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March 29, 2018
San Antonio, Texas
Associated Press Coach of the Year
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Barry Bedlan, of the Associated Press, and the Associated Press National Coach of the Year from Virginia, Tony Bennett.
BARRY BEDLAN: It's my pleasure to be here today to present the Associated Press Men's College Basketball Coach of the Year. Since 1967, the recipient of this award has been selected by the same panel of college basketball journalists that decides the weekly AP Top 25. This year's recipient is no stranger to this stage. In fact, he's the only the third coach since 1990 to be twice named AP Coach of the Year.
He was first given the award 11 years ago after his very first year of head coaching, then at Washington State. There he led the Cougars to the program's record-tying high of 26 wins in each of its first two seasons, including a trip to the Sweet 16.
After his third season, he took over at the University of Virginia where he has become only the third coach in the ACC's storied history to record back-to-back 30-win seasons.
This season his team started unranked in the AP Top 25, but finished with an impressive list of accomplishments including a school record 31 wins; the school's first AP No. 1 since 1982, including unanimous No. 1 the last two weeks of the season; the most conference wins in a season by an ACC team with 17; a 20-1 record against ACC opponents when also including the conference tournament; an outright ACC regular season title, his third; and his team's second ACC Tournament title; lastly, the first overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
And, yes, Virginia suffered an unprecedented upset to No. 16 seed UMBC in the tournament's opening round. However, it was Coach Bennett's comments after the game that have gone viral and many people have watched and commented on. My own four sons have all watched it and commented on how it was the best way -- the best lesson they learned from a loss was his composure, his class and the way he has taught his students. He's known for this and that's why many parents want their boys to play for him at Virginia.
This year's AP Men's College Basketball Coach of the Year award goes to Tony Bennett.
COACH BENNETT: First, thank you, Barry, for the kind remarks. And of course I want to thank the Associated Press and all the members of the committee who voted on this.
The longer I do this, in coaching, the more I realize how many great coaches with their innovative minds and how good they are, and of course some of the legendary coaches in this game. So to be honored by the AP for this award, it's certainly humbling, and I'm so thankful for it.
I think when you have success probably the head coach gets a little too much credit. In this instance that certainly is the case.
And I accept this award on behalf absolutely of my team, my players, my coaching staff. I actually have two of my coaches in attendance, Johnny Carpenter and Ronnie Wideman, so those are the only two who are going to be getting raises since the other coaches didn't attend. So I'll take care of you guys. But I accept this award on behalf of my team. I had a remarkable team this year.
It was a heck of a season with a heck of a loss at the end, of course. But remarkable. And I'm just so thankful and humble. I also want to thank, and those of us in this profession know the value and the importance of the support of the people that you love the most, and my wife, Laurel, is here and my daughter, Anna, and my son, Eli. They've supported me in ways that have been unbelievable and have been with me on quite a journey.
But so grateful. And again so many coaches deserving of this award. And I'm just thankful to have been honored. And, again, been in coaching now, this is 12 years. And 11 years ago you just don't know what roads that it's going to take you on, and I've had so many good ones. I'm filled with joy, I really am, for what I've got to experience with my team this year.
So with that happy to take any questions that you have and go from there.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Bennett or Barry.
Q. This is a great achievement and it comes obviously with an interesting dichotomy with the loss. I wonder what the past two weeks have been like for you as you've reflected on the season and the past five months but also the immediacy of the UMBC game?
COACH BENNETT: Yeah, I think as time goes by, certainly you are beginning to appreciate what the season brought, the success of the things that Barry mentioned. And you're even understanding more, okay, what can we do with what happened at the end of the year?
I got a great text from one of my players, Ty Jerome, and he said, Coach, this is now part of our story, and we get to respond to it the way we want. And it will be day-by-day where we can make the right steps. And again we shared that with our team the other day.
Everybody says, you know, you'll be better because of this loss. And the fact of the matter is, is the only way you're better after a tough loss is if you respond to it the right way. If you do nothing with it and just say, ah, this was tough, then nothing's going to happen. But if you respond the right way and use it for the right kind of motivation, then I think things will -- you'll improve from it and you'll grow.
And also the positives. You don't want to just say -- I don't know if Aaron's here. There's Aaron, we had a great interview yesterday and we talked about sort of the -- I don't know if you put it in the article or not, but we talked a little bit about the success of the season and then the fair debate: All right, is it just only about the NCAA Tournament?
But I look at what these young men did and the good in that. I think there's so much to be taken from that. And then also as we talked about and Barry mentioned, the hard losses. It's what we do with it. I love that text I got from Ty. It's part of our story now, and we get to choose how we respond. And that's where it's at.
