State Of The Programs: Men’s Basketball

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Tony Bennett believes the UVa program has what it needs to be successful again.

Rinse and repeat.

The Virginia men’s basketball program has been stuck in a seemingly endless cycle for close to 15 seasons. Hire new coach, experience some success, watch things crumble, dismiss coach. Rinse and repeat.

Jeff Jones , the last coach at Virginia to make more than one NCAA Tournament field, started the nightmare with a tenure that included an NIT title and the NCAA’s Elite Eight, but faltered with two losing seasons in three years. Pete Gillen recruited the last player to stick in the NBA, Roger Mason Jr., rode a crest to a top 5 national ranking but crashed ashore with just one bid to the big dance. Dave Leitao found a way to turn things around rapidly with an NIT and NCAA bid in his first two seasons, but had things unravel quickly with two disappointing seasons and an early exit.

The final fallout from 1995-2009: 222 wins, 200 losses with an 88-136 ACC record and a grand total of two NCAA Tournament appearances.

Enter Tony Bennett, hired in March 2009 to reverse the Cavaliers’ fortunes. Bennett came across the country from Washington State, the son of a famous father and a family reputation for building programs. In tow? A plan.

The Bennett building model:

  • Arrive and assess
  • Establish program principles, on and off the floor
  • Coach up the remaining players
  • Recruit a large incoming class of recruits
  • Evaluate what’s next pending the results of those steps

Looking back over the first year on the job, Bennett believes those steps were accomplished. The coaches arrived and developed a plan, recruiting what eventually became a six-person recruiting class that enters UVa in 2010. In the meantime, the staff implemented the program’s principles with players learning things like the Pack-Line defense on the floor and the importance of academics and accountability off of it. In the first year, Bennett suspended three different