I'm a big fan of Tony Bennett; after that Sweet Sixteen run, who isn't? But, as I noted in Tony Bennett Can't Land the Big Fish, there are still some open questions about Tony, especially when it comes to recruiting.
According to a Sports Illustrated study, 34% of players don’t finish at the school where they started. For Virginia, it’s much worse:
In the 2008 recruiting class, 67% of the players transferred or left the program. Brandenburg and Landesberg left early, leaving only Sene.
In 2009, 50% left early. Evans stayed, Spurlock left.
In 2010, 67% left early. Harris and Mitchell stayed; Harrell, Baron, Regan, and Johnson left.
In 2011, 33% left early. Atkins and Brogdon stayed; Jesperson left.
In 2012, 40% left early. Tobey, Nolte, and Anderson stayed; Barnette and Jones left.
Total: 10 out of 19 players transferred or left the program from 2008 to 2012, or 53%. That’s over 50% higher than the average national rate of transfers.
But coaching changes trigger transfers, so maybe it’s unfair to go back to 2008. If you take just the Bennett recruits from 2010 to 2012, it’s 50%. Fully 50% of Bennett’s recruits, 7 of 14, left early. The sample size isn’t really big enough to call it a trend, and most of the players who’ve left might be considered addition-by-subtraction. But it does make it look like Bennett casts a wide net, uses up his scholarships, and expects (pushes?) a lot of attrition. A lot more than average.
Is it because of the academic rigor of U.Va.? Probably not, because other academically rigorous schools don’t show the same transfer rate. Other than our artist, Sylvan Landesberg, it doesn't Virginia's losses were related to academics. Is it because of the difficulty learning the packline? Probably not; Jones was a pretty good defender but just wasn’t ACC caliber. Is it Bennett’s basketball culture (or Christianity)? Pretty clearly not; almost all the players have left on good terms. It appears that the problem is that the players initially recruited, often as last-minute panic additions, aren’t of the talent level to earn playing time. Think Baron, Barnette, and Jones – all last minute recruits who signed after the Big Fish had gone elsewhere.
That says there might be a problem with Bennett’s recruiting philosophy. He’s fishing for big fish, coming up empty, and settling for minnows. But it’s unfair to the minnows because they can’t play at this level. As I predicted months ago in Back to the Wilderness, Jones had to leave to make room for more talent.
Maybe Bennett needs to learn to pocket the scholarship if he can’t get a player of the caliber he’s looking for – like this year, when he added Thompson very late. Because Thompson has already transferred and will sit a year, he can’t really transfer again (unless its to D2). So he’ll occupy a roster spot for the next four years. Is that wise?