Virginia Championship Celebration Basketball

Virginia coach Tony Bennett speaks during “A Night With The National Champions” at John Paul Jones Arena.

The University of Virginia announced Monday that men’s basketball head coach Tony Bennett extended his contract one year, declined a raise and pledged $500,000 from he and his wife Laurel to a career development program for current and former Virginia men’s basketball players.

In the UVa news release, Bennett credited his wife for helping create the idea for the career program. He mentioned that both he and his wife spend time discussing how to make a substantial impact on the lives of the players outside of basketball. The career development program is a way to do that.

“We try to train our guys to be the best basketball players they can be, the school educates them, we try to teach them what it means to be a leader, and we try to pour the pillars into them,” Bennett said in the news release. “But what else can we do? There’s an incredible advantage in being a student-athlete here, but there are some disadvantages. You’re so consumed with your studies and then your workouts and your playing that you don’t always have the time to really pursue as many internships and career opportunities [as other students].”

With the Bennetts wanting to make an impact and noticing a gap in the student-athlete experience, the career development program became a solution. The career program is “brand new,” according to Ted White, Virginia’s Deputy Athletics Director, and the university is working to build a similar framework for all athletes at the university.

Virginia Athletics Director Carla Williams believes the development program helps put UVa above its peers.

“We want to lead the way nationally in regards to the student-athlete experience,” Williams said in the UVa news release. “Career development programming for our men’s basketball players will help set that standard and differentiate our program.”

At it currently functions, the career program is split between current and former players, according to White. Bennett and his staff hear from former players on a “word-of-mouth basis.” Then, the athletic department helps determine the career needs of that individual former athlete before working with AthLife.

AthLife, which was founded in 2004, is an organization that works with current and former athletes to help them progress in their respective careers.

AthLife provides standard services that you might expect from a career development organization.

“The work involves anything and everything from career interest assessments, resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, mock interviews, networking activities and events, informational interviews, as well as arranging career mentors, externships, internships, and actual jobs,” White said in an email. “We leverage the University of Virginia global network at every turn.”

The process and resources work similarly for current players, with every athlete getting the opportunity to go through the program once they start at UVa.

“For current student-athletes, we begin with first-years and build annually in a series of assessments, workshops, events and activities that serve as a foundation for post-graduate career transition, whether that happens immediately after graduation or later — after graduate school or a professional basketball career, for example,” White said. “The idea is to begin the conversation and work on day one so whenever a particular student-athlete is ready to make the switch from basketball to their second career, they are ready to act on that desire.”

The Virginia men’s basketball program is known for student-athletes staying multiple years in a college basketball landscape defined by one-and-done players. This college trajectory allows the career resources to be even more beneficial, as players can spend four years using the resources to determine their post-basketball career path.

Leaving early to the NBA won’t hamper a player’s ability to access the resources, though. Players who declare early for the NBA can still reach out to Virginia and gain access to the same resources as other former players. The flexibility of the program makes it valuable to players who leave early for the NBA, players who play four years before joining the professional ranks and athletes who have no intention of playing professionally.

White also mentioned that the strategic partnership with AthLife is beneficial because the organization works with the NBA, the G-League and the player development directors of those respective leagues. According to the AthLife website, the organization works with dozens of universities, as well as the MLS Players Union, National Basketball Retired Players Association, NBA Players Legacy Fund, NFL Players Association, The Trust (Powered by the NFL Players Association) and WWE. UVa is “currently in the process of partnering with AthLife,” according to White.

Players like Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome don’t have to wait until their NBA careers end to develop career skills outside of the basketball arena, as they can connect with AthLife’s services through the NBA.

The program is still in its infancy, but UVa men’s basketball has the framework laid out for its career development program.

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