Q. I think this is more for Barry since Coach Bennett just addressed this. We all kind of -- we love this tournament and we all also know that a single elimination tournament isn't always the way to figure out who the best team or best coach is. I'm wondering if the voting this year and the result this year kind of is almost the AP taking a position on that to an extent or at least the system taking a position on how we determine who the best team in college basketball is?
BARRY BEDLAN: I mean, and we don't call it the -- I mean, the bottom line is the regular season is what we're voting on. When we take the vote, the vote, for those of who don't know, is when the last AP Top 25 poll, the ballots are put in for the regular season, that's when we also ask the voters to pick their Coach and Player of the Year, which we'll announce later this afternoon.
We do that for various reasons. It's not us trying to make a certain statement. It's more -- logistically there's reasons why we do that, too. But the body of work, sure, you can argue the tournament is also a part of the body of work. But really, historically, we've been doing this now for 57 years. It's always been the regular season. That's what we're sticking with for now. But, yeah, we can also consider something else down the road.
COACH BENNETT: I thought it was for the NCAA Tournament Coach of the Year. I didn't get that? I wasn't sure. (Laughter).
Q. You mentioned the text from Ty. How have you sensed that your staff and other players have responded since UMBC? How many times have you met as a group and even talked about it?
COACH BENNETT: Yeah, we met a couple of times, we have. And the coaching fraternity -- I've received, I'm sure there's certainly criticism, that's part of it. But the coaching fraternity has been wonderful.
And I think as important, and maybe more important, the UVA family has been wonderful to support our guys, to appreciate the season, check in, say how are you doing after the last game.
But the support has been overwhelming. And that's helpful. That's encouragement. And I think the staff -- we talk about things, you grow from it and you encourage each other. That's your family when you say, hey, we're part of family. When you bring your hands in and you break after every practice and every game, and you say, one, two, three, family. Being part of the family is going through great joys and tough sorrows and that's been part of it.
But it really is a close-knit group. As I said, I wouldn't trade this team for anything. The hard part is we had great leadership with Isaiah and Devon and Nigel being a senior leaving. But those guys were in a program for a long time. You don't get to coach them anymore. And that's a hard last game to end it on.
But definitely we've met with the guys individually, and we had our meetings and we'll continue to have those and start our workouts and respond in the right way.
Q. In the last few weeks, have you kind of thought of -- do you plan to make any tweaks to your system or the way you play, or do you kind of look at it as we don't want to overreact to just one game?
COACH BENNETT: I think, again, everything you examine and you look at, and you have to be good enough to put yourself in a spot to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and to win over the years what we've done and it's been very successful, but the game evolves. Every few years the game evolves. And I think you're seeing that just with how exciting the NCAA Tournament is this year and how teams have advanced.
But absolutely there are adjustments. And I think a lot of it has to do with your personnel. You make decisions on how you're going to recruit the kind of players, but again system adjustments, but you always take the good and the stuff that you stand on and make adjustments. That has been -- we've done that year to year and we'll continue to do that.
And I think when you, in the games that we've lost and struggled, there weren't that many this year, but of course in the last game you say to yourself, okay, if we get in that spot again -- the game's going more towards four guards, five guards, the spacing, the spread. You have to have ways to combat that.
And again anything can happen in a game. But we were pretty good this year in playing against smaller teams. I think that's always been a little bit of a kryptonite of ours, but this year I think we addressed that and we took a step in the right direction. I think with De'Andre Hunter, we had that flexibility. When he wasn't available for the NCAA Tournament, we were not as effective as we've been.
But I think you have to adjust and learn, how can you play against teams that -- because the NCAA Tournament comes down to matchups, who is playing well, what kind of style they play, and you have been to be able to play well against different kinds of styles. That's what I think you have to keep addressing and adjusting in preparing your team to be as good as they can.
Q. I understand were there threats made to your team after the game? And how have you kind of bigger picture used this maybe the sports versus life for these guys?
COACH BENNETT: Yeah, I think that's been pretty well-documented. And there's tremendous opportunities again with our guys. Barry and I talked -- I'm sorry, Aaron and I talked about this in the interview about the opportunity that our players have to handle this in the right way and the influence that will have on their family members and their friends, if they handle it in the right way and show, of course, you can be discouraged, but you can deal with this and be okay. Yeah, after the game, I think that probably comes with the territory.
There's a lot of money wagered on these games. And certainly that was, I think, out there on social media. I don't know to the extent of it.
But again I think sports is wonderful and it's a big deal. And at times I think things can get blown out of proportion. And it's the times we live in and the society we live in. But I think that's more of the exception than the norm, whether everybody has a voice now, whether it's on social media or things they can do. But you have to obviously take those things seriously when that happens.
Q. You had mentioned after a couple of weeks you've gotten to the point where you understand you can respond to this, how you go forward. The first couple of days after that happened, and it was what everyone was talking about, what were those days like for you? Did you seclude yourself? Did you keep asking yourself what happened?
