Virginia celebrates Bennett milestone win with a surprise Gatorade shower

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Tony Bennett should have known he wasn’t going to become part of Virginia basketball history without some kind of celebration with his team.

Bennett — with his 327th win — passed legendary coach Terry Holland (326 career victories at UVA) with the Cavaliers’ 73-66 win over Syracuse on Saturday night. Moments after the win, Bennett addressed the John Paul Jones crowd (see video below) and was presented a commemorative ball by UVA president Jim Ryan before heading back to the locker room.

The team was sitting down, waiting for Bennett to arrive and deliver his normal postgame talk. Freshman Isaac McKneely tells us what happened from there …

“JG (Jayden Gardner) and Papi (Francisco Caffaro) were behind [Bennett] with the Gatorade jug, and y’all probably know what happened,” the freshman guard from West Virginia grinned to media. “After that, [Bennett] got drenched. It was just a cool moment.”

Bennett, in his 14th year as Virginia’s coach, arrived in the press room a few minutes later, still wet from the celebratory bath, so wet that he requested a dry chair for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who would follow him for interviews.

Bennett was true to form, a most humble guy who praised all that had come before him in program history — most notably Holland, who guided the program from 1974 to 1990 — and those who had come along for the ride since Bennett left Washington State to take the Virginia challenge.

Perhaps it was fitting that the record was broken before a home crowd so that Bennett’s family and Holland’s wife, Ann, could be on hand to witness the historic moment and because it came against Boeheim and Syracuse, who ended Holland’s coaching career in a second-round NCAA Tournament game in Richmond in 1990.

Boeheim, who is in his 47th year as Syracuse coach, couldn’t recall that game until he was reminded that he coached in two games against Holland.

“I probably lost both times,” Boeheim said, then was informed about the ‘90 win. “Well, that was a miracle. I know he beat me in the tournament one year and beat Indiana, too.”

Boeheim, of course, was referring to the 1984 NCAA Tournament when Holland’s lightly-regarded Cavaliers went on a torrid postseason run, upset the Pearl Washington-led Syracuse team and Bobby Knight’s Indiana team to reach the Final Four.

Bennett, who didn’t see Ann Holland during his postgame talk with the crowd, acknowledged her in his media session, talking about the challenges of being a coach’s wife.

“I meant what I said about this is a ‘we’ award and not a ‘me’ award,” Bennett reiterated, pointing out all those who had been with him since Day One in the Virginia program — associate head coach Jason Williford, administrative assistant Ronnie Wideman, strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis and head athletic trainer Ethan Saliba.

Photo: UVA Athletics

Bennett revealed there’s a scroll resting 12 inches beneath the JPJ playing floor with his program’s five pillars, along with the name of every player, coach and manager that has been part of the program since he took over.

“It’s all written on that piece of paper and the whole idea is that they’re all the foundation of our program,” Bennett said. “They’re the foundation of what this site is built on. If you get the people right, most of the time, the rest takes care of itself.”

That was a piece of advice from his father, Dick Bennett, a former coach who also told him to never take a shortcut on character.

“He said you might be able to quick-fix it if you gamble on some things, but that never was the case,” Tony Bennett said. “That’s why this position [the Virginia job] appealed to me a lot, because this is the kind of place that I think values — like Coach Holland — values how you do it, not just what you do, but how. So that’s why it’s been a pretty fortunate run.”

Boeheim said that Virginia has been lucky to get two coaches like Holland and Bennett.

“Terry was a great coach,” said Boeheim, who added that he got to know Holland best when Holland chaired the USA Basketball committee after his coaching career. They had many dinners and conversations together, and Boeheim eventually succeeded Holland on that committee.

“Terry’s just a brilliant guy, just the nicest guy … if not the nicest, he’s in the running,” Boeheim said. “And Tony is the same way. Tony’s a great coach. Terry was a great coach.”

Bennett has faced Boeheim more because Syracuse joined the ACC some time ago and owns an 11-3 record against the Orange’s coach, including the last four in a row.

Good reason to celebrate with an unsuspected Gatorade bath.