Working at a sports radio station has its benefits. After Randy Bennett joined the program on 95.7 FM The Game in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I asked him if he had some more time to talk Saint Mary’s hoops with me and he politely accepted (even after I told him I was a recent Gonzaga graduate).
Randy Bennett become the Saint Mary’s head coach in 2001. Since then, Bennett has turned a small private Catholic college in little-known Moraga, California to a Nor-Cal basketball powerhouse that contends for an NCAA Tournament bid every year. He is a 3x WCC Coach of the Year with an overall record of 414-174 with the Gaels. Coming off a WCC Tournament Championship upset win over the #1 nationally-ranked team (at the time) in Gonzaga, Bennett is ready for another big season in 2019-2020.
Arden Cravalho: Hey Randy, thanks for taking some time to talk with me. I was at the WCC Tournament Championship game in Las Vegas and stayed after to watch you celebrate that win with your team. Can you describe what that moment felt like? Where does that win rank in your career?
Randy Bennett: I was so proud of our guys. It’s one of those deals that when you accomplish something that was such a tough challenge, there’s a period right after where you’re just taking it all in. You didn’t prepare for how you were going to react. It was a mix of different feelings and emotion.
Beating Gonzaga last year was so tough. That win is up there as a top three accomplishment in my career for two reasons. One, it put us in the NCAA Tournament. Second, it came against Gonzaga who was one of the best teams in the country last season. It was a special win for the university.
AC: Due to your success at Saint Mary’s, you have had many opportunities to move on to a bigger head coaching job within the PAC-12 (California, Utah, Oregon, Oregon State). Why have you decided to stay in Moraga?
RB: I’m happy here. Moraga is a great place to be at. I always thought I could be more successful at Saint Mary’s than at any of the other schools that have opened up for me. I’ve been winning at the highest level here so I don’t see any reason for me to leave.
AC: Looking towards the future, Saint Mary’s is getting national recognition through the many different “Way-Too-Early” Top 25 rankings for the 2019-2020 season. Your team is returning four starters (Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, Tanner Krebs, Tommy Khuse). What are your expectations for next season?
RB: Expectations are high and the players feel the same way. It’s never easy but if you don’t set high expectations for your team, it’s not going to be a good season for you. We’re sitting on a strong team next season and hopefully, we stay healthy.
AC: You also now have two new transfers within the program. Logan Johnson (Cincinnati transfer) and Aaron Menzies (Seattle U transfer). What are your thoughts on those two and are they both going to be eligible for the upcoming season?
RB: Aaron is eligible but we don’t know about Logan yet. We’re going through that process with the NCAA right now.
They’ll both be good players. Aaron has improved a lot since his playing days at Seattle U. He’s a load inside that causes a lot of problems down-low and he would’ve helped us drastically last season if he didn’t hurt his hand. Even if Logan doesn’t end up playing next season, he will be a beneficial boost to our program.
AC: You’re really going to be testing your incoming squad with the preseason schedule you have put together. Dayton, Wisconsin, Arizona State, California, Fresno State, and Nevada will all be played away from McKeon Pavilion. Plus, you got Utah State at home. In the past, you have been criticized for having a “soft” preseason schedule. Why have you decided to change the scheduling process this particular season?
RB: We haven’t really changed it that much. Last year we had a really good non-conference schedule. Some of that criticism comes from when our conference schedule is weak. If some of the other WCC teams aren’t having the year that they need to be having, then it hurts the stronger teams in the league. Gonzaga deals with it too. Not matter how many games you win, you can drop in the RPI or NET rankings because the bottom half of your conference isn’t doing too well.
I think our conference has made some great decisions to fix this problem with scheduling two less games during WCC play. That way, we might not have to go up against a couple of those teams at the bottom of the league. It helped us last year. The triple-bye in the WCC Tournament also helped us.
The challenge in regards to the non-conference scheduling is the fact that it’s hard to get a Power Five conference team to come to Saint Mary’s. That’s why we try to get more neutral-site games or games on the road against those types of teams.
AC: Jock Landale (2017-2018 WCC Player of the Year) just finished up playing with the Milwaukee Bucks Summer League team. Did you have a chance to watch him play? How much has his game changed since you last coached him?
RB: I did get a chance to watch a couple of his games on TV. He had a really good summer league and he’s been improving every year since I started coaching him in 2014. He got his first chance of playing professional ball last season with Partizan in Serbia and was very successful over there. He’s way more versatile on the floor now and he shoots it better. He’s leaned out a little more and I really believe you will be seeing him play in the NBA someday.
AC: You have had a lot of great players come through your program (Diamon Simpson, Omar Samhan, Stephen Holt, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Mickey McConnell). Who has been your favorite to coach? How about the easiest to coach?
RB: I can’t really pick a favorite. All those guys you mentioned and some others have been awesome to coach. I remember when we had Dellavedova and I thought I would never be able to coach a guy like this again but now, we have four just like him. No drama. No maintenance. Just a player who wants to improve his game and win. Joe Rahon is another player just like that. He was a special competitor. Omar was more polarizing but I absolutely loved coaching him. He brought it every night and wore his emotion on his sleeve.
All those players are different in their own ways but all of them wanted to be coached and learn more about the game. They allowed me to do that which I’m truly thankful for. Some were definitely easier to coach than others but I have been truly blessed to coach some great players.
AC: Thanks again for speaking with me and good luck next season, coach!
*Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho