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ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE OPERATION BASKETBALL

October 16, 2013

Tony Bennett

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA

JEFF FISCHEL:  We're joined by Virginia head coach Tony Bennett.
You have built up an incredible amount of depth and experience for this team.  I'm wondering how all these guys are going to get the minutes this year.
COACH BENNETT:  I think that will be certainly an issue.  The one thing that I think a formula for success for us at Virginia is to have a team that has some maturity.  I always envisioned us to have superior upperclassmen so you can compete against the best in the league.  We haven't been able to do that as fast as we would have liked with transfers.
We do have a couple of seniors, juniors.  Now you have to find playing time.  You want that competitiveness in practice.  With fouls, with injuries, things like that, you need depth.  I think that will be very important for our success this year.
JEFF FISCHEL:  Questions.

Q.  You are picked to finish fourth this year by the media.  Seems like the expectations are higher for you this year.  Do you sense that?  How do you balance that with your players?
COACH BENNETT:  I mean, the predictions, that's nice.  It means you're going to have a chance to try to prove that, to be a quality team in this league.  I think there has to be a balance.  I think you have to have expectations to finish well, to get to post‑season play, all those things.
In saying that, there better be a balance of, we use the term 'falling in love with the process.'  How do you reach those expectations, get as good as you can?  That's improving each moment of every day.  Our players understand that.
Rick Carlisle told our players, he said, Listen, Justin Anderson, if I run a last‑second shot for you, what are you thinking about?  If you're thinking, I got to make the shot, you're thinking all wrong.  You have to think about your balance, your footwork.  The by‑product is if you make it or not.  If you're a team that has some more expectations, if you're so focused on the end result, you're going down the wrong path.  You better compete daily, improve, hold each other accountable.  When you face some adversity, how you respond to that is going to determine how successful you'll be.
We've worked hard to get our program to where we have experience and depth.  In this league, you better be good or you're going to be in trouble because of the additions of the teams, the qualities of coaches in the ACC.
JEFF FISCHEL:  Joe Harris, the returning first‑team all‑ACC guy.  One behind C.J. Fair.  What is the next step he took in the off‑season to improve his game even more.
COACH BENNETT:  I think good players have the ability to go to take it to another level, go to the next gear.  I think Joe showed that at times last year.  I also think the opposite of that, a good player, their lows around that low.  Maybe they're off with a shooting night or something is not quite right.  Their play never dips too low.
I think when you're a senior, you're one of the better players, your highs can be elite, but your lows, they don't go too low.  I think that consistency that you're looking for, then just fine‑tuning little thing is what hopefully Joe will add to this year's play.
JEFF FISCHEL:  Between Joe, Akil and Justin, you have a variety of experience.  That's got to stabilize that team heading into the season.
COACH BENNETT:  There's no substitute for experience in this league.  As I said at the beginning, I think Virginia has to do it with maturity, with guys who have been in a lot of games, that have seen it.  That's a great equalizer to maybe going against guys that have a ton of McDonald's All‑Americans, such high‑level talent.
We have talented players.  When they're mature and they really play together, have that kind of chemistry, then you can be very difficult to beat.
JEFF FISCHEL:  On Twitter, the hashtag swoon.
COACH BENNETT:  I heard about that today.  He met Taylor Swift.
JEFF FISCHEL:  Joe being as good as he is, it becomes fun not only to have a guy like that on the team, but Akil admitted he's the biggest swoon fan.
COACH BENNETT:  I sent him to the barber that cuts my hair.  Once he got that good haircut, it all went up for him.
JEFF FISCHEL:  It's all about the hair.
COACH BENNETT:  That's right.

Q.  You mentioned the new additions to the ACC.  How much tougher do those teams make this conference?  Can this be one of the best conferences ever?
COACH BENNETT:  I think to me, when you determine what's the best conference in college basketball, there has to be two things present.
I think the first one is are there teams that can contend for a national championship.  I think you have to check that box off and say, yeah, there are.  There's that in other leagues.  But the other thing is, how good is the middle of the league, how good is the depth from the bottom up.  When you look at the quality of depth in this league with all the teams, the winning percentages, all that stuff, you can say for sure on that account, too.
When you have those two things present, I don't know if there's another league in the country that can boast that.  I think that's what will give us the chance to be the best in the league.
Again, it will all be played out.  All these pre‑season predictions, all this talk about what's the best, we'll find out soon enough.  That's the best place to determine it.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH BENNETT:  I'm left‑handed, so that's a no‑brainer.  Maybe back in the day.  I don't know if that's a big feather in my cap.  I haven't seen the other coaches shoot much.  That's very flattering.
I just want my team to be the best shooting team.  We don't have Johnny Dawkins in this league.  He plays at Stanford.  I don't know the playing background.  Leonard Hamilton said he would be the best defender.
I'll take my chances if I'm a betting man on that one.
JEFF FISCHEL:  Let's talk about the defense.  You guys play an incredibly tough brand of defense.  It goes to not only how hard you play on defense, but also the pace you play.  How do players adapt to that style and how open are they when they first come there?
COACH BENNETT:  I think that's one of the things.  When we are good defensively, I think more teams are really getting serious about how good they are defensively, and that actually probably lowers the possessions in the game and points as you're seeing that on a national average in college basketball.
I think it's a great equalizer.  I really do.  Even as you watch the playoffs in baseball, other sports, you can't just be great defensively and not be that good offensively or vice versa.  There has to be a balance.
But I think it gives you a chance to be in games, to be competitive first, then successful.  I've just seen it work.  Again, it's not the most glamorous, but it's effective.  I think you got to start there.  Hopefully as you get more talent and ability, you can branch out offensively.
JEFF FISCHEL:  How did you and your father before you develop that pack line defenses?
COACH BENNETT:  My father grew up matching Vince Lombardi.  He'd go to their practices.  His defensive philosophy, he named it because he was in Green Bay, the Packers.  It's about packing the lane, not stretching.  It went well with the Packers.  It's not that he invented it, it's just a sound philosophy.
At the time I was playing for him, he made a shift that benefited his personnel.  Any coach looks and says, What is going to give us the best chance to beat the best teams in our conference.  It's a system that's based on working people work.  It doesn't disrupt, you're not turning people over, but it's kind of a battle of wills.  Whoever can out last the other opponent with positioning, it's team oriented, wins the battle.
JEFF FISCHEL:  Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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