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Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Everyone needs a little reassurance now and then, and that is exactly what Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett received from his friend Joe Stewart. Bennett had just lost the NCAA tournament when Steward forwarded a copy of a letter that Indiana’s Bob Knight received in 1975 from Hall of Fame coach Clair Bee.

“Take a deep breath, get your bearings, set your sights on even greater heights and start all over again,” Bee said in the letter. “All a frustrated young man can expect to see as he looks over his shoulder is a desolate cemetery where his broken dreams lie buried in defeat … [a leader] is strengthened by the blow that cut him down. Now he knows the rough spots that pit the road and the quicksand that lies so innocently nearby. He knows because he has fought his way up that path of agony–almost to the very top…He grasps the new challenge with eager hands, races for the starting line. He will be back!”

Bennet shared the letter with his team as a way of inspiring the Cavaliers and took it to heart himself so that he could look at the team’s loss in a more constructive way. “I look at things differently now, actually better, from what I’ve experienced,” Bennett said. “I think if you know you can handle…the worst thing that can happen and still find joy in the game, at some point you realize, ‘Yeah, it stings, but it’s okay, and I made it through it.’ I think that’s worth everything, and I think it does allow you to go after it harder.”

Bennett’s perspective and character is grounded in his Christian faith. He has said before that the challenge for each person is to discover their “secret of contentment” and warns against only being happy with winning. When that happens, the inevitable and eventual loss “will destroy you.” For himself, Bennett finds his contentment with his wife and two children. “That’s unconditional,” Bennett said, “and ultimately, that’s based on my faith, and that’s everybody’s own individual journey.”

Losses motivate Bennett, but it is his faith that allows him to walk away from otherwise crushing losses with only smarting pride rather than shattered hopes and dreams. “This is all temporary, I understand that. This is fleeting. It’s worth pursuing in the right way, and that’s good. But if you don’t have something else where you find your contentment away from the game…you’re going to be torn up inside. I know that and I’ve experienced that.”

Hopefully, the letter will help motivate the Cavaliers to reach new heights next year. If not, Bennett is still happy to talk about how his religion keeps him moving forward or how he is going to help his team improve. “I’m a boring person,” Bennett said, “but, I can talk about two things forever: basketball and faith.”

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