Hard Work and Persistence Help Him Put Saint Mary's Basketball in the Limelight
Leaning back in his leather chair with his feet resting comfortably on his desk, it’s easy to see that Randy Bennett is quite happy where he sits.
The coach of the Saint Mary’s Gaels has led his men’s basketball team out of relative obscurity and into the limelight as one of the country’s top mid-major programs, proving year after year that hard work pays dividends.
Arriving in Moraga in 2001, Bennett took the helm of a team that had 27 losses and just two wins the year before. After a memorable run to the NCAA Sweet 16 two years ago, the Gaels are returning to the Big Dance this season for the fourth time under his leadership, thanks to a thrilling overtime victory over rival Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament championship. Along the way, he achieved something no Saint Mary’s basketball coach had ever done, winning the regular season championship and the tournament championship in the same season.
If there is one thing Bennett stresses, it’s that success does not come easy.
“Work beats talent unless talent works,” says Bennett, explaining one of the team’s mantras.
Early Life Lessons Pay Off
Hard work and dedication were traits Bennett learned early in life, helping his family run its fishing resort in Canada as a kid.
“In about fourth grade through ninth, I just went up there for the summer and worked. I mowed a lot of lawns, cleaned a lot of boats,” says Bennett. “I just learned to work. That was the norm. I didn’t know any different.”
Those lessons have stayed with Bennett, as season after season he pores over plays and game footage in the pre-dawn hours when most of us are sound asleep. “I probably watch four games for every team we play,” says Bennett. “It takes three to four hours to break down each tape. That’s the grind.”
Aside from his lengthy pregame preparation, Bennett is known to never miss practice and always be there when his players need him. He and his wife host team dinners and treat the players like family – on and off the court.
This hard work does not go without reward. Bennett currently holds a 234-117 record as a head coach and has had 25 wins or more in each of the past five seasons. Last summer, he signed a new 10-year contract and said he was pleased with the opportunity to stay at Saint Mary’s, a place he is proud to call home.
"Strong Sense of Commitment"
Richard Kilwien, the assistant athletic director for communications at Saint Mary’s, says Bennett has led the basketball team through the most successful decade in school history for any sport.
“Coach Bennett has such a strong sense of commitment to everything he does,” says Kilwien. “It may sound clichéd, but he really does give 110 percent. His ability to achieve such a high degree of success has made Saint Mary’s one of college basketball’s great small-college stories.”
Bennett’s attitude impresses not only his colleagues but also Gael fans. John and Maureen Graf of Moraga say Bennett is more than just a coach and they appreciate what he’s done for the school and their town.
“Clearly, Bennett is an outstanding leader and motivator. He strikes us as a very even-tempered person who is in control of outward displays of emotion,” they say. “He can justifiably take great pride in his accomplishments. Moraga has a lot to be proud of!”
While Bennett’s success is a result of his personal efforts, he continually stresses the importance of his assistant coaches and players. He attributes the rise of the program to their approach to recruiting.
“We recruit all the guys the same way,” says Bennett. “We want guys who are proud to wear Saint Mary’s on their chest. I think that’s where we’ve done a good job.”
Building a "Basketball Family"
Finding young men with both talent and character is Bennett’s goal. When he looks for recruits, he wants to make sure they are willing to join the “basketball family” he has helped create and can prove they’ll be dedicated to working in an environment that stresses a “team comes first” mentality.
“You take our best players we’ve had here and there’s one common denominator,” says Bennett. “They’re hard workers.”
Bennett is widely known for recruiting top players from Australia, and although that might be considered an out-of-the-box approach for most coaches, international recruiting is something he sees as just another way to improve the program.
“The success we’ve had with kids from Australia has helped us,” says Bennett. “It’s directly had an effect on us being able to get more good players from Australia.”
One such recruit is guard Matthew Dellavedova, this season’s West Coast Conference Player of the Year, who is in his third season under Bennett. He says the coach’s success comes from his commitment to the attitude that “it’s all about the team.”
“The thing he’s always on about is working hard and making sure we are outworking other teams,” says Dellavedova. “He does a really good job making sure we are prepared for each game. He’s found a formula that works and he is continually working on that and trying to improve.”
Saint Mary’s hasn’t just given Bennett a place to be a coach but a new home. He lives only minutes from campus, so he is never far from his wife and two sons.
“I’m big on balance. I want to spend time with my kids. I don’t get that back; I know that,” he says. “One of the biggest priorities in life is to be a really good dad. I know I can’t do that if I’m not around,” says Bennett. “It’s one of the reasons that I really like Saint Mary’s. I can do both.”
It’s this balance of hard work and devotion to family that make Bennett a standout coach and role model for his players. There’s a quiet persistence that seems to fit the Lasallian spirit at Saint Mary’s. “We work hard. I know that,” says Bennett. “We don’t need to beat our chests about it.”
With that attitude, he can proudly sit atop one of college basketball’s most successful and respected programs.
By Dan Murphy '13 — SMC Sports Journalism Class, Department of Communication
Photos by Icon SMI