1. “Our managers, our walk-ons — we’re all part of it. It’s not any different. I love that about them … they represent our program in the best way possible.”
Inclusion is the epitome of Virginia basketball — every role matters and Coach Tony Bennett ensures that no one thinks otherwise. Just look at Grant Kersey’s success story — from managing equipment and rebounding during practices to living out his childhood dream as a player on the team, Kersey embodies Bennett’s goals of respect and inclusion for the basketball program.
2. “Of course it’s about the quality of the people, the relationships. But great academics, opportunity to win, to develop your game, play professionally — that to me is what I would want to look at if I were a young man.”
If you’ve followed Virginia basketball over the years, you know that when it comes to recruiting, Bennett has a unique strategy. He often scouts out underdogs who possess potential and coachability rather than just physicality or skill — after all, many of Virginia’s most renowned players were redshirts.
3. “This is a different year, but it’s our year. And our way is our way, and we’re scrapping and we’re fighting. I know it’s not perfect but we’ve got each other’s back and we’re all for one.”
Bennett said this in the press conference following the one-point overtime win over Notre Dame this season, and in retrospect, he really wasn’t kidding about 2020 being “a different year.” Nonetheless, the statement rings true — despite the season being cut short, Virginia basketball has maintained its sense of community with former guards Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter’s recent takeover of the team’s Twitter handle. The former members hosted a virtual watch party of CBS’s national championship game replay and played Fortnite games on Twitch. Once a Wahoo, always a Wahoo.
4. “When we talk to our young men about what humility means, it’s twofold. Don’t think too highly of yourself … don’t think too lowly of yourself.”
Virginia basketball’s foundation rests upon Bennett’s five pillars: humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. While Bennett practices the pillars in his faith, family and coaching, he encourages his players to utilize them as teammates and in their own lives.
5. “I never thought of myself being a national championship coach. I wasn't even going to really get into coaching. I wasn't crazy about it. I loved playing, and then I saw my dad's team go to the Final Four. I was a volunteer manager, and I got into it. I love the young men. I love the game. But it's not my end all, be all.”
The best things in life are unexpected — especially when Bennett is coaching. In the press conference following the national championship game almost a year ago, Bennett reminded everyone what life is truly about. Bennett has upheld this selfless ideology constantly — most recently, Bennett turned down a raise and instead asked Athletics Director Carla Williams to focus the money on his staff and improvements to the program. He and his wife Laurel then pledged $500,000 to a career development program for current and former Cavalier players.
6. “I want these young guys to learn about the joy of family, the joy of what will matter in their life. Sports is one of the greatest classrooms that I can think of and adversity is maybe the greatest teacher.”
Virginia basketball is a program built on something bigger than basketball — family, academics and athletics all wrapped into one. Bennett’s greatest lessons extend beyond the court and beyond a player’s years at the University, and this quote reminds us of that.
7. “Stay humble and stay thankful. It's a great story.”
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve probably realized that most of what Bennett has to say applies to the world outside basketball — that’s why Virginia fans love him. Like the game, life is full of fouls and injuries as well as free throws and dunks. It truly is a great story, Bennett.
8. “If you learn to use it right, the adversity, it will buy you a ticket to a place you could not have gone any other way.”
It may come as a surprise that one of Bennett’s most famous quotes is credited to a TED talk his wife Laurel showed him. Without the “painful gift” of adversity that UMBC gave Virginia during the 2018 March Madness Tournament, a National Title would have never been possible. Bennett regards this crucial moment in the team’s history as a necessity for the title our beloved team holds today.
9. “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
When Bennett said this after Virginia’s fall to Syracuse in the Elite 8 round in 2016, he had no idea what was to come for the team. This proverb has defined the program and is representative of life itself. While tough times may endure, one must always stay hopeful because the good is on its way.
10. “No one wanted it to end this way, but in light of all of the uncertainty and people who would be put at risk, I support and understand the NCAA canceling [the 2020 NCAA Tournament]. I feel for all the young men and women who had their college careers cut short and the experiences they will miss. It is important in these circumstances for us to consider the bigger perspective and act toward the greater good.”
Bennett never fails to support the “greater good,” even if it means an early end to Virginia basketball. At the risk of sounding cliche, he reminds us not to cry because it’s over, but to smile because it happened. Though many Virginia fans are mourning the shortened season, Virginia will enter the offseason as the reigning national champions once more.