Despite the imminent start of the basketball season, Virginia Coach Tony Bennett agreed to take the time to sit down with us and answer some questions about his background and thoughts on the upcoming year. Follow his alter-ego at @IfTonyTweeted.
Streaking the Lawn: You have garnered quite a following on your Twitter account. Coach, what inspired you to get on Twitter?
Tony Bennett: Really it's about connecting directly with the fans, in an open, honest way. In press conference and media interviews, it's really important to be humble, sporting, and truthful. Twitter requires none of that. It gives me an opportunity to say all of those things that I probably shouldn't. Twitter has been hailed as the most important media innovation of our time. When the most popular figure on the most important media innovation is Justin Bieber, it becomes pretty clear that there's a huge market for unimportant crap, and I wanted a piece of that action.
STL: You turned down overtures from schools like Marquette, Indiana, and LSU to take the UVA job. What drew you to the University?
TB: Out of all the places I could go, this was the one spot where I really felt like strategic dynamism was practiced. I'm just kidding, I only learned that term this summer. Did we ever find out what it means? As to why I came here, mainly it was due to the competition, and the caliber of guys I would be coaching against. Guys like Gary Williams, Seth Greenberg, Frank Haith, Al Skinner, Dino Gaudio...the list goes on and on.
STL: Coming into the new season, what adjustments will the team have to make without Mike Scott?
TB: Without Mike, we've had to ditch one of our most successful offensive sets, which we called "Stand around and wait for Mike to do something." This has taken some getting used to in practice for the upperclassmen, who still sometimes pass to an empty spot 12 feet from the basket. So it's going to take some time, but the guys are eager. I mentioned to Joe Harris in the offseason that I'm going to look for him to help replace Mike, and the next time I saw him he had corn rows and a Katy Perry neck tattoo. So now I try to think more about how I communicate with the guys.
STL: You have a first-year-heavy roster who have just completed their first week of practice. Any first impressions to share?
TB: Mike Tobey is going to provide some important size to us. They say you can't coach height, but that's just an excuse lazy coaches use. I've coached Mike up a full inch since he arrived on grounds. That's just the kind of thing I bring to the table. I'm hoping to have up to 7'2" by next season, and then we'll start working on his wingspan. Justin Anderson is an athletic freak. He's also a smart guy, very well read. This has caused some confusion, particularly when he was trying to motivate the team by quoting Proust while we were in Europe. So I've had to tell him, you know, less Wittgenstein and more Valvano on those pep talks. Evan Nolte could be a breakout star this year. He has an incredibly mature game for a kid his age. Actually, he's just mature all the way around. He's the only player with a 401k and an estate plan.
STL: After last season's injury issues, Jontel Evans's foot injury has the Hoos off to an inauspicious start in that department. Have you made any changes or taken any precautions since?
TB: We've changed some of the things we do in practice. We no longer practice dunking off of trampolines. Come to think of it, I'm not sure why we ever did that in the first place, but it's gone now and I probably won't bring it back. As I mentioned on Twitter, we've decided to get away from the Nike Air Lisfrancs that we were wearing. It was just an ill-conceived shoe, and I've sent Phil Knight a strongly worded letter expressing my displeasure. And now, after practice, our trainers spend a good hour wrapping all the players in bubble wrap. We've already exceeded our bubble wrap budget for the year because some players* keep popping all the bubbles.
STL: With Malcolm Brogdon and Jontel Evans likely to miss the first game of the year, who could we expect to see at point guard?
TB: That's the big question right now. I tried looking for guys who might be available in the area, but despite how great people tell you Craigslist is, it really was a bust. As a male coach of a men's team, I posted an ad in the "men 4 men" section, and the responses I got were completely inappropriate. In hindsight, I probably should have been more specific when asking for videos demonstrating their ball handling, so shame on me for that one.
STL: Any other words for the students and fans coming out to JPJ this season?
TB: Virginia fans have come to embrace defense, and I'd like to see them take their appreciation to the next level. I've asked the Hoo Crew to come up with a special cheer every time we force a shot clock violation. But I'd like to see it go beyond that. Instead of offering free Raising Canes to fans when we score 70 points, I'd like to see it offered when we hold an opposing team to an effective field goal percentage** of 40% or less. It would require more math on the students' part, but hey, this is UVa.
STL: Going into your 4th season as head coach of UVA, what has been the highlight (and/or lowlight) of the past 3 years?
TB: The highlight was definitely Mike Scott. Being able to see him turn from a boy into a man, and then into a much older man was fascinating. Of course he had to deal with more than his share of injuries, from ankle and knee problems early on, to osteoporosis and gout in his later years. But during that time he turned himself into a legend for Virginia fans, a torchbearer for fans of tempo free stats, and someone Caulton Tudor has heard of.
Without a doubt, the low point was our ACC Tournament loss to Miami in 2011. Did you really need to ask? Did you not see that game? Are you just trying to hurt me?
*It was Akil
**eFG% = (.5*3FGM + FGM) / FGA
Disclaimer: This is not the real Tony Bennett - it is a joke.