It's official: Tony to succeed dad as hoops coach

MAKING OFFICIAL WHAT had long been considered a foregone conclusion, Tony Bennett will become WSU's men's basketball coach when his father Dick retires, Cougar AD Jim Sterk announced Friday. Entering his third season at the Cougar helm, Dick Bennett will coach this season and then, as he has every year since arriving in Pullman, evaluate whether to return. Regardless when the reins are handed over, Tony said the program is headed is now on the verge of becoming something special.

The Tony Bennett File

A standout point guard under father Dick Bennett at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Tony Bennett played for the NBA's Charlotte Hornets from 1992-95, before foot and knee injuries halted his career. He then played for a pro team in New Zealand, where he would later become head coach.

In 1999, he returned stateside to join his father on the staff at the University of Wisconsin, where Dick Bennett was in the process of leading the Badgers to the 2000 Final Four. Dick retired the next season, and Tony stayed on the Wisconsin staff for three years.

When Dick Bennett took the WSU job in 2003, Tony Bennett joined him as an assistant, with the general understanding that he'd be first in line to the throne when his dad decided to retire. He was elevated to associate head coach after the 2003-04 season.

"I'm like the pitcher in the bullpen just keeping my arm warm that when they call me I'll be ready to go, but this is part of a long process," said Tony Bennett. "We're realistic about what we have to do...But it's exciting to know, and it helps us to know there's going to be continuity."

The younger Bennett has established himself as a force in recruiting as the driving force behind bringing Thomas Abercrombie (New Zealand), Aron Baynes (Australia), Chris Matthews (Philadelphia), Ivory Clark (Texas), Rodney Edgerson (Illinois), Caleb Forrest (Colorado) and Antonio Chavers (Texas) in as members of the Cougars' 2005-06 recruiting class. Friday, though, he directed the credit towards the staff.

"Our whole staff and our whole program has recruited," he said. He went on to mention the appointment will be beneficial in letting recruits know he'll be the coach when his father retires and that they'll be playing for the staff they signed up to play for at Washington State.

It was generally understood from the beginning that if the hoops program improved and developed as expected, Tony (36) would succeed father Dick (62) at Washington State but it wasn't put into writing until the past summer.

"I put it into writing so there was no question about the direction of the program," said Sterk, who went on to say the future elevation came with the full support of President V. Lane Rawlins. Both Sterk and the younger Bennett "have strategized" on how to keep the elder Bennett in place for as long as he wants to coach. Sterk said Dick Bennett will certainly coach through this upcoming season.

"He's chomping at the bit," said Sterk.

"He knows this is an important year to continue to rebuild with the youth in our program," added Tony Bennett. "To put a percentage on will he go another year (after this one) -- you can't do that with him."

The next head basketball coach at Washington State also said that while work remains and this year's team will be very young with many JC players also new to the program, he expects the enthusiasm over the hoops program to continue to increase exponentially.

"There's excitement because of where it was and where it is now," he said. "But if we can keep improving as time goes by, this would be one of the greatest situations I can think of because people truly appreciate it more here than most places I've been and observed."

Since the Bennetts arrived, Washington State has beaten every Pac-10 school at least once except for Oregon and Washington. The high point was undoubtedly the 70-63 victory over the 11th-ranked Arizona Wildcats in Arizona last season.

There are a number of injury concerns for Cougar players this offseason. Clark and Chris Henry have back issues that could be significant. "We have four or five guys out right now with injuries, two of which are longer of our players sprained his ankle pretty severely too. Hopefully, in time, they'll all be back but with backs you always have to be careful."

Earlier this year, sat down with Tony Bennett for a two-part Q&A.

Hoops: Talking to tomorrow's WSU head coach today

Tony Bennett talks dad, NBA and succeeding at WSU

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