Virginia star Landesberg on Tony Bennett, a celebrity crush and more
Landesberg's surprising Cavaliers are off to an ACC-best 3-0 start this season
Which national player would Landesberg pick to take a last-second shot?
Landesberg explains how boxing training helps him on the basketball court
The latest subject of our Hoops Q&A series is Virginia's Sylven Landesberg, a 6-foot-7 wing guard who's averaging 17.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists as a sophomore. On Monday, he hit a shot with 2.2 seconds left to beat UNC-Wilmington as the the Cavaliers improved to 12-4. Virginia has been the surprise team in the ACC this season, off to a league-best 3-0 start despite being picked to finish 11th in the preseason media poll. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:
Luke Winn: When your new coach, Tony Bennett, was hired away from Washington State this offseason, how much did you know about his NBA career?
Sylven Landesberg: I knew nothing at all about Tony before that. The only Tony Bennett I knew was the singer.
LW: I think they met once in an airport in Green Bay, in some staged publicity thing. You ever ask about that?
SL: Really? I had never asked about it. But when he was hired, the people here passed out these short biographies on him, so we read up, and found out how he'd been in the NBA for like three years, and found out about his coaching career.
LW: Did the sheet say he was Muggsy Bogues' backup?
SL: He actually tells us stories about Muggsy, about things he picked up from him on the defensive end. If [Bennett] sees us doing something wrong, he might say, this is a little thing I learned from Muggsy: "When you see a man turn his back in the post, then you can fully commit to jumping him when he dribbles."
LW: What was Coach Bennett's overhaul process like when he arrived at UVa.?
SL: He just came in with a positive attitude. We had just gone through a tough season. Everyone on the team wants to win, and we hated how it went last year. We didn't like the situation we ended up in. So we all appreciated it when he came in so positive, and we did whatever he told us to do, because we felt like we cold learn a lot from him, with where he'd played, and what he'd done as a coach. I think everyone bought into the system, and we're seeing the result.
LW: He put in the famed Bennett Pack-Line defense, right? Explain how it works.
SL: Basically, when you're off the ball, you don't stretch out. We don't deny our man. If your man is on the 3-point line, you'd let him catch the ball, but if he's inside the "Pack" -- 15 feet and in, or 18 feet and in, you've gotta make it difficult for him to catch it.
When your man does get ball-pressured -- last year, if your man had the ball, you were basically one-on-one, you had to contain him. This year everyone is more confident in the fact that you can go out and pressure your man, and if we do get beat a little bit, someone will be there to help until we recover.
LW: You hit a game-winner on Monday against UNC Wilmington with 2.2 seconds left [for a 69-67 victory]. You're taking those big shots for Virginia ... but let's say you were a coach and you had to pick one other player in college hoops -- not from your current team -- to take a last-second shot. To whom would you give the ball?
SL: Depends what the score is.
LW: Down two, time for one shot.
SL: And we're going for the win? Then I'd give it to that boy [Andy] Rautins from Syracuse. He can really stroke it. So I'd have a lot of faith in him to hit a three.
LW: And if you're only down one?
SL: I'd take Damion James from Texas. He seems so dominant inside and on the boards. With the way he attacks the rim, he's so athletic that he's real tough to guard in the post.
LW: Can you explain the role your father, Steven, played in your basketball development. I've heard the stories about him working with you non-stop, even quitting his job at a hospital to focus on your training.
SL: My father played a huge part in my development. I would have to say most of it, if not all of it, is because of him. On days I was tired, or days I just wanted to be a regular kid and hang out or be lazy, he would push me. He'd say, "Come on, let's go to the park. Let's go get shots up. Do some ball-handling drills."
That took me a long way. It helped me grow as a player and in life. Taught me a lot of discipline -- that if you want something, it's not handed to you. You've gotta go out and work, and go get it yourself. Taught me a lot of lessons in basketball and life.
LW: This stuff would start early and go all day in the summer, right?
SL: It would start at 6 a.m., with a light shootaround, and then go on throughout the day. I'd have 5-6 workouts throughout the day, and usually get done at about 6 or 7 p.m. After that I'd be so exhausted that I'd just go to sleep. All of that was preparing me to be able to compete at this level.
LW: You had a dribbling coach, a shooting coach, a weightlifting specialist and a boxing instructor, for footwork. I'm most curious about the boxing instruction -- how did it help?
SL: I've taken boxing now for the past 2-3 years. When I first started, it was basically something just to work on my conditioning and footwork. The first few times I went, I hated it because I was getting so exhausted. My arms were killing me. After a while you start to pick it up, though, and a lot of stuff actually converts to playing basketball -- like being able to make moves or defend with quick hands and quick feet.
LW: What's a move you might make that has a relation to a boxer's footwork?
SL: I think a lot of people, when they watch a game, think a crossover is all in the hands. But a lot of it is in your feet. You've gotta be able to change directions quickly -- real quickly -- to get to that spot, and you have to move yourself in the right way to keep your balance. If I come at a guy with an in-and-out crossover, I have to be able to move quickly, but also control my body to be able to get by him.
LW: Did you ever actually fight someone, or spar, or was it just training?
SL: You know, I was basically just doing the training, and I shadow-boxed with a few people. I never really boxed. I might've sparred once, and I held my own a little, but the guy I was sparring with was pretty good, so it ended quickly.
LW: I watched a video of one of your old basketball trainers, Jerry Powell, who's well-respected, and also pretty hilarious. He has that line about how, "If my mother was to ever guard me in a 1-on-1 basketball game, I'd run her right the f--- over."
SL: I trained with Jerry Powell two years ago. He's the best. It was an in-the-gym-all-day kind of thing. This past summer, I worked out five times a day, but it was different people. With Jerry I'd do 3-4 of them just with him.
The "mother" thing, he said that to me a few times. Once he had a girl working out there, who was pretty good, and he put her in a game with us. I started to fool around a little, taking it easy because I didn't want to hurt her. That's when Jerry said, "Listen, if I was playing 1-on-1 with my mother, I would run her over, score the bucket, then after that I'd tell her, 'Let's go make some cookies.' "
LW: Given how much time and money your dad spent on your training, what do you think would've happened if, at 15 or 16 years old, you'd all of a sudden decided, I really don't want to play basketball anymore -- I want to be a drummer, or a writer, or something else?
SL: Nothing would've happened. My father is fully supportive of every decision I make. He's still my father regardless of what happens. I could be musician and he'd be supportive of me just the same way. He'd probably be a little mad that I'm not playing basketball ... but he'd be supportive, 100 percent.
More College Basketball
College Basketball Truth & Rumors