Bennett runs the right race

Published 9:09 pm Friday, March 13, 2015

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

The ACC basketball tournament marks the beginning of “March Madness” for me. For readers who are non-sports folks, “March Madness” is the nickname for the excitement that surrounds the college basketball tournaments that take place this month.

As a boy who was born and raised in ACC country, there is for me a certain allure about this time of year. Yet my boyhood love of college basketball had sort of become dormant until last March, when I began noticing the special qualities of Coach Tony Bennett’s University of Virginia team.

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The excellence of that U.Va. squad reignited my interest in the sport. The highlight of the season for the 2013-14 Cavaliers was undoubtedly their ACC championship victory over Duke. For a Virginia team that had not won an ACC championship since 1976, this was historic.

But when he was interviewed after the game, Coach Bennett began by saying, “I’m so thankful for my faith in Christ.”

Tony Bennett is the son of legendary Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett. When Tony was 14, his dad took the family to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Camp in Colorado. There, Tony’s heart was changed in a way that would define the way he lives his life and the way he coaches basketball teams.

And let’s get this straight: The man can clearly coach. He took over a lowly U.Va. team, and by his fifth season led them to a 30-7 record and took them deep into the NCAA Tournament. This year, the team has lost only twice and has been ranked No. 2 in the nation for most of the year.

The job he has done at Virginia is nothing short of remarkable. He has taken the program from patsy to powerhouse.

But there is something more to these U.Va. teams than ferocious defense and hustle. It’s what the Washington Post refers to as “selflessness and collective will.” Bennett has built the program around the five principles of humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness.

Even if you are a Duke or Carolina fan, you’ve got to admire what Coach Bennett has done and the way he has done it.

I don’t know if Virginia is going to win the NCAA Tournament or even the ACC Tournament. I do know that Tony Bennett will have the team prepared to play, and I also know that he understands there are more important things than winning basketball games.

He says, “If my life is just about winning championships, then I’m running the wrong race. That’s empty. But if it’s about trying to be excellent and trying to bring glory to God — then that’s the right thing.”

Speaking of the earthly acclaim and success he has achieved as one of the greatest coaches in the game, Bennett said, “If 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.”

No matter how U.Va. does during “March Madness,” Tony Bennett is going to be OK. He has an anchor for the soul and knows a love that transcends circumstances.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.