

This is a topic that has come up recently, especially because it's almost a foregone conclusion that the Virginia men's basketball team will have a defection of some variety at the end of the season. And those who stay will have a harder competition for playing time than this season, even though 10 players are currently in Bennett's rotation. Six players will enter the program -- all are Bennett's recruits -- while only two regular contributors are scheduled to depart.

In addition to any basketball issues Bennett must deal with, he's likely going to have to manage personalities as much as teach X's and O's.

"When I became a coach, you realize that's one of the more challenging things," Bennett said last week, when asked about managing personalities and players who want more playing time. "Especially guys who work their fanny off to play and they desperately want to play, and they're good kids. They battle in practice, and they want to chance. When you can't give it back, it's tough."

Virginia has already encountered a situation this season with senior captain Calvin Baker, who lost his starting spot and was held out of practice and a game. It is something that happens around the nation, and almost every coach deals with similar issues. Particularly in college basketball, parents become involved and high school coaches/AAU coaches can make their voices heard because of the close personal connections forged during a player's development.

"I haven't met a coach yet that doesn't try to do what he thinks is best for the team," Bennett said. "Certainly, not everybody will agree with that. Usually if you're dealing with player or the parent of a player, they think what's best for my child and what's best for my friend before what's best for the team. A coach always has to think team first. And that's why it's hard. Because some kids desperately want to play. "

Perhaps the most-discussed example of this is freshman Tristan Spurlock, a high-profile recruit by former coach Dave Leitao whom Bennett persuaded to come to Virginia after the offseason coaching change. It's become a hot-button issue among Virginia fans, speculating whether Spurlock will remain at Virginia or whether he and other teammates will leave at the end of the season.

"For the most part, I'd say with our guys, they're pretty resilient, so they come back and practice hard," Bennett said. "I think they realize the way this season has gone, they're going to get their chance. But the reality of this profession and the reality of playing at the ACC level is not everyone can play equal time. You try to be compassionate, but you always say 'what's best for the team?' and try to make decisions based on that."

By Zach Berman  |  March 5, 2010; 10:32 AM ET
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