He did it before and he can do it again.
Ninth-year coach Bob Bender took a Washington program from the depths of the Pacific-10 Conference and transformed it into a perennial postseason participant. Now after two disappointing seasons, Bender seeks to again rejuvenate the program.
Bender has placed himself fourth among all-time UW coaches with 105 victories. He led the Huskies to four consecutive postseason appearances from 1996-99, a feat no other UW coach has accomplished. His four postseason invitations are topped only by the five postseason berths of former coach Marv Harshman's Huskies (1972-85).
Bender guided Washington to back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths in 1998 and 1999. Only Harshman coached UW into the NCAAs more often (3).
Last year, the Huskies struggled to a 10-20 record against a schedule rated the 20th most difficult in the nation. Eight of the losses came against teams that played in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies tied for ninth in the Pac-10 with a 4-14 record.
The 2001 season was not without its highlights as Washington won four games on buzzer-beaters, including a thrilling 96-94 victory over 13th-ranked UCLA in the final game of regular season. The Huskies secured third place at the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic with an overtime win over Clemson.
During the 2000 season, injuries, key departures and a treacherous schedule ranked the nation's fourth toughest, resulted in a 10-20 record. Bender's Huskies finished tied for eighth in the Pac-10 with a 5-13 mark. Highlighting the season were a pair of victories over NCAA Tournament-bound UCLA and Oregon.
Washington had a 6-8 road record, its most away victories since 1986. The Huskies played "home" games at KeyArena while their campus arena was renovated. The lack of a true homecourt led to the UW posting a better road record than home mark for only the third time in school history (1957, 1965).
Bender coached UW to a 17-12 record in 1999 with wins over three teams (Arizona, UCLA, New Mexico) ranked among the top-11 nationally. The Huskies registered a fourth-place Pac-10 showing with a 10-8 mark. Washington garnered its second straight NCAA Tournament berth, receiving a No. 7 seed. The Huskies lost 59-58 to Miami (Ohio).
The 1998 season produced the Huskies' first 20-win season since 1987, their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1986 and their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1984. The 1998 Washington team posted a 20-10 record and advanced to postseason play for the third straight season. The UW reached the Sweet 16 with wins over Xavier and Richmond before suffering a heart-breaking last-second loss to UConn.
Washington concluded its finest campaign in 12 seasons ranked No. 23 in the final 1998 ESPN/USA Today poll, the school's first postseason ranking since 1984.
The Huskies finished fourth in the tough Pac-10 with an 11-7 record, including a late-season 95-94 upset of No. 18 UCLA that helped secure the NCAA berth.
In 1997, the Huskies finished with a 17-11 record and the team's second straight National Invitation Tournament berth.
Washington finished sixth in the Pac-10 with a 10-8 record, including a 92-88 upset over national champion Arizona. In 1996, Washington finished with a 16-12 record, its first winning season since 1987. The campaign culminated with an appearance in the National Invitation Tournament, Washington's first postseason bid since 1987.
Bender was honored as the 1996 Pacific-10 Conference Coach of the Year by a vote of his peers. Washington finished tied for fifth in the Pac-10 with a 9-9 record, including a stunning 80-79 overtime victory at Arizona.
The coaching accolades and postseason appearances seemed a long way removed from Bender's first year that produced a 5-22 record. The 1994 Huskies played a schedule ranked the fourth-toughest in the nation and did it without any returning starters.
Bender's initial UW victory, a 61-60 decision on Dec. 23 at Idaho State, was historical. His first Pac-10 victory was hysterical.
The Huskies were completing Bender's first swing through the Pac-10, having lost to the first eight conference foes with only 12th-ranked Arizona to play. Washington registered the most remarkable upset of the 1994 collegiate campaign, stunning the Wildcats 74-69 in Seattle. Arizona proceeded to win 12 of its next 13 games before losing to eventual national champion Arkansas in the semifinal round of the Final Four.
Bender's inaugural UW team secured a ninth-place conference finish with a 3-15 record.
The Huskies posted a 10-17 record in 1995 against a schedule ranked the sixth-toughest in the nation. They defeated a pair of NCAA Tournament teams, Old Dominion and Michigan. The 65-61 victory over the Wolverines, Dec. 30 in Seattle, gave the UW its first U S WEST Cellular Air Time Tournament title.
Bender spent several seasons apprenticing under legendary college basketball coaches. He counts Bobby Knight, Bill Foster and Mike Krzyzewski among his mentors. He was a member of Knight's Indiana squad in 1976, Foster's Duke unit from 1977-80 and served on Krzyzewski's coaching staff from 1983-89.
From each of these renowned mentors, he gleaned skills that have guided the Washington basketball program into the Bender Era.
