Heeere's Tony: Bennett makes debut as UVA coach
Before a crowd of hundreds gathered at John Paul Jones Arena, the University of Virginia's new head men's basketball coach Tony Bennett officially met and greeted the media and University community at large on Wednesday, April 1.
"We're going to be unified, and we're going to play with passion," Bennett said. "Those are the intangibles that you need to build a program."
Bennett promised the University that any achievements his team earns under his tenure, that they will be earned "the right way."
"We want the most talented kids," said Bennett, "but never will we compromise character."
UVA athletic director Craig Littlepage told reporters that Bennett had been his "number one choice." Littlepage said Bennett's name had come up as a candidate "from the very beginning" as a coach who could win, but also had an intangible quality Littlepage made a prerequisite. After previous coach Dave Leitao left with a reputation for a salty tongue on the court and a surly demeanor off the court, Littlepage said today he wanted a coach who would, "give love and respect to players and to fans in good times and in bad times."
The 39-year-old Bennett comes to UVA from Washington State University, where he had been head coach for the last three seasons, and an assistant coach under his father Dick for three seasons before that. As cheerful as Bennett seemed about his new job, he got particularly emotional about discussing his old one.
"It's very hard to tell the people who gave you your start that you're leaving," said Bennett, choking back sobs. "If you've ever been to Pullman, Washington, you know what a special place it is."
Still, with the exception of a three-year stint playing point guard for the NBA's Charlotte Hornets, Bennett has no professional experience east of the Mississippi River. Bennett readily acknowledged his lack of familiarity with the local recruiting terrain, a deficiency Bennett said he hoped to make up for in hiring assistant coaches, including one name he made a point to drop.
"We're very close to hiring Ritchie McKay," said Bennett. "He's been the head coach at Liberty, and I think it's going to happen."
Indeed, hours later, McKay confirmed he was leaving Liberty for UVA. In his two seasons coaching the Flames, McKay led the team to a 39-28 record, but is even more noteworthy for recruiting Seth Curry, the North Carolinian who became the nation's top scoring freshman this year with 20.6 points per game. Curry announced Monday he was transferring to Duke.
For more on the festivities, and the veritable UVA who's 'Hoo that showed up to greet Bennett, check out the Hook's slideshow chronicling the big day.