5 reasons we love Tony Bennett and Virginia Basketball

The Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team will tip-off in the NCAA Tournament on Friday, hoping to reach the Final Four for the first time in 31 years. Just five years ago they were awful. Now, they’re ranked No. 6 in the nation.

But for us, the more impressive thing about the University of Virginia team is how its coach, Tony Bennett, has guided the team’s turnaround by employing some of the same values Buffalo Jackson holds dear. The Washington Post this week profiled the team in a feature story that focused on Bennett’s faith and character more than his Xs and Os. The story is full of lessons we could all apply. Here’s what inspired us:

He believes in character. Bennett’s locker room wall is adorned with five words that have nothing to do with basketball: humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. The coach knows a young man’s character and how it’s incorporated into the team will be more valuable than his ability to play pack-line defense. Do you focus on your heart values before everything else?

He learned from his father. Bennett says those five words, he calls them pillars, came from his father, Dick Bennett, a legendary college coach at Wisconsin. The men coached together when Tony was younger, and he continues to use plays he learned from his dad. Are you humble enough to learn from a father figure?

He boldly speaks about faith. Bennett isn’t afraid to reference the Bible with his players. He quotes Luke 16:10 and Jesus Christ’s teachings on being faithful in small things. He talks about Mark 3:25, one of Jesus’ parables on unity. This is rare at a public institution. We live in a pluralistic society where many faiths and the lack of religious faith are ever-present. Too often that has led many to criticize the public display of faith in any fashion. But Bennett openly speaks about how his faith in God influences his secular basketball coaching. Do you let faith influence your work?

He values blue collars more than blue chips. Do you know how many McDonald’s All-Americans are in Virginia’s recruiting class? One. Meanwhile, Duke has eight such players already on the roster. Bennett says he’ll recruit the top-rated players, but only if they display the kind of grit and work ethic he deems necessary for success. Are you valuing gritty work ethic as much as raw talent?

He wins. None of the above would be garnering national attention if Bennett wasn’t a winner. He would have been fired. But when you’re a contender for coach of the year, your methods get noticed. You have to go all the way back to Harry Lannigan in 1929 to find a Virginia basketball coach with a winning percentage as high. Bennett even incorporates the above four points into his victories. He quotes 1 Corinthians 9:24 to his players. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” Do you run to get the prize? 

- Adam O’Daniel