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Tony Bennett denies running players off after three offseason defections

Although Sylven Landesberg, Tristan Spurlock and Jeff Jones all said their departures were not because of any animosity with Coach Tony Bennett, three premature departures in a single offseason could create the perception that Bennett is running off players. That is not the case, Bennett insists, and his claim was independently supported by each player, who each said they made personal decisions.

"I don't run players off, I don't force them out," Bennett said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I don't believe in doing that unless there's a discipline reason, or there's a parting of ways and it's not going to work."

Each player was welcomed back onto the team, which was also confirmed by the three players. Landesberg made up his mind before the season that he would go to the NBA, and it became clear at the end of the season that Spurlock's vision of his future -- specifically as a wing player -- was inconsistent with how the coaching staff wanted to develop him.

Jones's departure caught Bennett by surprise, and it happened after the season-ending meetings that Bennett has described as honest and candid. Bennett said he could not promise or guarantee any player anything, particularly with such a large recruiting class arriving next season.

"Sometimes coaches come in and say, 'This is how it is,' " Bennett said. "I think what's best is to honor the kids in the program, making honest evaluations. ...'Here's what I like, here's what you need to improve on. ...Do you see yourself as part of it?' "

Bennett believed that Jones felt uncertain about his role, which Jones hinted at while explaining his decision. But there was confidence from the coaching staff that Jones could have a productive season, especially after Landesberg departed for professional basketball. Bennett said he thought Jones was "in a great spot."

But Bennett is not one to make assurances, he said, ultimately having to choose what's best for the team. Bennett understands why the perception exists that he could be clearing space on the roster, but from interviews with both sides of Jones's decision to transfer, it appears Jones's departure is more an indication of a player making a personal decision than of a coach trying to open roster spots.

By Zach Berman  |  April 28, 2010; 3:13 PM ET
 
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