March 30 8:15 p.m.: I just talked with Brad Soderberg, the former coach at Wisconsin and Saint Louis, about Virginia’s new coach, Tony Bennett. Soderberg and Bennett have been close for more than 25 years and usually talk once a week. When I went up to Pullman, Wash., a couple years ago to do a story on Bennett, Soderberg was at practice and I talked to him there as well. Soderberg said he had not talked to Bennett specifically about Virginia but had heard the reports throughout today.
Q: What can Virginia and its fans expect of their new coach?
He is as quality a person, as quality a coach as anyone could ask for. He is a relentless recruiter. If people saw the players at Washington State, they’d say he didn’t exactly set the world on fire. When you consider where that university is located, I think he did a remarkable job of bringing in great players. The fact that they did as well as they did. They being Coach [Dick Bennett, Tony's father and predecessor at Washington State] and Tony, it is an indicator of what a great recruiter Tony is. Now that he is in a more attractive community to recruit to, with a higher population of players in the adjacent areas, I think he is going to be a force to be reckon with in the ACC.
Q: Does he have the ability to get more out of players than most people think is there?
There are a lot of coaches who have that ability. What is really neat about Tony is that he gets it done in a non-abrasive way. I always prided myself on being able to get a lot out of players, but I think I was more abrasive than Tony. I know his dad is more abrasive than he is. That is a good characteristic to have. Being as young as he is, he still has great memories of being a player, what players need to perform at a high level, with today’s players as opposed to the old-school guys. Tony is really good at connecting with kids, making them feel at home, yet towing the line with them as well. I was so impressed the times I was up there at Washington State watching him run his team. He just has a great demeanor. I think the people in Charlottesville will love him. More important than that, they are going to win games. I am very confident of that as well.
Q: Could you just put it in perspective how difficult it is to win in Pullman and how impressive was the job he did there?
Go back and look at the history of Washington State basketball prior to the Bennetts' arrival. It started with Tony’s upbringing under Dick’s tutelage. Dick has made a lifetime of resurrecting programs that have been down, or that had struggled near the bottom of the conference for the majority of years prior to his arrival, and I think Tony has that blueprint etched on his coaching brain. He understands the foundational principles that have to go into place first and the non-negotiable things that have to happen on the court for teams that typically have to draw from a smaller pool of recruits than others. As I understand, with Virginia’s academic requirements, that will be the case for Tony when he goes to Virginia, relative to the people he will be playing in the ACC. It has academic standards that makes some kids prohibited from being admitted into the school. That won’t be a negative for Tony because of the upbringing he has in the coaching business.
Q: How long have you been close with Tony?
I played for his dad in the early 1980s, when Tony was the coach’s kid that was always on the side court shooting around. It has been close to 30 years now.
Q: Tony has gotten a lot of interest in the past – Indiana last year – do you feel Virginia is particularly a good fit for him?
I really do. I know that relative to the rest of the ACC, Virginia is not year in and year out in the upper division. They are not mentioned in the same breath as Carolina and Duke certainly, and that is a great position for Tony to come from because he has been around that his whole life. As a player, he played at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, which had no success in Division I prior to him and Dick getting there. While he was doing his professional playing, his dad was rebuilding Wisconsin. And then he went with him to Washington State and rebuilt that program. I don’t think Virginia needs that much rebuilding compared to those other schools. Nonetheless, when you are going up against the people you are going to go up against in the ACC, I think it is the perfect scenario for him.
Q: Have you talked to him in the past week or so about the possibility of Virginia?
No, the last we talked was a week ago today. I had no idea that would be an option for him, but it doesn’t surprise me now that I look back. Okay, that’s a good position for Tony. And we had talked a year ago when Indiana and Marquette came up – and LSU – and he goes on feel and those did not feel like the places for him to go at the time. I am assuming it just felt right for him to go to Charlottesville. I really think the Cavaliers fans will be very thankful that Tony is the guy once they watch his teams play. I am very happy for him. Tony is like a little brother.
March 30, 2009; 8:14 PM ET
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