You could say that coach Tony Bennett is a man of vision. There’s no way he would be taking Virginia into the NCAA men’s basketball championship game today against Texas Tech if he wasn’t.
Fifteen years ago, Bennett talked about “a vision” he had for a young ‘Iolani player named Derrick Low.
At the time, Bennett was an assistant at Washington State under his dad Dick Bennett and was one of the men responsible for bringing Low there.
Here is what Bennett said about Low then, from an April, 2004, Honolulu Star-Bulletin article:
“He is such a complete player for being so young. He has all the intangibles — poise, ability to lead his team to wins, confidence. He’s strong and quick and physical enough. He can get up to the rim to knock down shots and he’s a very good on-the-ball defender. That’s all without mentioning his passing, shooting, ball-handling and decision-making ability.
“We’re looking at him to be the catalyst and leader who turns us into an excellent high-major basketball program. That’s the opportunity he has in front of him, and I hope that when he’s done here, we’ll all look at what he’s done and say ‘Wow.’ That’s my vision.”
See talent, get talent, mold talent.
He did it then. He’s obviously doing it now.
Low played four years for the Cougars. When he was a senior in 2008, Washington State finished No. 21 in the AP Top 25.
Low played in five NCAA Tournament games, including a 68-47 Sweet 16 loss to eventual runner-up North Carolina in that 2008 season. The year before, the Cougars made it to the round of 32. Bennett had progressed from assistant to head coach, starting in 2006.
All of that was after Low’s four-year career at ‘Iolani in which the Raiders finished as Division I state champions three times. Low was named as the All-State player of the year each of those final three years.
In Minneapolis to watch Bennett and his Cavaliers in the title game on Monday, Low talked about his relationship with his former coach.
“It was Tony who sold me on the vision to come to WSU,” Low said. “It was because of him that I committed sight unseen. He believed in me, a boy from Hawaii, to help guide the program to something special. There’s a special bond between us that no matter where he goes, even if not at WSU, I will cherish.
“Tony never waivers from his foundations and values. No matter what. This is the biggest reason why he has found so much success. Tony taught me as well as our team the values he had. And we all bought into it. Humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness.”
Low’s seats in Minneapolis are right behind Bennett’s family, including Dick Bennett. He is also sitting next to former teammate Dave Harmeling and former assistant coach Ben Johnson.
Low also recalls a funny story from his WSU days.
“Senior year, Taylor Rochestie and I coined ourselves ‘Slice and Dice.’ At halftime in a game against Arizona, apparently we were doing too much slicing and dicing. Tony stormed in and singled both of us out and said, ‘What slice and dice? You two are getting sliced and diced’ and he walked out. That’s all he said. Everyone looked shocked in the room, but as soon as Tony left, Taylor and I looked at each other and at the same time repeated our coined name and made our hand signals — hand slicing and rolling dice motion.”
Low’s ‘Iolani teammate Ryan Hirata, who was hired as the Raiders’ new head coach last week, recalls meeting Bennett when the coach was there to watch the ‘Iolani Classic in December 2003.
“He is probably one of the most down-to-earth college coaches I’ve met,” Hirata said Monday. “Super personable, knowledgeable and I could tell he had the best intentions for not only Derrick for building a program of high-character players at Washington State.”