Our annual Candid Coaches series is always fun in the sense that it provides (hopefully) interesting content in a month (August) that produces little-to-no college basketball news. Plus, we typically learn stuff.
This week, I learned this: Coaches really think highly of Tony Bennett.
In fairness, I guess I didn’t “learn” that as much as I had what I assumed to be true confirmed. But it’s interesting, either way. We asked coaches to tell us whom they think is both equipped and likely to make a move to the NBA, and Tony Bennett was a common answer. We asked coaches to tell us whom they would want to coach their son if their son were a player, and the top two answers were Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Virginia’s Tony Bennett.
“Were we the only two options?” Bennett joked Friday morning.
I told him there were actually 351 options.
“That is flattering,” Bennett said. “There are so many coaches out there who do it right, develop players and are about the right stuff. … But we’ve been fortunate the past few years to have success, and there’s exposure on TV, and that’s probably why [my] name gets thrown in there.”
Needless to say, that’s untrue.
Bennett’s name didn’t get “thrown in there” because he’s won and been on TV often. (FYI: Lots of coaches win and are on TV often.) But Bennett’s self-deprecating explanation is a good example of why coaches seem to like and respect him — because he’s excellent at his job but also egoless.
Which brings me back to the NBA.
What was most interesting about college coaches telling us they believe Bennett would be perfect for the NBA is that it echoes what NBA people have also told me in various conversations over the past year — that Bennett’s basketball mind, combined with his demeanor, combined with his background as an NBA player, should make him an obvious candidate for almost any good opening.
So does the NBA interest Bennett?
I asked him that question Friday morning, and, before I share his answer, I think it’s only fair to note that, frankly, this is an impossible question for a college coach to answer. If he says “No,” he’s likely not telling the truth. But if he says “Yes,” other coaches will use it against him on the recruiting trail.
It’s a no-win situation.
Still, Bennett was cool enough to answer.
“I love the college game and the challenges it provides,” he said. “But I would never close any doors on [going to the NBA], at some point. I’m very satisfied [at Virginia]. But I’d never say never.”
Truth be told, that’s the way almost every successful college coach, especially those under the age of 55, feels about the NBA. They’re nearly all intrigued by the possibility because most of them love the idea of getting to coach the best players in the world while putting recruiting and fund-raising in rearview mirrors. The only question is whether it’s worth it to leave a great college job for anything other than a great NBA job, and that’s a question each man has to answer for himself. But are they intrigued? Yes, they’re intrigued. So before anybody tries to use Bennett’s answer against him, they should know his answer is the same answer most successful coaches would give if they were willing to speak honestly on the subject.
FIVE OTHER THINGS ON GP’S MIND
1. My favorite Candid Coaches question to date has been the one where we asked coaches whether they’ve ever had an uncomfortable or inappropriate encounter with a law enforcement official. The answers were troubling but unsurprising. Basically, white coaches said “No” and black coaches said “Yes.” And the black coaches shared some truly ridiculous stories. If you missed it, you can read it here. Also: we dedicated a good portion to this week’s Eye on College Basketball podcast to the subject. If you missed that, you can listen to it here.
2. I have nothing unique to add to what you’ve already heard people say about this week’s announcement that the Champions Classic has been extended through 2019. But I did want to note that, yes, this is great news. The event featuring Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State has been consistently terrific since its inception. I detailed the history of it last year. You can relive it here, if you want.
3. From the not-great-news department, North Carolina coach Roy Williams told ESPN this week that the ACC expanding to 20 league games will likely lead to the end of the Tar Heels’ series with Kentucky. And that stinks. Scheduling is a massive problem in college basketball. The sport doesn’t need fewer interesting non-league games. It needs way more. And, unfortunately, it appears one of the best is going away.
4. Keep an eye on the recruiting class Illinois’ John Groce is assembling. He just added a fourth prospect from the Class of 2017 — namely Trent Frazier, a four-star guard from Florida. The Illini’s class is now ranked third nationally, according to 247Sports. Auburn, Washington, UCLA and Washington are also in the top five.
5. South Florida, which is being investigated by the NCAA, will not have the highest-rated member of its incoming recruiting class this season. Troy Baxter was reportedly granted a release from USF on Friday and will now explore other options. The 6-foot-8 forward is a consensus top-100 recruit who is eligible to play college basketball this season. So he’ll have plenty of suitors, I’m certain.
FINAL THOUGHT: Before I got off the phone with Tony Bennett early Friday, I asked him to answer one more question for me. I told him I knew a lot of coaches would like their sons to play for him. But I was curious which coach he’d pick for his own son.
The first name out of his mouth was … Brad Stevens.
But Celtics coach Brad Stevens is no longer a college coach.
So I asked for a different answer.
“I can say because he’s a friend and I’ve always respected him: Lorenzo Romar,” Bennett said. “When I was [coaching] at Washington State, I never could’ve said that because he was our rival [at Washington]. But I can say that now. Lorenzo Romar.”
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Inside College Hoops: Other coaches think highly of Virginia’s Tony Bennett