Lucas at Large: No surprise, Bennett still at home in the 'classroom'

MBB_110706_Bennett_Dick.jpgWould it be surprising to learn that Dick Bennett, the former UW basketball coach, would favor paying athletes a stipend to take care of incidentals or expenses not covered by a scholarship?

Would it be surprising to learn that Bennett watched the NBA playoffs and was "tickled'' by the level of defensive play by both finalists, the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat?

Would it be surprising to learn that Bennett, who has two head coaches in the family -- Tony at Virginia and Kathi at Northern Illinois -- still can't bear to watch Tony's games in person?

Would it be surprising to learn that Bennett, five years removed from his 39th and final season on the sidelines -- 2005-2006 at Washington State -- missed the daily teaching part of the profession?

Not surprising at all.

Even in retirement, he's still a teacher.

"I have missed that more than anything,'' Bennett said. "I haven't missed the anxiety connected with games; or the disappointment when you lose or look bad. That part I haven't missed.''

But he found that he missed the "classroom'' -- the basketball court -- to such a degree that he has decided to share some of his experience and knowledge with middle school and high school players.

"Mostly,'' he said, "I want them to hear someone say, 'Basketball is the greatest team sport ever and you can have a role if you will adopt the right attitude and try to make your teammates better.'''

Bennett explained that type of mindset can entail "setting a screen or helping on defense or throwing a pass where they can handle it or patting someone on the back.''

To carry out his thoughts, and implement his plan, he needed to be creative with his very own Field of Dreams. Make that a Parking Lot of Dreams.

Bennett purchased a couple of portable hoops and got the lines painted for a basketball court (70 feet by 50) in the parking lot of the Lake Arrowhead Country Club in central Wisconsin.

It took him less than a day -- or thereabouts -- even though the club is in the town of Rome.

Dick and his wife, Ann, live on Lake Petenwell, a man-made lake in Adams and Juneau Counties some 30 miles north of the Wisconsin Dells.

"Ann and I have contributed (financially) so that the Lake Arrowhead Association would not have to put any money into this,'' he said. "We've paid for it so the kids won't have to pay anything.''

That's the bottom line -- the kids -- from 9 to 12 kids for each two-hour session on Saturdays.


"I'm bringing in area high schools; ninth grade and up,'' Bennett said. "I'm trying to foster an attitude of being a good teammate.

"I'm not trying to teach them all of the dribble moves. I'm not even going to work on their shooting or individual fundamentals.

"Everything I do is going to be with an emphasis on making your teammates better.''

Some ninth graders from Wisconsin Rapids will make up his first group Saturday. The following week he will have high school kids from Nekoosa. In case of a rain, he has booked a gym.

If the idea catches on, he'd like to expand his operation next summer. First things first.

"This little contribution is about all I can do,'' he said, "and fuss with my own children.''

Tony Bennett is getting ready for his third season at Virginia. A year ago, he took his team to Minneapolis for a matchup against the Gophers in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

"I hid in the hotel room the whole time; I can't watch Tony's game, I struggle with that,'' Dick admitted. "At the last minute, I gave my ticket to the brother of a guy who once played for me.

"For some reason, I get real anxious.''

Kathi Bennett, meanwhile, will be entering her second season at Northern Illinois.

"Kathi's games I can watch,'' Dick Bennett said.

Taking it a step further, he had no trouble watching the NBA playoffs, either.

"It became the year of the point guard in many instances,'' he observed. "Defense -- intelligent, intense defense -- has paved the way for the best teams and that tickled me.

"But it's still a star's game, which bothered me to the point where I was really happy for Dallas. I was pulling really hard for Chicago, too. I liked a lot of what went on.

"I liked the defensive intensity Miami showed. In my opinion, there's more coaching today and there's more of an attempt to do things properly now than ever before (in the NBA).''

Over the years, Bennett has turned down offers to be an NBA assistant or advisor. He did write a letter recently to Milwaukee's Scott Skiles telling him how much he liked what he was trying to do.

"He invited me to come down (to watch a practice), and I'd like to do that,'' Bennett said before the lockout went into effect. "But there's only so much you can do. My time came and went.''

Bennett did say that it was about time the NCAA looked into paying its athletes.

"I was in favor of that if Pell Grants were not available,'' he said. "I'd like to see the guys have some cash where they could go out on a date or order a pizza on their own.
"I've always been in favor of that as long as it's controlled and clearly legislated or run properly. I know a lot of guys who literally don't have much. You see it more in basketball than any other sport.

"I would be in favor of them getting something."

Doesn't that run counter to his old-school image?

"I'm old school in the way that I teach the game,'' he said. "But there's no question in my mind that the kids -- the players, the people -- come first. That will never change.''

That attitude has fueled his Parking Lot of Dreams.
ON WISCONSIN