Tony Bennett reached his dream. The NCAA championship title. But not only that, he removed the label of a loser from himself earned during the previous NCAA tournament.
One of the best coaches in college basketball at the moment, crowned his career with a trophy he fully deserved. After almost a decade on the bench of the Cavaliers, he brought them the first national championship title.
” I felt I was a part of the story bigger than myself,” Bennett stated after the game.
And like every story, this one had a beginning. Only it wasn’t a pleasant one.
A little bit more than a year ago, Virginia suffered one of the worst days in its history. Entering the NCAA tournament as No.1 seed and one of the biggest favorites for the title, Bennett’s boys were knocked out already in the first round. UMBC Retrievers, the No.16, eliminated them, making the Cavs the first top-seeded team in the history of the tournament who lost in the opening game.
That was the start of the road which ended last night in Minneapolis, and 49-year old coach proudly spoke about that.
“I put Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy on the podium with me after the UMBC game, and I knew it was a start of something.”
After that, Cavs worked harder than ever, believing in their strength. That is why they won the school-record 35 games this season, won the ACC Conference title, and eventually won the NCAA tournament.
“They talk out there like we were going to win it. Maybe they knew something,” Bennett described the confidence of his players throughout the whole season.
And how shouldn’t this team be confident when you have three players like Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and DeAndre Hunter.
As one of our colleagues said, the “three-headed beast” crushed everything which stood in their way this season. These three guys will be a huge addition to whichever NBA teams they end up with.
The mental stability and their abilities to play under pressure and come back when expected the least, are way beyond college basketball. And that applies to the whole team not only these guys.
It is something Bennett takes pride for.
“Resiliency,” he said when asked what will he remember this team for. ” Just, when they play together… they had something, that synergy.”
And after this, he described his team in the best possible way.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
And really is. These guys didn’t have the individual quality of one Duke, with Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, or a player like Carsen Edwards or Ja Morant. But they had a team.
A group of guys which had a goal in front of itself and a huge motivation to reach that goal. All other teams were about being stars and playing mostly for the camera and the public. It was like that, no matter what the majority thinks.
While all the above-mentioned were covering the front pages and making headlines, Cavaliers were thinking about that loss against the Retrievers. And all the sneers, taunts, and jokes others made on their account.
That is a painful motivation, which always forces you to push the limits and to fight like there is no tomorrow. That is precisely why this team managed to come back and win games they weren’t supposed to. That is why they simply had to beat Oregon, Purdue, and Auburn,
They had no other option but to reach their goal. Otherwise, there would be no tomorrow, and no chance to erase the humiliation against UMBC.
One of the reporters asked Bennett during the postmatch press conference, did his team paid the dues for last year.
“Does it go away completely? No. I wish it wouldn’t have happened in some ways.”
But he admitted that it was the initial spark which made Virginia champions.
“But now I say, ‘Well, it bought us a ticket here. So be it.’”