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February 28, 2011

Tony Bennett

THE MODERATOR: We have with us Virginia head basketball coach Tony Bennett. Coach, if you could, a few comments about your team, then we'll open it up for questions.
COACH BENNETT: I heard the end of Seth's comments about BC. We were coming off a two-game winning streak and played BC on Saturday. They really outplayed us the latter part, by the last couple minutes of the first half, into the second half, the whole second half. They exploited some matchup problems, as I just heard him say. They did a good job.
Now we're at the spot where we've got to respond and bounce back. We play NC State coming up. With our team, it's been a bit of a rollercoaster. The thing I like about them, they have come to work every day for practice. Again, it will be Mustapha and Will Sherrill. We thought we were going to have Mike Scott in there. Mustapha and Will's senior night. That's a good night for them. Hopefully we'll recover and respond.
But this year, it's been kind of ups and downs. I think our guys really felt disappointed after the BC game, how they played. But there's still life for the season. So we'll prepare today and hopefully get ready to play a high-level game.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. Tony, what were your first impressions of Mustapha Farrakhan when he first came in and are they pretty much the same impressions you have now?
COACH BENNETT: No, they're not. When you're a new coach, you try not to take too much into account of statistically what they've done. Certainly you have to look at some game film, you see things. But you want to draw your own evaluations and thoughts on Mustapha.
I can say this about Assane and Jontel. But I'll say this about Mu. He's improved in two areas: as a player and he's improved his emotions. He's an emotional guy. He can go on runs offensively and get so excited. Sometimes he'll battle his emotions and get discouraged or get off the track a little bit earlier.
I think he's improved in handling that. But part of who he is and what makes him good is that he does play with emotion. I've seen him improve. He wants so much to do well for the team and for himself.
I think when he has either a bad stretch or off night, that's his greatest challenge, to overcome that and get back to it.
I've enjoyed coaching him for these two years. He was inconsistent and sporadic last year in his playing time with me. He's improved his game through numbers. He's had to play a lot of minutes, been called upon to guard a lot of the opposing team's best scorer on the perimeter and really try to give us offensive productivity. He's had some real nice outings. I think he's a better player than last year and he's been a good leader. His attitude has been good.
As I said, he's emotional. I've seen him change, handling that better. Like I said, I hope he'll finish strong for our sake and for his sake.

Q. He comes from something of a famous background. Does that ever enter in? Would you ever know it if you didn't know the history ahead of time?
COACH BENNETT: No, I don't think so. But knowing that, not many people probably have seen or dealt with the things that Mustapha has, being who he is, who his grandfather is. I think that does bring a whole other element into play.
I mean, I think he acts like a normal college athlete the way he is. But there are things that are there. I think it comes into consideration. The way he is, you wouldn't notice it. But I think all those things are there.
You kind of step back and say there's more than meets the eye here with him. I think Mustapha is a very deep young man. I've seen that. As they say, still waters run deep. When you talk to him, there's a lot there. I know he's stuck it out. That's one of the thing I'm most proud of. Really his first two years, third year with me, he didn't play much, but yet he stuck it out. He's taken some big steps in his game even this season with some injuries that maybe have affected us.

Q. I'll ask you about the other senior. Will has been playing through some pain the last few weeks. How does that speak to his dedication to finish out his college experience?
COACH BENNETT: Yeah, no, another good story. Here is a guy who was a walk-on, who didn't play much at all. Last year I used him as a walk-on because he helped us. He's probably our most vocal leader and is willing to do whatever it takes. For me, it was great to be able to reward him with a sponsorship his last year and name him a captain.
Unfortunately, he battled since the Minnesota game, the broken fibula. To see his toughness, to try to get back and play with pain, really start to help us again. Then he reinjured it against Miami. He's kind of back on the same path, trying to get himself back to where he can move and battle the pain. You hate to see him go out like that.
He's getting better. So hopefully we'll be able to use him these last few games in the season. But proud of him because of how he's improved his game and really it's nice to be able to reward a young man for his contributions to the program when he's a walk-on.
Rarely does that work, but here is a scholarship, you're a captain, you're going to be a part of building this program. He's embraced that. All the things you want, he's doing.
Like Mu, he's enjoyable to coach.

Q. One of the things about the two, he has a bright future. You mentioned Mu is a bit of a thinker. What does that do for you as a coach, having guys that absorb information like that?
COACH BENNETT: Everybody handles things differently. You certainly talk to them. You have to know how they are. They're both willing to lead. Sometimes you have to sit down and say, This is what I want, this is what this team needs. Regardless of what you're thinking or feeling, this is what this team needs, do it. With Will, I say, I know you're playing with a lot of pain. I don't know if this is going to affect your future much as a professional basketball player. He laughed. He said, Coach, all I'm worried about is that I can swing a golf club and get in my stance. He said, I'll play with my pain as long as I can help this team.
He's all about the now. Yes, he'll have a very successful professional career - not basketball-wise, but in the private business world after his playing days are over here.

Q. You've noted a couple times already this morning that Mustapha is an emotional young man. Given that senior night is an emotional event for everybody involved, what can you do to try to harness that emotion and make it a positive thing, not let it overwhelm him tomorrow night?
COACH BENNETT: Well, it is what it is. I think I actually heard Seth's comments about that. I enjoyed listening to that. He said he had one guy who couldn't breathe after the first media timeout and had four turnovers. I'm sure for Mu and Will, it will be emotional.
You have to take it in, stop and smell the roses, then get to the game. Whenever you play a big game, yeah, there's a lot of hype, the way they do the starting lineups, all that. Once the ball is tipped, you have to get to the game, level off and win, play to win. That will be the focus. He's going to be out there. He'll play for us. We'll kind of keep an eye on it.
I think he'll be okay. But, again, until we see how it happens, we'll go with it.

Q. How unusual does it feel to be playing a conference game on March 1st, playing a team for the first time?
COACH BENNETT: That's unique to the ACC. But you're going on your second go-round. I didn't even think about that this is the first time this late. A little bit of that last year. Again, here we are again doing it. That's just the way the schedule works out, so we go with it.
I know they're talented. But usually you're on your second go-round, and this will be unique.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for taking time being with us today.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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