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November 14, 2013

Shaka Smart

TIM SIMMONS:  Welcome to our conference call.  Just a few comments on starting practice early this year at the end of September.
COACH SMART:  Well, you know coaches, we love to practice so we'd do it year‑round if we could.  We have nine newcomers to our team this year, so for us it was a great opportunity to get those guys out on the floor and start to get them up to speed with our returning players in terms of what we're trying to do offensively and defensively.  So it's been almost seven weeks now since we started practice.  We've played two games and certainly far from being in mid‑season form, but we're excited about having had that time and continue to work to get better.
TIM SIMMONS:  How big was the win over Virginia?  Obviously nationally televised and playing an in‑state rival and so forth.  How big was that win and can you comment about some of the players that have been standing out for you in the early season?
COACH SMART:  Well, it was a really high‑level college basketball game, especially for this time of year.  I think everyone is still feeling their way out and finding themselves.  As I told the team, whether we won or lost that game, we were going to be in a similar position in terms of needing to get better going into our upcoming games and certainly coming into the tournament there in Puerto Rico.
Guys that have stood out on our team, our leading scorer Treveon Graham as a sophomore led us last year, this year he's a junior, and he hit the game winning shot against Virginia but he also scored 22 points, and he's a guy that does a lot of different things for us and is getting better and better as a leader.  Juvonte Reddic was the second leading scorer last year, also returns, averaged almost nine rebounds a game last year and somebody that we're really excited about as one of the better big guys around.  And then if I had to pick a third guy, it would be Rob Brandenberg who's a guard for us who's as athletic as they come and really attacks the basket, can shoot the ball from outside.
The good thing with our team, I mentioned we have a lot of new guys, but we do have three seniors and two juniors in our starting lineup, so we have some pretty good experience in terms of the guys that start the game.

Q.  Just looking at this field, from top to bottom it's obviously very, very impressive, but win or lose to know you're facing team that have NCAA Tournament experience, what does that do for you as you approach this tournament?
COACH SMART:  Well, you know, that's what you look for in a preseason tournament or an early season tournament.  We're only allowed to play one of these every year, and you want to be in an event that has teams that are going to give you high‑quality competition and give you the chance to test yourself against some of the best programs around.
Obviously the tournament coming up here next week has all of that.  For us we open up against Florida State, who has a terrific program, an ACC Championship‑level program and great coaching staff and great players.  That's going to be a heck of a challenge, and our guys are going to have to work really, really hard to get ready for that one.
Yeah, like you said, moving forward, the whole field is great.  We certainly hope to have an opportunity to play two more really high‑level teams on Friday and on Sunday.

Q.  I'm just wondering if you had a chance in years back to look at Josh Smith, the big center who was at UCLA for a while and is now at Georgetown.  Have you had a chance to form any impression of his potential?
COACH SMART:  Well, we actually played against Josh three years ago in the preseason NIT, but that was when he was wearing a UCLA uniform.  And I believe that was his freshman year at UCLA.  He's obviously gotten better and better since then.
But we got a chance to see how big and imposing he is up close and personal.  We played them in the Garden in I guess you'd call it the third‑place game in the pre‑season NIT.  We were fortunate enough to win.  But yeah, he's a great player, great footwork for somebody that big.  I think that's the biggest thing that stood out to me seeing him the person, is he's a guy that for having that much size, he's got great hands and feet, and I think that's a common trait of high‑level big guys, particularly guys that have that type of size to them.

Q.  And if I could belabor this a bit, can you sort of think about the new rules particularly as it relates to how you defend a player and apply them at least hypothetically to Josh Smith?  Would this make that challenge any more difficult?
COACH SMART:  Well, I think that's an interesting question.  I haven't thought about it specifically as it relates to him.  They're on the other side of the bracket, so at the earliest we would play them on Sunday.
I think certainly if we did play them, that probably would be a good thing because they have such a good team.  They've got a great chance to find themselves in the championship.
But with the new rules, you're just going to have to play even better position defense than you had to in the past.  For us we've always been a team that tries to put a lot of pressure on people on the perimeter, so I would say the biggest area where it impacts us defending a player like him is we have to be even more intelligent and even more disciplined with the way we guard on the perimeter in order to keep the ball out of the post.  I think that's the biggest thing, because with any big kid, the best way to defend them is to keep them from getting the ball.  Once they get the ball, especially in the low block area, times get tough.
That would probably be the thing off the top of my head, that you've got to defend with discipline, with active hands, obviously without fouling because the referees are certainly looking to apply these new rules.
DAN SHOEMAKER:  I just want to tell you how much we appreciate you being in the event, joining us on the call today, and we look forward to having you in San Juan.
COACH SMART:  We're looking forward to coming down and so are our fans.  The other day I think there were some snow flurries, so it's going to be a welcome change for our fans in terms of climate.  You guys always put on a first‑class event and our guys are really excited about getting down there ASAP.
TIM SIMMONS:  Thank you, Coach, and we look forward to seeing you in a week.

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