Derrick Low sat right behind Tony Bennett’s wife, Laurel, on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium wanting to believe his former coach would get to play for a national championship.
With Virginia trailing with under a minute left after Auburn’s 12-0 run, Low could see those title hopes fading right in front of his eyes.
“They should’ve lost,” Low said. “But the way things happened, it felt like someone was watching out for them.”
Team of destiny is what the Cavaliers appear to be this season with seemingly a higher power at work when everything fell into place for Bennett to reach Monday’s NCAA championship against Texas Tech.
Low, a former Washington State guard, could've watched the Final Four on TV in the islands, but he traveled thousands of miles to Minneapolis from Hawaii to support Bennett, who he played for on Bennett's first two NCAA tournament teams with the Cougars in 2007 and 2008.
“I think these guys are similar but several notches above us,” Low said comparing his Sweet 16 team his senior year to Virginia. “These guys are tough. I don’t think many of these guys were highly recruited, but he saw something special in these individuals. They weren’t five-star recruits, but their character was good and they had to have that toughness factor. You look at Kyle Guy has ice in his veins. Ty Jerome might not be the most athletic or the quickest, but he’s tough as nails.”
Sure, Bennett is on a much bigger stage Monday night with his Virginia team, but how he helped his father, Dick, build Washington State into a national power wasn’t much different.
Low, a four-time Hawaii prep player of the year at Iolani (my alma mater), was part of a backcourt that was considered at that time arguably the best in college hoops. The Cougars three-headed monster of Low, Taylor Rochestie and Kyle Weaver didn’t have lottery pick potential, but they checked off a lot of other boxes to help teams win: toughness, versatility, basketball IQ, playmaking.
“We’re not the most athletic or the cream of the crop,” Low said. “But when it comes down to a dog fight you can bet we’re going to stand toe to toe with you and we’re not going to give up. These guys got that toughness, which is what got them here.”
Bennett, who reached the NCAA tournament second round in his first season with the Cougars in 2006-07, took over Washington State’s program from his father. Dick Bennett came there after a successful stint at Wisconsin, including getting the Badgers to the 2000 Final Four. Being an assistant on that Wisconsin staff was the younger Bennett’s only previous Final Four experience until getting the Cavs to Minneapolis last week.
It took 12 years from his first season at Washington State, but Low isn’t surprised Bennett is finally living his dream of getting a chance to lead a program to the ultimate prize in college basketball.
And he thanks the man above that he’ll be right behind Bennett’s family in the crowd to hopefully see Virginia cut down the nets Monday night.
“Just like it’s every player’s dream to play in the NCAA tournament and go to the NBA,” Low said. “I’m sure it’s every coach’s dream to coach in the Final Four and get a national championship. If you know the kind of person Tony is, and know how his family, you really can’t help but to root for Tony. But it just makes you so proud that you were there when he first started. It makes it that much more special.”