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NCAA hoops coach kicks back in district

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Even the coach of an NCAA “March Madness” contender needs to find some downtime here and there.

Randy Bennett, coach of the St. Mary’s Gaels men’s basketball team based out of Moraga, Calif. (just east of the San Francisco Bay area), just so happens to vacation outside of Emo at True North Outposts, which his sister, Cathy Mosbeck, owns with her husband, Chuck.

Bennett took the No. 10 Gaels to the “Sweet 16” this past spring, upsetting Richmond and Villanova in Providence, R.I. before falling to Baylor in Houston.

The victory over Richmond was a milestone for the Gaels, who hadn’t won a game in the NCAA tournament since 1959.

While the Bennett family (also comprising his wife, Darlene, and sons, Chase and Cade) experiences the on-the-go lifestyle of big-city California, he also appreciates the opportunity to kick back for a week here in Rainy River District.

“I want [Chase and Cade] to have a good knowledge of what Cathy and those guys do,” he explained.

“They’ve got a little different life up here, and it’s a great life,” he added.

“I want to them be able to take that in and understand that.”

The Bennetts have the opportunity to enjoy a number of activities on Clearwater Lake, including swimming, fishing, and water-skiing, although board games, a game of catch, and reading are popular, too.

The biggest thing, though, is being able to escape the ringing phone for a week.

“[We do] all those things that you do when you’re on vacation,” Bennett explained. “But mostly, get away from the phone and all that craziness.”

The only unfortunate aspect is that the Bennett family’s downtime comes during the Mosbecks’ busy season. But he Bennett noted Cathy and Chuck were able to make time during the NCAA tournament to attend the “Sweet 16” game in Houston.

“We’re in two different worlds,” he noted. “When they have free time, I’m usually busy. During their busy time, I’m usually free.”

The tournament itself was a bit of a blur for Bennett given the team’s two opening wins came in the span of just over 48 hours.

Afterwards, the Gaels had five days off in order to prepare for Baylor—an immediate transition from the gauntlet to the waiting game.

“When you’re going through it, it just happened so fast,” Bennett recalled. “All of a sudden, here comes the next game, and then all of a sudden, there was a break.

“[But] you still didn’t have any time because you travel and you try to get ready for the next game,” he noted.

The quick schedule was a new aspect of the tournament for Bennett, who had taken the Gaels to “March Madness” in 2005 and 2008, but lost in the first round both times.

St. Mary’s wasn’t going to disappoint this time around, however.

“Our guys felt like it was our time, and it was our chance to finally prove that we belonged,” Bennett stressed.

“The first two times we didn’t get it done, so the next step for us, as a program, was to win an NCAA tournament game.”

While Bennett felt the Gaels consistently were underrated throughout the season, he still was proud of his crew, led by breakout star Omar Samhan, who averaged more than 25 points per game in the three tournament games.

“When it was all over and you reflect back, it was pretty awesome that that group of guys would have accomplished that, especially when they weren’t expected to do that well,” enthused Bennett, whose team finished the season with a 28-6 overall record.

“Nobody picked us high, and all year long the only time we ever got ranked was at the end of the year, and we had a pretty good year all around.

“It was a team that couldn’t break through in the rankings, and we couldn’t get the respect we thought we had earned,” he argued.

“Finally, we did.”

Bennett explained that Samhan, who spent time with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA summer league this year before joining Žalgiris Kaunas of the Euroleague, wasn’t hand-picked to be the Gaels’ leader to start the season—he just happened to fill the role naturally.

“Nobody was marked as a star to start the season,” noted Bennett, who had the luxury of stars Pat Mills and Diamon Simpson to work with in 2008-09.

“They made it a team,” he stressed. “Everybody did their part, and that’s what was great about that team is they didn’t really care who received the credit.

“They were very unselfish.

Bennett said somebody had to be their leading scorer—and that was Samhan.

“It wasn’t because Omar necessarily wanted to be the leading scorer,” he remarked. “It was just, hey, that’s what had to happen for us to win.”

Bennett was encouraged that the Gaels meshed well as a unit, noting it was the most selfless team he had coached since taking the reins in 2001.

“More than any other team I’ve coached, they understood their roles and being a team,” he explained. “There were no individual agendas.

“It’s easy to say, it’s hard to do,” he added. “Usually, somebody’s got some kind of an agenda, but with this team, our senior leadership was great.”

Bennett said his toughest on-court moment came during the 2008-09 season when Mills suffered a broken hand and was lost to the team.

St. Mary’s initially struggled to adjust to life without him, but rebounded after a couple of games. However, that brief slump likely cost the Gaels a spot in the NCAA tournament—and they settled instead for a berth in the secondary National Invitational Tournament (NIT).

“We went through a tough stretch of about four or five games, but we put it back together and we were good again,” Bennett recalled.

“We went to the NIT [and] that was tough because I felt we’d done just about everything we could do under the circumstances and I don’t think we got recognized for what we’d done.

“[But] it was a great experience and we made the most of it,” he added. “We turned a negative into a positive and our guys deserve credit for that.

“We were sitting there and we knew we had one of the top 20 teams in the country, and we didn’t get to play in the [NCAA] tournament.”

Bennett estimated he often spends 12 hours a day working during the season, and also plays a major role in the off-season recruiting process.

However, he tries to make a point of finding the right balance between work and family time.

“During the season, it can be more [than 12 hours a day], but I try to keep it in check,” he noted. “You can work 18 hours a day if you were obsessed with it.

“You have to be careful because it’s competitive, and you don’t want anybody getting an edge on you, but there’s a point of diminishing returns,” Bennett reasoned.

“You have to have a balance . . . the better balance you have, the better job you’re going to do.

“Thank goodness for families,” he stressed. “We’d all be crazy if we didn’t have families.”

With the 2010-11 NCAA season starting soon, Bennett hopes to build on last year’s success and go deeper into the tournament than the “Sweet 16.”

“We’ve got a bad taste in our mouth from that last year,” he remarked.

“We’ve got a chance to be good the next couple years,” he added. “The hardest thing is getting in it, and then [if] you get in it, you can do some damage.”

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