Mark Jerome: Every year in May, the New York Athletic Club honors the Men’s and Women’s national championship coach. The athletic Club is just a few minutes away for me and I was invited this year. And this year, before it started. Tony Bennett says to everyone “is Mark Jerome still here” . Like I had somewhere else I had to be, and he says in front of everyone “Mark, I just want to thank you for sending your child to UVA” and he just completely elevated my New York City Street Cred and I am extremely grateful for you and I never got to say this but thank you for what you have done for my child and guiding him. As his mom and I dropped off our kid. We wanted him to be in a place where someone will help him grow on and offf the court. So we are honored to have National Championship Coach Tony Bennett.
Justin Anderson: This is a special moment, this is awesome.
Tony Bennett: I wanna see how you do Justin, interviewing me, this is gonna be interesting (HAHA)
Justin Anderson: I don’t know who got to attend the beautiful cermony last night, but Coach told me I was responsible for his gray hair, but it looks alright, so I’ll take responsibility for it.
Tony Bennett: That was so special. They showed a video clip of my press conference from 11 years ago and my hair was a lot darker. I got up there and I said, I think the guy who is most reponsible for my gray hair is Justin Anderson. But actually, Ty has a little bit to do with it. He’s stubborn, Ty is stubburn (haha). To celebrate that with you guys, family, players, fans, that was a gratifying moment. And those rings are BIG. We (pointing at Justin) got a few of the ACC championship ones.
Mark Jerome: I just wanna say, if coaching doesn’t work out for you. You may have a career in therapy. We’ve had some good convesations over the years. The most valuable one was after the UMBC game about a week after. We talked about the perfect storm and I felt so much better. I think I owe you like $200 for that. After that game, you go back to your room. What did you do? Did you replay the game? Did you and Laurel just have a night to yourself?
Coach Bennett: It’s an interesting moment. I’ve shared some of those things before but, the thing that troubled me the most besides the loss was…we got on the bus and Ronnie Wideman said “Coach, you’re not going to like to hear this, but we’ve received some death threats, whether they were legit, gamblers, who knows, but we’re going to have to take the players through the back entrance with police escorts to their rooms and walk with them. ” And I remember at that time thinking, what is this suggesting to the minds of our young players? Yea, it was a bad loss or all that, but this is too far. And a side note, I noticed we all got to the elavators and I was the only guy without a police escort…I didn’t know what that meant. I’m walking like, wait, I see how this goes. I’ve seen the godfather a few times. But to answer your question. I walk into my room, my Father who was at the tournament, but didn’t go to the game, was in my room with my Mom. And it was strange, but I saw him and I knew I had to be good. Just for him because he was a coach. He asked me “Are you ok, son?” and I said “yes, I am”. I was with him and my family was there. But I knew how important it was for me to act like yea it stung, but I’m OK. And I went into that mode.
The next day, that’s what I told the team. I told them, You don’t understand the power you have. If you can tell your brothers, sisters, family and friends be real but that yea you’re hurting, but you’re gonna be OK and that will have a bigger influence than anything. It was that moment and my dad left and Laurel and I sat there. You know, My faith is important to me, and I remember the same thing after the championship. I got on my knees and said I don’t know what’s going on, but I know I’m going to grow from it and I’m thankful for everything I’ve experienced and I’m going to learn from it. And I tried to keep that mindset as hard as that was.
Mark Jerome: That is so true, because Ty letting me know he was OK. Put me at ease.
Tony Bennett: Yea, I beleive that. It’s a unique spot that you have an opportunity to impact others when you are at the bottom. When you are at the top, yea people watch and listen, but People really watch at least, I watch people when they’re going through something hard and that validates it. That’s why I marvel at our young men and how they handle it. It was a lot. I hope we’re going to talk about something lighter!
Mark Jerome: Well, you engineered the greatest sports story in the history of sports.
Justin Anderson: That leads me to what I want to talk about next. Being in the NCAA and being recruited by other colleges, being able to implement your faith and what you stand for, bringing that to the NCAA system. Talk about what that means to you. Why is that important to you. Being able to Quotte scripture and implementing it into your program. That’s unique. I remember our first interaction in your office and my dad asked. “what do you think?” and I said you were the most genuine dude that I’ve ever met. Can you talk about that?
Tony Bennett: Yea, good question, first everyone is at a different place in what they believe and don’t believe. And you have to respect that, especially at a State School. Our program regardless of what your beliefs are, is based on teachings that relate to basketball. When someone asks you, what’s important to you, and you have an opportunity to share it in the right way, with gentleness and respect. That’s the best way. When you go through great situations or hard situations. If something matters a lot to you, you can’t be afraid to share or be ashamed of it but you always do it with respect because everyone has something they hold dear to them they that have to go to when things happen and there’s no doubt that’s been my perspective and motivation and what everything works through. When you’re a coach, we have to treat you like you’re my child. How would I want my son to be coached and influenced? I want someone to push them hard and care for them, but impact them in the right way with just truth and good things. I appreciate that question, I know it’s delicate, but it’s what certainly carried me through it all. And I think we’re biased, it’s ONE of the greatest stories. But it’s Unique
Mark Jerome: At what point did you see this possibly unfolding and say we have a shot.
Tony Bennett: I’ll tell you. You always hope you, we can may be win a national championship, but you don’t know. Where I thought OK, it’s on and it’s real. We played Duke in the game here that Lebron Showed up to. And how about that, the next Game Michael Jordan showed up. How about that? That was cool. I never got to play against Lebron, but I got to play Michael a few times. That was probably the second greatest guy I’ve ever played against the other one was Cory Alexander who is here in the crowd. We have such great alumni and players. After that Duke game, we lost, it was a Saturday/Monday game. we go to Carolina and they were good. And the game was in their place. And when we beat them, we set that up in the locker room and I said. OK this is like the NCAA tournament. Assume we beat duke, and you have a one day turnaround and you play a big time team in a hostile environment and I said this is how the NCAA tournament will be. And we went in there. And that was a great game. that was one of the best. After that game, I told the staff. If we stay healthy…we have chance. That’s the moment I thought we could do it.
Mark Jerome: You guys won, lost, won…the last 4 games you guys were behind late and…
Tony Bennett: We wouldn’t have had to if YOUR son didn’t pick up his fourth Foul against Auburn. (Crowd Laughs)
Mark Jerome: Let’s move on.
Justin Anderson: You mentioned 3 occasions for wearing a tie. Then you mentioned a 4th. What was that?
Tony Bennett: You picked up on that. If you remember, my Dad told me if you make the final four, I’ll play Augusta with you. So I said it on the Podium to Jim Nance and I got us an opportunity to play Augusta. My Dad loves to golf. We went this April and you have to wear a Tie to eat in the dining room…so that’s why.
Justin Anderson: So how was Augusta?
Tony Bennett: If you’re a golfer, you watch it on TV. You can’t appreciate the greens and hills. I got a picture with my Dad on the Hogan Bridge. Talk about a Father Son Experience. Walking down the fairways with him, I was so blessed to have. My Dad is 76 now, so I cherish these moments.
Justin Anderson: That’s so cool. I wanna follow up with that. The fact that you played for your Dad. And Ty Jerome the Champion played for you, Dad. What was that like? I wanna hear from both of you. My Dad just gave me to you and said you Coach him.
Tony Bennett: I can only speak from the player’s view, I’m with Ty on this one. But I’ve said this before. The good is great and the bad is terrible. With my Dad, he said “You have the green light” and I said “I want you to make me and this team as good as we can be, because I wanna make the NBA”. He pushed me further than I thought I could handle and he dangled me over the edge and a lot of time I thought “I wanna transfer, this is too much”. I told my mom “Dad is nuts and I can’t take this”. Dad would go at me, telling me I’m not a Division 3 player, but he did some things to toughen me up and I knew he loved me in the end. I may not have thought that at the time, but I said I think I can trust him. I used to go home. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, you guys are good. But I sat in my room and I would say hold this pillow up and he just told me in practice I couldn guard or whatever and I would (Punching motion) to the pillow. and I would say that pillow is him and I would go at it. HAHA. I’m sure Ty did that. Tell us what he did.
Mark Jerome: You know what made me feel better. A guy I sat with at the table said his daughter was a goalie and let the ball go through her legs and he didn’t let her eat that night. So I’m not that bad. I feel better.
Tony Bennett: That’s tough love.
Mark Jerome: Thank you so much for doing this.
Tony Bennett: I usually don’t do this, but I’ll do anything for the families and players. You guys are the best.
Mark: One more question. What’s on your playlist after the championship?
Tony Bennett: I kept playing stronger than ever, how cool was it that Andy Grammar gave the intro, I don’t know who did that, but he gave the intro at the banquet last night before the song “back home”. If you listen to that song, the words, it’s unbelievable. I play the song “Hills and Valleys”. I like everything. That’s why charlottesville is big time. They have everything on the downtown mall. I also like old school Boys II men, baby face…that was way back, “Can you stand the rain” by New Edition.
Justin Anderson: I’ve got one more question. Hypothetical, let me repeat that…Hypothetical question. I hope you’re here for the rest of your career and retire, selfishly. But you have to make a decision. NBA or USA Basketball. Which one, go?
Tony Bennett: NBA or USA basketball. Well…I want starting lineup with you, Ty, Malcolm, joe…I’ll do either as long as I have my guys. I played in the PAN AM games as a player and coach. Mike Tobey was on that team. Whew, after watching USA, I may have to pick the NBA. I can’t answer, but if I have to. Probably USA basketball…