12 youthful questions for Tony Bennett

HE'S THE TOAST OF the national basketball media, the son of a coaching legend and the most accurate three-point shooter in NCAA history. Today, he's talking trash about Michael Jordan, speculating about what it would be like to coach against Dick Bennett, and lamenting the increasingly pro-like trappings of college ball. It's 12 questions with first-year Washington State head coach Tony Bennett.

We didn't even think about working in a reference to the singer of the same name who left his heart in San Francisco. Nope. We went straight for the good stuff –- going one-on-one with one of the best players he ever saw (his sister Kathi) and talking smack with Air Jordan.

Coach Bennett may have his Cougars at No. 9 in the nation with a surprising 22-4 record, but he's just as down-to-earth as anyone can be. And he recently took time to answer a few questions from me -- a 13-year-old Cougar fan -- as part of a column aimed at asking WSU players and coaches the questions adults don't seem to think of asking.

The File On
TONY BENNETT
HOMETOWN:
Green Bay, Wisc.

AGE:
37

OLD POSITION:
Guard

SIZE:
6-0, 175 pounds

COLLEGE PLAYING CAREER:
Starred at Wisconsin-Green Bay under his father. Finished as the Mid-Continent Conference's all-time leader in points and assists. Still ranks as the best three-point shooter (.497) in NCAA history. Won Naismith Award as nation's most outstanding senior 6-feet-tall or under.

PRO PLAYING CAREER:
Was the 35th pick in the 1992 NBA draft. Played two full seasons (scoring 524 points and dishing off 299 assists) and a fraction of a third for the Charlotte Hornets before a foot injury ended his NBA career. He then spent four years playing and coaching pro ball in New Zealand.

COACHING CAREER:
In his first season as WSU's head man after three years as a Cougar assistant under Dick Bennett. Spent four seasons prior to that as an assistant at Wisconsin, helping lead Badgers to Final Four appearance in 2000. Was a head coach in the New Zealand pro league for two seasons and a player-coach for one year.

FAMILY
Wife Laurel and two kids, Anna (5) and Eli (4).

CF.C: Is it true that when you were younger your sister Kathi used to always beat you in H-O-R-S-E?

Bennett: She would beat me in one-on-one. My sister was one of the best players I had ever seen. I couldn't beat her until I was 16-years-old and I was pretty decent comin' up. Then once, I finally beat her in one-on-one and we never played again ... She was a great player, but she tore her knee up in her senior year of high school. She was getting recruited by every major college in the country and it was pretty special. Editor's note: Kathi later became head women's basketball coach at Indiana.

CF.C: When you played in the NBA, did you ever trash talk Michael Jordan?

Bennett: I told him I was going to dunk on his head -– no, I'm just kidding. I didn't say that. He guarded me for about two or three minutes in one of our games, but thank goodness I never had to guard him because that would not have been fun. I just remember I was kind of surprised that he matched up on me when I was in there but I went and shook his hand after the game. I said "What's up?" and that's about it.

CF.C: What WSU player has a style that is similar to the way you used to play?

Bennett: You know, I was a left hander so I think Taylor Rochestie is similar in some ways, and Derrick Low. They do some things that are most similar to how I played.

CF.C: The Cougs have been in many close games this year and you always seem so composed. How do you stay calm in such close games?

Bennett: Well, I think sometimes you have to just let your players know that you believe in them and try to show them poise down the stretch. When I played, I always tried to have an even keel and not get too up or too down. I guess my personality down the stretch or my make up doesn't mean I don't feel anxious or nervous or I don't get mad and do things I wish I didn't, but we have a saying that we talk about. We say, ‘The hay's in the barn' and that means that pretty much all the work is done in the preparation and the game's going to unfold … obviously you are going to have to make adjustments, but most of the work is done in the preparation, the practices, and in the off-season.

CF.C: What was your first reaction when your dad told you he was going to accept the head coaching job at WSU?

Bennett: I was shocked and I said, ‘Where is that? What? Are you sure?' I didn't know where it was and I didn't think he was going to come out of retirement, so he floored me with that one. But obviously, I am thankful that he did.

CF.C: Have you ever thought about what it might be like to coach against your dad?

Bennett: You know what, that's a good question …boy … no, I haven't. But I don't think I'd want to because he's one of the best coaches I have ever been around or seen and when you play against his teams you better be good or they're gonna be right in there making it difficult for you. So I haven't (thought about it) but I don't think it would be an enjoyable experience.

CF.C: What do you think is your dad's greatest strength as a coach?

Bennett: I think it's his ability to take a bunch of individuals, get them to buy into (the system) and play beyond themselves ... He's always done it.

CF.C: What is the best advice you have received since becoming head coach of the Cougars?

Bennett: I have received so much good advice from so many people. I can't remember who, but someone told me it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. I think that's important because when you get a job you think you've got to do so many things and change everything right away but you have to just take your time, be yourself. You know I think the best advice is really just from being under a coach like my dad for all those years, playing under him.

CF.C What is the biggest difference between playing and coaching basketball in New Zealand and playing and coaching in the United States?

Bennett: Coaching is coaching and basketball is basketball ... there are not a lot of huge differences in terms of how you teach people and how you get them to play well but just the atmosphere and the excitement and even the level of play in America is so superior and just playing in front of packed houses and the time you can spend developing your team makes a big difference.

CF.C: What is the most difficult part about balancing coaching and family time?

Bennett: Well, just time management, because we travel so much and we are on the road and you get consumed with your job during the season. But that's the challenge -- to carve out the time with your family, and when you're home to not be so consumed in your mind with the next practice or the game or any of that, but to really spend time because family is more important than your profession and you can't lose sight of that.

CF.C: Do you find yourself giving your kids the same advice your dad gave you?

Bennett: Yeah, a lot, and that always makes you think ‘oh man, I guess I'm getting old.'

CF.C: If you could make one change to improve college athletics, what would it be?

Bennett: Sometimes I think the scrutiny and the win-at-all-cost mentality, and the way some of the talk radio shows (carry on), how it's become almost professional ... All of this has made it almost too much. I mean, I am grateful for all the interest and excitement, but it has become such a fish bowl … it sometimes bothers me that college sports are going that way, like professional sports.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hayden Eller, 13, is an eighth grader in Chelan, Wash., where he's a starting guard on his basketball team. His addiction to crimson and gray started four years ago when he attended his first game at Martin Stadium, a Cougar win over Idaho. His father, Jeff, is a 1985 WSU graduate. Hayden has named his dog Butch, and currently is working to turn his little brother and mom into avid Coug fans.

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