Over in the Palouse country, Dick Bennett was doing Monday what he does in retirement: play golf. "We'll pick his brain on the charter flight...
Over in the Palouse country, Dick Bennett was doing Monday what he does in retirement: play golf.
“We’ll pick his brain on the charter flight down there,” said his son Tony, the basketball coach at Washington State.
It’s a long ride today from Lewiston to Charlotte, where the Cougars play North Carolina on Thursday night in the Sweet 16, so Dick will have plenty of time to explain what happened back in 2000.
Not that Tony doesn’t know it already.
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Eight years ago this month, Dick Bennett reached the apex of a long and noble career. He took Wisconsin, a No. 8 seed, to the Final Four, where it met up with fellow Big Ten mauler Michigan State for the fourth time that season.
It was 19-17 at halftime. The two teams slugged it out like a couple of brothers who knew each other’s every counter. State won, 53-41, and two nights later, claimed the national title.
There was a good bit of hoo-ha over that semifinal game, how it didn’t pull good TV ratings, how it could be hurting the game. And the man who became the chief orator against such half-court histrionics was none other than Roy Williams.
For instance, in the first game of the very next season, Williams’ Kansas team beat UCLA, 99-98, and he was quoted, “Are you going to tell me you didn’t like this more than 19-17 at halftime? We’re trying to make it a game of basketball skills, not a weight-room contest.”
With Dick out working on his long irons Monday, I called his brother Jack back in Stevens Point, Wis. Jack Bennett is a former coach himself who won back-to-back NCAA Division III titles (2004-05) at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“Yeah, he was the one,” Jack Bennett said, referring to Williams. “I know that stung Dick at the time.”
No wonder. This was his life’s work, after all. He had spent 40 years teaching defense, valuing the ball, maximizing every opening. And he had always been pretty good at it.
Williams was later quoted that “there’s nobody I respect more than Dick Bennett.” And Jack Bennett says, “To [Williams'] credit, I know he wrote Dick afterward and said, ‘I apologize if this came across as a personal attack.’ Although it kind of was. He said, ‘It wasn’t like that. I think the game’s getting too physical.’
“I think what Roy Williams was saying at that time, he wanted the game to be played more like he wants his teams to play, and the way he recruits. … I would like to think Roy Williams understands, that’s just what these [half-court] teams have to do.”
Bottom line: “I don’t know if it completely satisfied my brother.”
Roll the postscript: The UCLA coach in that Kansas shootout, Steve Lavin, got fired a couple of years later, to be replaced by a guy who believes in grinding, Ben Howland. Williams went on from Kansas to take a dream job at North Carolina, where, through the wonders of the NCAA tournament, he’ll face Dick Bennett’s son Thursday night.
Understand, Tony Bennett has departed somewhat from his dad’s playbook, allowing his players more offensive freedom. But — just guessing here — if he has to choose sides in this debate, I’m thinking he would throw in with pops faster than a Carolina break.
Updates or not, there’s still a fairly sizable chasm in the way North Carolina and Washington State approach the game. Cougars swingman Kyle Weaver, when asked Monday if he could play in Williams’ system, said, “If you could run, I think you’d pretty much be all right. From what I just watched [on tape], every clip was like a layup or dunk.
“Kind of reminded me a little bit of when I was young. That’s pretty much the way we all started — you just get the ball and try to run downcourt as fast as you can.”
Since there will be ample time on that charter flight, Dick Bennett can also remind Tony that in the second round of that Final Four run, his Badgers faced a No. 1 seed just as the Cougars will be doing. Wisconsin beat Arizona 66-59 that day, sending home, among others, Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas, Loren Woods, Michael Wright, Luke Walton and Jason Gardner.
The sense here is that if WSU’s long season finally ends Thursday night, it won’t be because of the styles, it’ll be because of the athletes.
No doubt Jack and Tony Bennett discussed a little of both when they spoke Sunday.
“I talked to him quite a bit,” Jack Bennett said. “As an old uncle, I always have to give my perspective and advice on everything.”
Jack mentioned to his nephew three principles he considered most important.
“And Uncle Jack, here’s the fourth one,” Tony Bennett responded. “We better get our tails back on defense.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org