Tony Bennett has Virginia back in top 10 with foundation of faith, a servant mindset

The Virginia men’s basketball program has made a habit of emphatically bouncing back from the few low points that have occurred during Tony Bennett‘s 14-year tenure as head coach. A national championship followed a historic loss to UMBC, and the Cavaliers are right back in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll this year after missing the NCAA Tournament last season.

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Virginia was ranked 18th to start the season and got as high as No. 2 in the country after an 8-0 start. The No. 7 Cavaliers are now 15-3 overall and 7-2 in ACC play thanks to a five-game winning streak.

Their most recent victory came at Wake Forest on Saturday, and the 76-67 win was the 400th of Bennett’s career. His first 69 victories came at Washington State before he took the Virginia job in 2009.

In his postgame press conference, Bennett was asked why his teams have so much success on the road.

“We talked about before the game: simple, faithful and purposeful,” he said. “Simple in terms of don’t overcomplicate this. You know what you have to do. Be faithful to who you are, your kind of true self as a team, and then do it with great purpose and passion.”

Throughout his coaching career, Bennett has emphasized the importance of unconditional love and shared about the comfort he finds in knowing he has that through his relationship with Christ. The day before Virginia’s 2019 national championship run began with a win over Gardner-Webb, the two-time Naismith Coach of the Year reflected on his team’s stunning loss a year earlier.

“You certainly feel things and things bother you, but where does peace and perspective come from? I always tell our guys, it has to be something unconditional,” Bennett said in his pregame media availability. “I know I have that in the love of my family, unconditional acceptance and love. That’s huge. And I know I have that in my faith in Christ.”

He elaborated further on the idea during an appearance on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2018.

“Those things that are unconditional β€” when you’re loved and accepted unconditionally β€” there’s only a few things that can do that,” he said on the podcast. “The ultimate is, obviously, the unconditional love and acceptance you get through your relationship with the Lord.”

Since arriving at Virginia, Bennett has led the Cavaliers to eight NCAA Tournaments, five ACC regular-season titles and two conference tournament championships. He has become one of the faces of ACC basketball, especially with the recent retirements of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams.

His program is built on five pillars β€” humility, passion, servanthood, thankfulness and unity β€” and he put his core values on display in 2019 when he turned down a raise after winning the national championship.

Even in the difficult moments, Bennett is determined to remain grateful to God because he knows those moments are opportunities for spiritual growth.

“You have to rejoice and give thanks for what God’s doing or how you’re being equipped through the hard situations that we have,” he said on the podcast.

Virginia is second in the ACC heading into Saturday’s game against Boston College, 1.5 games behind 9-1 Clemson. Tipoff from John Paul Jones Arena is scheduled for 12 p.m. ET.

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