Commentary: Tony Bennett isn't going anywhere

THE ECHO CHAMBER otherwise known as the mainstream media needs to give Tony Bennett a rest. Kelvin Sampson commits career suicide so a couple of national pundits opine that Tony ought to be on Indiana's short list. Local scribes and talking heads then write and chatter that national pundits think Tony ought to be Indiana's head coach.

And suddenly –- despite actual reporting (i.e. the kind that relies on well-placed sources rather than pundits) that three guys not named Bennett are atop the Hoosiers' list -- Tony can't turn around without the ghost of Bobby Knight being thrown in his face.

Random conversations with Cougar fans over the last three days show they have Indiana on the brain because the media can't stop talking to itself.

"Do you think Tony is going to leave?"

"Should we be worried about Tony?"

"What can we do to hang on to Tony?"

Part of the collective hand-wringing is due to the fact Tony is a great young coach and a Midwest native who happens to be piloting what traditionally is a have-not basketball school. So every job east of Pocatello is grist for the rumor mill.

But the fact is, when reporters start "reporting" that their fellow media types think Tony should be the head coach somewhere else, the concern grows bigger. Add in the commentary of radio windbags -– that Tony needs to grab big money now because he'll never duplicate these two seasons again -- and you have a perfect storm of crimson paranoia.

And yet here's the scoop that's running through Bloomington: Hoosier AD Rick Greenspan really likes Baylor's Scott Drew, Xavier's Sean Miller and Indiana native Brad Brownell of Wright State.

Tony Bennett may indeed leave WSU -– someday.

Every big-name job in the nation that comes open is going to find ESPN's Pat Forde and Andy Katz floating Tony's name. And one day their ground-breaking blather may give them the I-told-you-it-would-happen satisfaction.

No matter.

I don't think Tony's leaving this year. Or next. Or the next. Or even the next.

You heard me right.

Tony Bennett is staying at WSU. He and his family love Pullman. He's making $800,000 a year. And he's building a program where there is no shadow hanging over him –- he can be the Bobby of Beasley. The Wooden of Whitman County. The Lute of the Lentil Festival.


Above all, though, Tony will stay at WSU because James Watson needs him to stay.


James Watson, a high school senior in tiny Stringtown, Okla. He's a 6-foot-8 shot-blocking machine who is one of the five members of Bennett's highly regarded class of recruits arriving this coming fall.

Watson and his fellow 2008 mates possess a load of talent -– talent that could turn what figures to be a mediocre 2008-09 season into a mild winner and then put things back into overdrive starting in 2009-10.

But this isn't all about talent.

Watson, you see, is a kid with a hardscrabble past. He bounced around foster care from age 6 to age 14. The kid had a tough, unstable childhood.

He's on a great path now because the Watson family adopted him four years ago and poured their hearts into him following the death of their daughter in a car accident.

"He's been a blessing to us," Annette Watson told last summer.

So I ask: Do you think Annette and her husband would have put James' future in the hands of someone -- way out here in the Northwest, no less -- if they thought he would be left high and dry the way he's been left before?

Do you think Tony would have looked James and the Watsons in the face and pledged four years of stability in Pullman if he didn't truly plan to back his words with action?

Tony Bennett is a basketball junkie. And the son of a guy who made himself a legend by following the road less traveled. Most of all, Tony is man of honor, integrity and spirit.

There is no way such a man is going to leave James Watson –- a youngster thirsting for stability -– standing at an empty door.

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