COACH BENNETT: I think I waited. I think maybe I watched the second day, third day, I said I'm going to watch the game tape to get a feel for it. But that's where you realize what matters. And that's where your family -- you're with your family. There's an emptiness. Whenever the season ends, you're used to showing up at 3:00 for practice, or there's just a routine that you're in.
But when it ends as dramatically as ours did, you know, there's that sting of the loss and the tournament's going on and you've got to make the decision. And I asked our guys that yesterday, how many of you are watching the NCAA Tournament? Am I going to watch the NCAA Tournament? Am I going to keep the volume down and watch it?
But I watched the games. I said it to someone, I love the NCAA Tournament. And I hate the NCAA Tournament. You know, it's one of those things. It's such an event. And in that immediate time, of course, there's part of that where you're feeling the sting, but it causes you to do a little soul searching and say, OK, where's my identity? What matters?
And the sun did come up the next day. You think about yourself your job as a coach is to be a protector of your players and the people around you. And that's where your thoughts go to.
But young people are pretty resilient. And I think because I was around them all year and I saw how they handled a lot of success -- and I was around most of them for more than a year, a lot of them for years because of their program -- I've seen how they've handled failure or losses and things, whether it's in their family or certainly in the game. And I was fairly confident that they would be okay, but know that there is obviously a process you go through.
So, yeah, those first couple of days, you think about it. You see games and you wish it didn't happen that way. It's not the way I would have chosen but it happened. And I think that's the lesson that I think our guys are learning and we'll continue to respond in the right way.
Q. Back to what I asked about rethinking some things, do you regret anything about how you coached that game, especially when you got down?
COACH BENNETT: Sure. I go back and I think there's things that you, adjustments that could have been made. Again, as I mentioned, we were a little, over 32 games, we were a different team. We were healthy and played at a high level, played well in the ACC Tournament. And then in that game we were used to playing -- we were fairly traditional and they played well.
I said that after the game. They played well against Kansas State. Didn't shoot it as well. They're a talented team that defended well and were hard to guard with their pace. You know, they had little adjustments. Sometimes maybe we could have opened the floor a little more, and we got lost a couple times in transition.
We hadn't been down that much all season. And so then we had to work on some traps, which we work on a little bit in practice and we weren't very effective with it. But they were hitting tough shots. And then I think late in the second half when we were down, that's when you really feel the pressure of that game, and that's where maybe we took some shots that were ill-advised.
But certainly little adjustments that were there. But we were pretty successful in how we played all year and it's not like we're all of a sudden going to throw a different kind of team or different guys out there. But absolutely. There are little things I saw, as I look back, little adjustments here and there. We didn't shoot the ball well. They shot the ball well. When that happens in games like that you're in trouble. And we've shot the ball terrific all year especially in the ACC Tournament. And we're not a dominant interior scoring team, so we had to kind of go with what we were doing. But certainly little adjustments were available.
Q. You had a lot of headline moments this year. You won at Cameron. De'Andre shot it. Louisville. You cut down the nets and (indiscernible). Is there another moment maybe that we in the public didn't see that will always stick with you about this group?
COACH BENNETT: Yeah, absolutely. It's funny. That's a tough question. How can I answer that? But as you were talking, what clearly came to my mind is we did something unique.
I read about it in a book, and I think some other teams have done it. We did something called the chair exercise before we started the season. It was one of the most rewarding things that I've done with a team. And after a practice we put one coach, one player on a chair in our locker room and all the team was there and we asked them to share who their hero was, a hardship in their life and a highlight.
And just to listen. And then after that we opened it up to the team and said, okay, you can ask your teammate or your coach any questions that you want, just to get to know them. Maybe there's some things you don't know about them.
That was one of the most remarkable powerful experiences that I had with a team just to hear them, of course, share their joys, who their heroes were. Most of them said their moms. I found that interesting, the moms got the hero.
But then to hear the hardships they'd been through and then of course the highlights. That to me will stand forever in my mind. And when we clinched the ACC championship at Pitt, the outright ACC championship, we put our arms around each other in the locker room look and we said, just look at your brother here, and look at what you just accomplished, which is special. It was just by chance, there was a chair right in the center of our circle.
And we pointed to that, you remember how we started the season and what we learned about each other? There's a whole lot going on here. And then after our game, the senior night, when we went out to the floor, it was just special to kind of go to the center of the court, those who followed us.
So there were some moments like that. But that chair exercise was unique. I know some teams have done it. But I will remember that always. And, of course, all of the great play and the games you mentioned those.
But that's the stuff that you don't see that we do that will bond us forever. And they'll be definitely, if we're able to do the chair exercise again, there will be some more highlights and I know there will be some hardships that we'll all know. But I think that's what makes who you are and your unique journey what it is your own journey. And I think, again, that stands out.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations.
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