In July, Tony Bennett and Shaka Smart were part of the same team, working as assistant coaches for the United States U19 team that won gold in the World Championships. On Tuesday, the two coaches will find themselves on opposite sides of the floor at John Paul Jones Arena.
Bennett's 25th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers will host Shaka Smart and the No. 14 VCU Rams in front of a sellout crowd at JPJ.
"There's a lot of excitement because it's in state, and VCU has done so well in the past and they have such a good program," Bennett said Monday. "This certainly one of the more exciting games, or the buzz around it would be up there. One of the highest ranked teams, and then the in-state flavor of it and all that is exciting. Probably for our fans this would be one of the more exciting ones in recent years."
"There's a lot of great basketball that goes on throughout the year in Virginia, in the mid-Atlantic region," said Smart. "But for this early in the year, for two teams that are in the top 25 to play one another, I think that's what it's all about."
The Cavaliers and Rams are meeting for the first time since Bennett and Smart have been at their respective programs. The last game between the two teams came on Nov. 13, 1998, when Virginia topped VCU, 86-70.
Because it has been so long since their last meeting, the members of both programs might not be too familiar with one another. But it's a different story for the two head coaches, who coached with each other and learned from each other during the summer.
"We really got to be close, in terms of sharing basketball ideas, and just hanging out," Bennett says of Smart. "And you even have that much more respect for him. I always pulled for him, now I'll really pull for him -- obviously, except for when we play each other. Hopefully he learned some stuff from me. But I certainly learned a lot from him."