How has University of Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett continually turned underrecruited high school prospects into key members of his program – and, in some cases, stars?
One way is by closely examining players’ “immeasurables” – non-basketball skills that aren’t always apparent to the naked eye.
With the Wahoos’ Blue-White Scrimmage coming up on Oct. 13, UVA Today asked Bennett – who has three true freshmen on scholarship this season in Kihei Clark, Kody Stattmann and Francisco Caffaro – about some of those immeasurables on his recruiting checklist.
While this quality sounds like it would be hard to ascertain, Bennett knows when he sees it.
“I like guys who play with courage, yet they’re free,” Bennett explained. “Some guys play hard, but they’re not free. They’re restricted. So when you see guys who are just courageous and warrior-like in how they play, but there’s a freedom to them where they can play beyond mistakes – those are some ingredients that are really special.”
Poster child: “I think Joe Harris embodied this,” said Bennett, referring to his former star, who has found a home with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets after graduating from UVA in 2014.
No matter the skill level of the player, Bennett believes possessing a certain degree of “competitive fight” and “grit” is mandatory.
Poster child: UVA big man Jack Salt, who never backs down from a challenge (check out just one of his screens).
Bennett believes emotional intelligence is a must. “I like guys who are driven,” he said, “but also have the ability to let things go.”
Poster child: Malcolm Brogdon, the current member of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, who, prior to winning NBA Rookie of the Year in 2017, earned a master’s degree from the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.
What some people may call “swag,” Bennett simply considers to be a belief in yourself.
“Sometimes guys just don’t know any better – they just kind of go out and do it and are like, ‘Wow, how’d that happen!’” Bennett said.
Poster child: With an infectious smile and a determination to use his athletic gifts in numerous ways – dunking, rebounding, blocking shots -- current forward Mamadi Diakite, a Guinea native, comes to mind. Former guard Justin Anderson, now a member of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, also fits the bill. “He had a charisma and ability to step up when the lights were bright and in big moments,” Bennett said.
Will a recruit’s personal makeup allow him to fit into the program’s famed “Five Pillars” – humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness?
“We try to recruit to those things,” Bennett said, “knowing you’ll have to grow into them.”
Poster child: Take your pick. The proof has been in the pudding.