March Madness kicks off on Thursday as the first round of the NCAA Tournament gets underway.
The No. 1 overall seed in the tournament is Virginia. The Cavaliers are 31-2 on the season, the 2018 ACC regular season and tournament champions, and have been ranked No. 1 in the AP and USA Today poll since Feb. 12.
>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<
The man responsible for Virginia’s success is their head coach, Tony Bennett. Since arriving in Charlottesville in 2009, the Cavaliers have made five trips to the NCAA Tournament in Bennett’s nine seasons as their leader.
Bennett is also outspoken in his faith and says it is Christ that he leans on to guide him in his life.
“I have great things in my life — my love for my wife, my love for my family, my love for coaching, my love for basketball,” he said in 2014. “Those are wonderful things, but when you line them up in comparison to Christ and the relationship you have with Him, with what He’s done for you and with what He’s given you, they don’t compare. That’s the greatest truth I know.”
Coach Bennett says his team is led by five pillars: humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. The pillars were a creation of his father Dick Bennett, who was a longtime basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wisconsin and Washington State. Virginia players said the pillars are discussed and applied for basketball every day.
“They’re so important to the success to our program,” Bennett said in 2015. “It’s not just lip service, we really believe in them. They’ve influenced me and I’ve used them for my program every year. I think these pillars are what truly matters. Whether you’re a believer or not, those are significant for a team. They’re (posted) in our locker room, and they’re everything to our program. To be great in basketball, those things have to be there.”
Bennett, who accepted Christ at age 14 at an FCA camp in Colorado, also makes praying for his players and team a priority.
“How many people are mad at you when you tell them that you’ve prayed for them?” Bennett said in 2015. “It’s my hope that they’ll be able to find the truth in their lives that has really transformed my life. But I realize they’re all on a journey, and I certainly try to be respectful of that.”
Virginia will begin its quest for a national championship on Friday at 9:20 p.m. ET on TNT against 16-seed UMBC.
– A conversation with Tony Bennett, University of Virginia head basketball coach
– Virginia basketball player grateful to God after receiving scholarship
– University of Virginia Baseball Players Lean on Faith To Carry Them