By the time the final buzzer sounded on Virginia's 85-77 championship win against Texas Tech April 8, the storylines had already been written.
Head coach Tony Bennett and his Cavaliers had completed a remarkable turnaround, winning the program's first national title just one year after suffering one of the most historic defeats in the sport's history. Some had even wondered if Bennett's teams, with their slow-paced, defense-first style of play, would ever be able to match their consistent regular-season success in the NCAA tournament.
One former teammate of Bennett's, however, had always been a believer.
"What a story. This game was a testament of him," longtime NBA point guard Muggsy Bogues said on
Glenn Clark Radio
April 9. "You can see, even when they are down, they're poised, and when they are up, they're poised. That's a testament to Tony and his coaching staff behind him, how they are able to communicate with their kids and get them to play how they are capable of playing."
Bogues' relationship with Bennett goes back to the early 1990s, when the two were point guards with the Charlotte Hornets for three years. Bennett backed up Bogues and averaged 3.5 points and 2.0 assists per game during his career. Bogues recalled how he could tell Bennett, the son of former NCAA coach Dick Bennett, seemed destined for a role on the sideline.
"He really was a student of the game; he came in and just wanted to learn," said Bogues, who played at basketball powerhouse Dunbar High School in Baltimore in the early 1980s and spent 14 seasons in the NBA. "You knew that when he was all said and done playing, he was going to go to the sidelines and give that knowledge to some of the kids that desperately needed it."
After Bennett's NBA career was cut short due to a foot injury, he went to New Zealand and joined the North Harbour Vikings. After two seasons, he stopped playing but entered coaching. He succeeded his father at Washington State in 2006, where he coached for three seasons. He led the Cougars to the Sweet 16 in 2008.
While his first two years at Virginia were rocky, Bennett began to turn the program around in 2011-12, when the Cavaliers made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. Slowly but surely, Bennett began to instill his methodical, defense-first philosophy into the heart of the program.
However, six tournament appearances from 2012-18 -- three as a No. 1 seed -- didn't result in a Final Four appearance. Just one year ago, the team's title dreams were shattered much earlier than expected by UMBC.
"He never really blamed the kids, and he took that opportunity as a learning experience for his guys," Bogues said. "He's always been a man of faith, and seeing what his team went through, you got to have a scar. That scar propelled them to a national championship."
At times during this season's NCAA Tournament, it seemed that the memory of last year's stinging 74-54 first-round loss to the Retrievers gave the Cavaliers all they needed to get over the hump. Virginia won its final four games -- two of which went into overtime -- by a total of 18 points.
"His demeanor, his poise, his faith and his belief in his guys and his team just really resonate and was showcased on the big stage," Bogues said. "Them being able to overcome those obstacles and their resilience ... what can you say? At the end of the day they are the last team standing."
Don't expect Bennett and the Cavaliers to regress back to the pack next year; ESPN ranks Virginia fourth in its "Way-Too-Early" top 25 for next season.
To hear more from Bogues, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox