Two years ago, when Tony Bennett came to Charlottesville and took over at the helm of the Virginia men's basketball program, then junior guard Mustapha Farrakhan had only averaged 10.4 minutes and 4.3 points per game from his sophomore season. Now, as he is reaching the end of his college career at Virginia with senior night on Tuesday against N.C. State, the captain from Harvey, IL is the undisputed leader of the Cavaliers.
"He's stuck it out," Bennett said. "That's the thing I'm most proud of. He didn't play much his first two years, even his third year with me, but he's stuck it out. He's taken some big steps in his game, even with this season with some injuries on our part that maybe have affected us."
Now, Farrakhan leads the team, averaging 13.2 points in 30.5 minutes per game. He has scored in double figures in 21 of the 28 games this season.
"I've enjoyed coaching him for these two years," Bennett said. "He's improved his game through numbers, he's had to play a lot of minutes and been called upon a lot to defend the opposing team's best scorer on the perimeter and try to really give us offensive productivity."
In addition to developing as a player, Farrakhan has developed emotionally. According to Bennett, Farrakhan can get excited when he goes on offensive runs or he can "get discouraged or get off the tracks" if he's having a off-shooting night.
"But part of who he is and what makes him good is that he plays with emotion. He wants so much to do well for the team and for himself and I think when he has either a bad stretch or an off night, that's his greatest challenge, to overcome that and get back to it."
As even the most casual of fans know, Farrakhan is the grandson of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and, accordingly, has received much attention from media. Because of this, Bennett spoke highly of Farrakhan, saying that you wouldn't know it just looking at him.
"Not many people have seen or dealt with the things that Mustapha has, being who he is and who is grandfather is," Bennett said. "I think [being Louis Farrakhan's grandson] does bring a whole ‘nother element into play. I think he acts like a normal college athlete, but there are things that are there, so I think that does come into consideration. The way he is you wouldn't notice it, but I think all those things are there. You kind of step back and think, there's more than meets the eye here. Mustapha's a very deep young man, he really is. I've seen that."
"He's had some real nice outings, and I think he's a better player than last year and been a good leader, and his attitude's been good. As I said, he's emotional and I've seen him change and handle that better. I hope he'll finish strong both for our sake and for his sake."