Benford a top recruiter, players' coach

In the first of six articles previewing the Golden Eagles, MarquetteHoops.com gets to know first year assistant and longtime basketball veteran Tony Benford.

Ask Tony Benford or Buzz Williams to talk about the other and waterfalls of praise immediately begin to gush forth.

"Number one he's a great human being," said Benford of his new boss. "A great person, great character, great family man. I've been fortunate to be associated with some really quality coaches. He's [both] a real quality person and coach."

"You'll be known because you're effective or you'll be known because you're not effective," said Williams of Benford. "I've known him because of his effectiveness. He's always accountable for every day."

Given all the kind words, it's hard to imagine these two having been anything but the best of friends.

"I've known Tony Benford since the first year I was in college coaching and he and I have great respect for one another," said Williams. "But you would never classify us as friends prior to me hiring him."

Reserved admiration might be the best phrase to describe their prior relationship. These two men had a long-standing rivalry that came from recruiting against one another for close to 15 years in Texas and the Southwest.

"Man he was a bulldog," said Benford. "He was going to get close to the parents, get close to the kid, the coaches. So I had to make sure I had everything covered. I knew it was a situation where I wasn't going to have much rest when I recruited against Buzz."

Both men are not only tireless recruiters – they're also good recruiters. Williams was instrumental in bringing in much of a Texas A&M class that made the Sweet-16 in 2007, and his incoming class for the 2009-10 season at Marquette is already ranked in the top-five nationally by ESPN.com.

Benford, meanwhile, has been credited with inking such high profile players as Eddie House, Ike Diogu and Kenny Thomas.

Benford and the league

However, the similarities end at actual playing experience. While Willaims' basketball career peaked before college, Benford played four seasons at Texas Tech before being drafted by the Boston Celtics with the No. 93 overall pick in 1986. He spent time in NBA preseason camp with the Celtics and the Bulls before ultimately playing in Europe.

That experience gives Benford a unique position from which to provide guidance to Marquette's NBA hopefuls, such as Dominic James and Jerel McNeal.

"I think the thing guys don't realize is that it's a tough league," said Benford. "There are great players – Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan – and the rest of the guys are just role players. And that's [part of] what I tell these guys, that it's not a guarantee if you have a great college career that you'll be a great NBA player. It's very difficult just to make an NBA roster."

Benford advises his charges to maintain a great attitude and to keep working hard every day. And he's already made an impression on McNeal.

"He comes in every day and coaches us hard and makes us better," said the senior guard. "I have a relationship with him already just starting off. He's always in my ear trying to give me pointers and things in my game I need to improve on."

A character coach

The final thing that Benford and Williams share is probably the most important from a coaching standpoint – their commitment to caring for and developing their players as human beings.

In his short time as a head coach, Williams has already talked at length about wanting his players to become good citizens and good family members upon leaving his program

Talking to Benford for just a few minutes, one gets the impression he feels the same way.

"I look at it as, sometimes we're the players' last line of defense. Often we're some of the first real father figures they may have in their life so we've got to set the tone and help them continue to develop first as people and then secondly as students."

When asked about his best moment in basketball, the former high-school all-American and collegiate all-defensive player spoke about Justin Allen, a player he coached at Arizona State.

Allen was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease, and Benford was there when he heard the news.

"His mother came down and met our head coach and the families and the players and she said, ‘Look, I'm going to keep him here so he can go through his chemo because this is his family.'"

Allen was given a grim prognosis, but after a full year of chemotherapy he returned to health and was able to play basketball for the Sun Devils the next season.

"It was one of the things that really touched me as a coach since I've been in this business. We get all caught up and we want to win games, but ultimately it gets down to the individual. How can we make a difference and help someone else"

And that attitude of selflessness – putting the well being of the players first – may just be the secret to Benford's success on the recruiting trail.

"When I start with a parent, I talk to them on a personal level, like when I visit with my kids. Because at the end of the day they're entrusting their most valuable commodity, which is their kid, and putting them in our trust. And that's a huge responsibility on our part."

Jeff Wolf is the head student writer at MarquetteHoops.com. He is a junior majoring in advertising.

This is the first of six feature articles from MarquetteHoops.com leading up to Marquette Madness. Next, we take a look at a few transfer players, starting with Joe Fulce.


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