“They say we’re ranked seventh in the country in college basketball – that brings a lot of expectations and excitement for the upcoming season,” Coach Tony Bennett told the Pullman Kiwanis Club Thursday at their noon meeting in the Gladish Community and Cultural Center.
After a year of accomplishments and honors, the Cougar men’s basketball team hopes to use last year’s success to help springboard them into this year’s competition. “Last year was our “TAY” – turn around year,” said Bennett. “We brought the program back to respectability.”
He described the “significant moment” – the turning point – as the game against Gonzaga in Beasley Coliseum with a sell-out crowd yelling for the Cougars. “It was the beginning of some big wins that led us to the NCAA playoffs and a first round win over Oral Roberts University,” said Bennett. “These experiences were huge for our program.”
Crediting his father, former Cougar men’s basketball coach, Dick Bennett, Tony Bennett said he wants to build a program that lasts. And he wants the kind of young men on the team ‘who can stay true to the vision and not fracture under a loss.’ “If we are humble and hungry, we have a chance to attain what we want this year,” he said.
Bennett strives for a successful season by incorporating five core principles into his coaching: Humility…. “will they be a humble team?” he asks, referencing the quote, ‘pride goes before a fall’. Do they have the passion? What about unity? “Some players will get more attention than others – can they live with that? Then there is servanthood. “If the players can accept their role as the star or as the back-up on the bench, then we can be great,” said Bennett. Lastly, whether winning or losing, he asks players to be thankful. “When we’re right with the five principles of the team, we have a chance,” he said.
After a rousing gathering where the team enthusiastically viewed last year’s basketball highlights, Bennett says he took the video and dropped it into the garbage can. “Last year is over,” he said. “This is a new experience going into …the new season…with more lofty expectations.”
Bennett took questions from the crowd and talked about the team’s travels to New Zealand and Australia last June. “We played six games and got ten extra practices under our belt,” he said. “Overall, it was a real good experience. The guys did a lot of cultural things too, like visiting the Sydney Opera House … but they didn’t want to hear the opera.”
Praising the leadership of the juniors and seniors on the team, Bennett also highlighted new players including Thomas Abercombie, freshman from Auckland, New Zealand. “He’s very skilled and very athletic – he just needs some game experience,” he said.