NCAA Basketball: Dick Bennett
Born: April 20, 1943 (age 68)
Place Of Birth: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Playing Career: Ripon College
Coaching Career: 2003-2006 WSU
Picture a basketball program that had 15 losing seasons with only 5 post-season appearances since 1980.
That was the reality of the Washington State Cougars Men’s basketball program when Dick Bennett took over as head coach on March 29th, 2003.
Prior to accepting the post at WSU, Bennett enjoyed success at the University of Wisconsin.
Taking the Badgers to their first 20 win season in school history, while topping it off with a Final Four appearance in 1999-2000.
So when Bennett saw the Cougars were coming off of seven consecutive losing seasons, (64-134 – 22-105) while never eclipsing 5 conference wins in any of those seven seasons, he quickly realized, this was going to be more then just your average rebuilding project.
It was a program that couldn’t recruit talent, score with any sense of consistency, or stop opposing teams from scoring at will.
It was the pure definition of college basketball Siberia.
The first order of business for Dick Bennett and his WSU coaching staff was changing the culture and identity of Cougars basketball.
Too much inconsistency and far too many losses had piled up in such a short period of time to a point were momentum was non-existent amongst fans, boosters, students, and alumni alike.
While creating a winning identity was important, it wasn’t going to be an easy process for a basketball team that couldn’t score points. Knowing this, Bennett implemented a stifling zone defensive scheme that would force teams to play almost perfect offense, but most importantly, not turnover the ball.
This allowed Washington State to stay in games deep into the conference schedule. While this didn’t exactly translate into offensive success (57.3 ppg under Bennett) or wins, (36-49 – 18-36 in the seasons) Bennett’s defenses (58.6 opponents ppg in three seasons under Bennett) would became the constant of the Cougars basketball success.
While Bennett’s defenses were considered some of the best in the nation during his three season tenure, his biggest contribution as head coach come in the recruiting season heading into the 2004-05 season.
That recruiting class Bennett landed consisted of Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low, Robbie Cowgill, Chris Henry, Daven Hamerling, and Josh Akognon.
Arguably the best recruiting class in school history.
This class ended up being the backbone of the back-to-back NCAA tournament teams under Bennett’s son Tony.
It’s hard to look at Dick Bennett’s three-year tenure and consider it a overall success.
Even though they were able to pull off some big wins against Stanford, UCLA, and Washington, there wasn’t enough wins or consistent enough scoring to be considered a complete success. What I can point to as a success was the identity that was created under Bennett.
Every player on his team played the game hard, game in and game out.
The defensive prowess of his teams made the Cougars one of the most difficult teams to match-up against. His teams exuded a true grit that opposing teams hated facing because every time out, you were in for a fight.
That was what Dick Bennett brought to the Washington State Men’s Basketball program, and what Tony Bennett was able to carry on through his tenure.