The refrain of "DEE-FENSE," long familiar to packer fans at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, is now echoing across Lombardi Avenue in Brown County Arena. The Wisconsin-Green Bay basketball team, led by junior point guard Tony Bennett and coached by his father, Dick, is using its man-to-man "pack" D to drive opponents to distraction. At week's end, Green Bay was 14-5 and had limited opponents to 62.3 points a game, 12th best in the nation. As a result the Phoenix, which has beaten Colorado and DePaul this season, has the inside track on the NCAA tournament bid reserved for the Mid-Continent Conference, home of such recent sleepers as Cleveland State, which knocked off Indiana in 1986, and Northern Iowa, which upset Missouri last year.
This kind of success is heady stuff for a school that opened in 1969 as an NAIA school, went to the NCAA's Division II in '73-74 and moved to Division I basketball in '81. Even Dick Bennett says, "I never envisioned myself as a Division I coach. In fact, I didn't expect to go past the high school level."
Dick, 47, went to Green Bay in 1985, after having coached at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point for nine seasons. He inherited a team that had finished 4-24. After a 5-23 first season, he then went 71-45, including a 24-8 record in '89-90. This season, despite deploying an undersized team that, as of Sunday, had been outrebounded in all but three games, Bennett has the Phoenix holding opponents to 46.9% shooting with that collapsing man-to-man pack defense.
Dick and his wife, Anne, give the Green Bay program a pronounced mom-and-pop feel. Dick's ultimate recruiting inducements are homemade hot fudge sundaes whipped up by Anne. But they aren't what hooked Tony, the state's 1988 Mr. Basketball as a senior at Preble High. He grew up watching his dad make better players of unheralded prospects such as Terry Porter, who went from being a freshman substitute at Stevens Point to point guard of the Portland Trail Blazers. "Dad is such a great teacher," says Tony. "And besides, it's great to share things with someone you love."
February 11, 1991
Tony, a 6-foot, 175-pound lefty, uses an array of behind-the-back and stop-and-go moves to shake free for jumpers. At week's end he was shooting 51.1% from three-point range, and between his 4.6 assists and 21.8 points a game, he was shouldering about 46% of the Phoenix offense. The pressure of carrying such a load has sometimes strained the father-son union. Tony shrugs off Dick's tongue-lashings with a smile and a roll of his eyes. Dick, meanwhile, gets overly caught up in his son's achievements. "Sometimes it seems like Coach Bennett wants to be Tony," says junior swingman Ben Johnson. "It's like he wants to make a move for him."
Similarity, Dick can't watch Porter play for the Trail Blazers on TV without wincing and groaning. Before repairing to pro camp each fall, Porter stops by the Bennetts' for a few weeks to get his mind right and his legs ready. "I owe my whole basketball career to Dick Bennett," says Porter.
Porter is also close to Tony—so close they have shared Tony's king-sized water bed during those preseason visits. "He's a big guy, so I just tried to stay in my corner," says Tony. "But now I can tell everyone, 'I slept with a pro.' "
He can also say he is propelling a sleeper.