The morning after Virginia's NCAA tournament demolition of Memphis, assistant coach Ron Sanchez still didn't appreciate the scope of the Cavaliers' excellence, their resourceful offense, unyielding defense and unshakable poise.
"I'm driving home right now," he said, "so I haven't seen the tape. And during the game, it's just possession-by-possession. There are just so many things. Defense, offense. Next thing you know, you look at the scoreboard and we're up 15, 20 (points)."
The approach was so clinical and precise that I couldn't resist hazing Sanchez.
"You sound like your boss!" I said.
"I've been with the guy so long," he said, "I feel like I know what he's going to say before he says it."
The boss, of course, is head coach Tony Bennett, and Sanchez is among six staff members who have been with the program throughout Bennett's five seasons in Charlottesville. Such stability is beyond uncommon in the nomadic coaching profession and is a cornerstone of the program and culture Bennett has forged.
Virginia progressed gradually during Bennett's first four years before spiking this season with ACC regular-season and tournament championships. Seeded No. 1 in the NCAA tournament's East Regional, the Cavaliers defeated Coastal Carolina and Memphis last weekend in Raleigh, N.C., and face Michigan State on Friday at Madison Square Garden in the Sweet 16.
But no matter the results, Bennett's core beliefs and messages have not changed, and his staff has effectively advocated and taught those principles to the Cavaliers' players.
Upon arriving at Virginia in 2009 after three seasons as Washington State's big whistle, Bennett hired associate head coach Ritchie McKay, assistant coaches Jason Williford and Sanchez, strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis, director of operations Brad Soucie and video coordinator Ronnie Wideman, the latter since promoted to assistant athletic director for basketball administration.
"The kids, they know what to expect from us," said Williford, a starter on Virginia's 1995 Elite Eight team. "We all know the system. We all can teach it. We all know what Tony wants.
"Very few egos. We're all in it for the right reasons. No one's thinking, 'What's my next move?' It's refreshing to be a part of something like that."
A former head coach at Portland State, Colorado State, Oregon State, New Mexico and Liberty, McKay, 48, is the staff's most seasoned hand and, according to Williford, "everyone's big brother." His quarter-century on the bench gives him considerable appreciation for the rapport he enjoys at U.Va.
For example, as an assistant and head coach, McKay has seen staffs divided by assistants advocating more playing time for players they recruited, simply because it makes them look good.
"There's none of that on our staff," McKay said. "I'll go down the line. Ron Sanchez, he will go anywhere at any time for anyone. He's a servant. Jason Williford, he's taught me how to become a Wahoo with his passion for the University of Virginia. … He loves this program, and I think he's helped us all love it a little bit more. …
"Ronnie Wideman, arguably the best administrator I've ever seen, ever been around. Brad Soucie, another servant by definition. Mike Curtis is sensational. He's had as much to do with our success as anyone.
"It comes from the top and Coach Bennett. There's a great commitment to humility and selflessness, and I think that's why our staff works. How can you not like being a part of his family and doing life with him? He gets it. We believe in him, and consequently, I think he believes in us."
Sanchez and Wideman accompanied Bennett to Charlottesville from Washington State. Williford came from American University, where he was an assistant coach to Jeff Jones, for whom he played at Virginia.
Soucie and McKay were working at Liberty University, Soucie as an assistant coach, McKay as the head coach. That McKay would leave a program that he had just guided to 23 wins, and a school that mirrors his Christian upbringing, to become an assistant for the first time in 14 years speaks volumes about his affection for Bennett and the Bennett family.