Pulling no punches: Dick Bennett Part II

PULLMAN— One day before the Cougars played their 2004-05 season opener, Cougfan.com sat down with the always compelling <b>Dick Bennett</b>. Today, Part II. A thoughtful, straight-up interview with one of the game's preeminent defensive coaches. If you're a fan of clichés and coach-speak, this CF.C exclusive isn't for you.

Pulling no punches, Part II

Cougfan.com: How would you define a successful season for WSU this year?

Dick Bennett: Quite frankly, we're in over our head with the non-conference schedule this year, and that's my fault. But also next year it'll look a lot better because those teams are coming here. Being really competitive with chances to win just about every non-conference game would be a good showing. In the conference, I think, at the very best, we're going to be in a lot of close games. And we've got to win our share of the close games. Anywhere near .500 would be a major accomplishment for this team.

I'm usually not predictive in a quantitative sense, as far as number of wins and losses. I look at it in terms of quality of play and being really competitive. If we can be competitive in the conference I'll be pleased. To win our share of close games would be great.

CF.C: What has to happen for that success to be achieved?

BENNETT: Right now I don't believe we're anywhere close to being as good as we were at the end of last year, and that concerns me, because there isn't the same toughness. It took us all year to build a degree of toughness that we carried into the Pac-10. We really were hard to play against. I don' think that's the case yet this year.

The loss of Derrick Low really has hurt us, there's no question about that. I think Kyle Weaver has done a good job of filling in, but Kyle needs to learn how hard you have to play. I don't think we play hard enough yet, I don't think were tough enough, nor do I think we're anywhere near patient enough in our offensive sets.

CF.C: Who is the best athlete you've ever coached, and who is the best basketball player you've ever coached?

BENNETT: I would have to say Terry Porter is the best basketball player (Bennett coached Porter at D-III Wisconsin Stevens-Point). Terry played 18 years in the NBA, so that would pretty much solidify his position there.

I'm always hesitant to place guys ahead of one another, because I've had a number of players...the best shooter I ever coached has been my son, Tony; he still leads the NCAA in three-point shooting (Tony Bennett also played briefly in the NBA).

The best athlete certainly wasn't Terry...I might be inclined to say Andy Kowski. He was the center on our Final Four team. He could play all day, he could jump with the best of 'em, he had great strength. He was pretty much a straight-A student and a four-year starter at Wisconsin.

CF.C: On the court, what do you think are the problems facing the NBA and college basketball?

BENNETT: The NBA has a set of standards and values that represent what the country values; that is spectacular, shocking, individual, flashy...and the NBA caters to that. And while its tremendously exciting, I think in general terms, NBA basketball lacks a lot of what makes basketball special. And that is great team play, and great skill, but never at the expense of teammates. (There are) different ways to play the game. Basketball is the one sport that affords inferior teams a chance to become, as a whole, greater than the parts. But when you stick a 24-second shot clock in there, you eliminate that opportunity.

College basketball has moved in that direction, but not totally. The worst of college basketball is the kind that looks like a miniature NBA, and the best of college basketball has some of that same excitement (of the NBA) but also shows some genuine discipline and team play and still highlights the team over the individual. And I don't think its a coincidence that the NBA teams that have respected a number of the team elements of basketball have been the most successful.

(The NBA is) appealing to a lot of fans. I'm a purist, so I don't particularly enjoy the NBA, until it gets to the playoffs and then it resembles a little more of the game that I love.

CF.C: Do you think some of those problems were revealed during the 2004 Olympics?

BENNETT: Without question it showed up. We sent guys over there who had no more conception -- as a team -- of what it was about than most of the people who watched the games. Even an excellent coaching staff couldn't get them to see that in time.

CF.C: If you were a pollster, who would be in your national preseason Top 5?

BENNETT: There are anywhere between 10-15 teams who legitimately could win the national title. I definitely would have Kansas and Oklahoma State in there. I have a feeling that Louisville might be really good. North Carolina for sure, and Duke. I know Arizona is really loaded. Washington I think is going to be a Top 10 team. I know Connecticut is very good again. Also Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

CF.C: Is there an overall difference, as far as style of play, between the Big Ten and the Pac-10?

BENNETT: Not so much anymore. The Big Ten is slightly more halfcourt-oriented, but it used to be a lot more halfcourt-oriented. But I think the differences have diminished. There may not be a team in the Big Ten quite as explosive as say, an Arizona or Washington, but there are teams in the Pac-10 who really are concerned about being strong in the halfcourt, so you're getting a mix. I do think that the Pac-10 offers more variety than the Big Ten.

I do know this; the referees allow more physical play in the Big Ten than in the Pac-10. That I can say with certainty after one year here.

Cougfan Top Stories