"I'm excited about Bobby getting the job and I know he's really excited about coming to Washington," Krzyzewski said after Bender was named to replace Lynn Nance as the Husky head coach on April 9, 1993. "The potential is there to have an outstanding basketball program."
Who better to turn Washington into an outstanding basketball program than someone who has been a part of several outstanding basketball programs himself?
Bender has the unique distinction of being a player on two of the most famous college basketball teams in history. He was a freshman on the 1976 national champion Indiana squad, the last NCAA Division I team to complete an undefeated season. He transferred to Duke where his sophomore team advanced to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Kentucky. That 1978 Blue Devil Final Four squad was immortalized by John's Feinstein's book, "Forever's Team," published in 1989.
The 44-year-old Bender is the only individual who has performed for two different teams in the NCAA championship game. He was scoreless in Indiana's 1976 title game against Michigan and tallied seven points in 17 minutes for Duke in the 1978 championship.
But Bender is more than just an answer to a trivia question. He has proven himself to be a capable coach.
In four years as coach at Illinois State, his teams posted a 60-57 record, won two Missouri Valley Conference regular-season titles, captured one conference tournament championship and garnered an NCAA tournament invitation in 1990. Bender's Redbirds drew defending champion Michigan in the first round of the 1990 NCAA Tournament, suffering a 76-70 loss against the Wolverines.
Bender inherited a 13-17 squad at Illinois State and turned in an 18-13 record his inaugural season as a head coach, including the 1990 MVC tournament title. After a 5-23 record in 1991, the Redbirds became just the fourth team in 85 years of league play to go from last place to first in one season. Illinois State posted an 18-11 record, including a 14-4 conference mark to win a share of the 1992 regular season crown. Bender was named MVC Coach of the Year and the Illinois Collegiate Coach of the Year in 1992.
The Redbirds were 19-10 in 1993, won the regular season MVC title and advanced to the conference tournament championship game.
Illinois State fans showed staunch support for Bender's program at Redbird Arena, leading the conference in attendance all four years.
Bender is strong presence off the court as well. His teams at Washington and ISU were heavily involved in community service while he served in numerous charitable capacities.
During his 12 years as a head coach, Bender has mentored several assistants, including two who became head coaches and one who moved on to the NBA. Billy King, an assistant at Illinois State and briefly at Washington, became an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers before taking over as Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Philadelphia 76ers. Former Bender assistant Ritchie McKay, is the head coach at Oregon State and Ray Giacoletti, an assistant during Bender's first eight years as a head coach, is the head coach at Eastern Washington.
The education of Bob Bender began from his upbringing as a coach's son in Illinois. At Bloomington High School he scored 23 points per game as the team captain his senior season to earn all-state and All-America accolades. He also played football and baseball.
As a high school senior in 1975, he was included on lists of the nation's elite players that contained the likes of Bill Cartwright, Darryl Dawkins and Darrell Griffith. The Chicago Sun-Times newspaper honored Bender as the 1975 Player of the Year, an award that over the years honored such standouts as Quinn Buckner, Isiah Thomas, Hersey Hawkins and Kevin Garnett.
Bender enrolled at Indiana University and played for the Hoosiers 1976 national championship team that completed a perfect 32-0 campaign. As a freshman at Indiana, he appeared in 17 games, averaging 2.0 points with 14 assists. He then transferred to Duke.
He helped the Blue Devils to a 73-24 record, two Atlantic Coast Conference championships, three NCAA berths and a spot in the 1978 NCAA championship game. A terrific playmaker, Bender dished out 332 assists in his career, including 159 his senior season.
Bender was a first-team All-ACC scholar in 1980, when he averaged 6.4 points per game in 33 games his senior season. He averaged 6.8 points and had 91 assists in 28 games as a junior and 5.1 points and 82 assists in 22 games as a sophomore.
A 1980 graduate of Duke with a bachelor's degree in history, Bender was drafted by the San Diego Clippers in the sixth round before his senior year. He enjoyed a brief stay with the NBA team after graduation, then entered private business as a financial accountant.
In 1981, Bender was hired as assistant director of the Iron Dukes, the Blue Devil fund-raising organization and remained in that position until joining Krzyzewski's basketball staff as an assistant coach in 1983.
He helped produce a 164-45 record and NCAA Tournament berths in all six of his seasons on the Duke staff. The Blue Devils advanced to the Final Four three times during that span.
Bender was born April 28, 1957. His wife, Alice, earned her B.S. and master's degrees from Duke. They have a 5-year-old daughter, Mary Elizabeth, and a son, 3-year-old Robert Michael III.
As A Head Coach
Years School Record Pct. 1990-93 Illinois State 60-57 .513 1994-01 Washington 105-124 .459 Totals (12 years) 165-181 .477