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March 18, 2015

Mo Alie-Cox

Treveon Graham

Melvin Johnson

Shaka Smart


THE MODERATOR: We're joined by VCU student-athletes. The floor is open for questions.

Q. A lot has been made about D'Angelo Russell, what VCU has to do to stop him? I'm curious if there's another question that needs to be asked, and what does Ohio State have to do to stop you guys?
MELVIN JOHNSON: I don't think if there's anything in particular they need to stop us. I'm not even sure. I just think if we're in a good rhythm, it's going to be a great game. Of course we all know how good of a player D'Angelo Russell is. We see the media. We see predictions and everything. Just try to keep a mellow head, try to keep it going.

MO ALIE-COX: I just think we need to come out here and play our game. Play how we did in Brooklyn, and it should be a good game.

Q. When you win four games in four days in Brooklyn, then you have a few days off, fly across the country, how do you keep the momentum, if you have?
TREVEON GRAHAM: Come to the game and play the way we've been playing. Play with confidence and playing for each other. In Brooklyn, that's what we did, we played for each other and kept fighting no matter what. Up here we got to do the same thing.

Q. Ohio State is taking the position coming into this game, and Thad is telling them, they're the underdog. It's obviously a role that you have thrived in over the years. Do you consider them an underdog? What do you think about them trying to portray themselves as underdogs?
MELVIN JOHNSON: I mean, that's the first time we heard that they were going to be the underdogs in this matchup, voted a lower seed. Like I said since the seeding came out, we've been watching prediction after prediction, expert after expert saying they got a one, they got a top three pick, he's mainly going to be the engine that make them go. This is the first time we heard about them being the underdog. We always have a chip on our shoulder, find something to motivate us. We don't know whether we're going to take the underdog approach or whether they do, we don't really care. We're just going to go out and attack.

Q. Melvin, you had been through sort of a slump part of this season almost to the point where you weren't even looking for shots. That seemed to change in the A-10 tournament where you looked for shots and made many shots. What in your mind changed?
MELVIN JOHNSON: Treveon, he had a big role in that. He's really quiet, but he came to me and expressed how much he wanted to keep it going. For example, Thursday versus Richmond, he said, I'm going to need you now more than ever, I don't want my senior year to be over. From that point on I felt like I needed to let my hair down and shoot the ball. I feel like that's a strength of mine. When I'm not shooting, I'm hurting the team. We need more options. It was most important that I just continue to shoot. I mean, I thank Treveon because he's putting the battery in my back to shoot the ball regardless of whether I'm missing them or making it.

Q. Ever since you went to the Final Four, your coach's name has been mentioned after every season with bigger jobs. What has it meant to you that he has stayed? What has he told you, if anything, after making his decision each year about why he chooses to come back?
TREVEON GRAHAM: It's very important to me. Ever since I got here my freshman year, they were saying he was going to leave. It's that loyalty he has for his team and players that's a big thing for me. After every year that he gets the calls, he always lets us know he going to be here longer than a lot of us. I mean, it give us that confidence to know he's going to be here after every year.

MELVIN JOHNSON: To piggyback, once news come out there's a job offering, he calls us immediately, with a smile, you can hear it in his voice, he has a lot of humor behind it. He's not going anywhere. He always say he's going to be here long after we leave. We're pretty confident he's a loyal guy. If anything were to happen, I'm sure he would let us know.

Q. Treveon, would you mind recounting your conversation with Melvin where you told him to start looking for his shot.
TREVEON GRAHAM: Every game, you know, if I feel like he's not shooting the ball or he's hesitating, I try to go to him and let him know I need him to shoot no matter if he's making or missing. Opens up the floor not just for me, but Mo. We need him to shoot no matter what's going on in the game. If he can play defense and make his shots, he's a great player.

Q. Mo, are you graduating this May? If you are, what will you do? Will you continue to work on a graduate degree?
MO ALIE-COX: Actually I'll be graduating in the summer. I'll be in grad school next year. I'll be getting my Masters in criminal justice also, which I got my undergrad.

Q. Your Masters in criminal justice?
MO ALIE-COX: Yeah, I'll be getting my Masters in criminal justice also.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Good luck. Coach Smart, if you'd like to open up with a statement, then we'll open up the floor for questions.

COACH SMART: We're excited to be here. It's great to be back in Portland. Time has flown. We were just here, it seemed like, three years ago. Great to be back with this year's team. Terrific challenge on our hands with Ohio State tomorrow. We're excited about that. Our guys really practiced with good energy earlier today and excited about getting out to the open practice in a little while.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Three years ago it was Portland. Last year was San Diego. You're in Portland again. Even when it wasn't a West Coast trip in the first round, you were in Detroit. When the bracket comes out, do you ever go, Can we get a game in Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, anywhere?
COACH SMART: Well, you know, that's out of your control. We're excited about, number one, being in the NCAA tournament. We're excited about having an opportunity here in Portland. We don't really get caught up in where we might go before the pairings are announced. Then after they're announced, it's typically a quick turnaround. We just have to turn the page and get on to what's next. Again, we're really excited about the opportunity. We're not thinking for one second about, you know, it should be here, it should be there. We're here and we're looking forward to the opportunity tomorrow.

Q. Talk about your thoughts about the Ohio State basketball team, what you see. And also your time in the state of Ohio, what that meant to you.
COACH SMART: Well, to answer your first question, we've obviously watched Ohio State quite a bit over the last few days. Before that, got a chance to see them a handful of times more casually just watching Big Ten basketball. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. As you mentioned, I spent nine years of my life in Ohio. I've been someone that's been familiar with or followed their program for a long, long time, going back to Jimmy Jackson and those great teams. I think they've got a terrific group of guys, a good mix of experience and also youth. Russell is as dynamic as a guard as there is in college basketball. He's obviously going to be a phenomenal player at the next level. But for right now, he's one of the best in all of college basketball, not just at scoring, but at making plays for his teammates and the way he does it so efficiently. But I think their team's a whole lot more than him. They've got a lot of other factors that you have to, as a coach, in scouting, weigh in. You got to have your guys ready for. I think particularly Scott and Thompson as seniors have gotten better and better over the course of their career, are guys that are very dangerous. Tate and Loving are both guys that in different ways can really hurt you. Then their bigs are big and strong and active. We got to account for those guys, as well.

Q. How does a kid from Madison find Gambier, Ohio? Since the Final Four you've had a lot of opportunities to go to bigger programs. I wondered what has kept you staying at VCU?
COACH SMART: Well, in answer to your first question, the reason that I ended up at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, was the basketball coach. Bill Brown recruited me. He came to Madison a couple times to come see me. I just developed a really good relationship with him. He was a father figure for me as a kid that grew up in a single-parent home. Unfortunately he left after my freshman year, but by that time I'd been at Kenyon for a year. I really enjoyed it there. I'm somebody that doesn't really like change. I didn't leave. I stuck with it. Had a great four years there. While I was there, I would read the Columbus Dispatch every day. I remember reading about Michael Redd, Scoonie Penn, the great teams that those guys had. We were like 45, 50 minutes away. But in terms of basketball, we were a world away because that was Big Ten basketball and I was playing Division III. I followed their team really closely, looked up to those guys because they were terrific players. Second question was about me staying at VCU. I get that question a lot. I enjoy it at VCU. It's a school where basketball matters quite a bit. We enjoy the opportunity to coach our guys every day, be around them, help them get better on and off the court. Obviously most of the attention is paid to winning or losing. I understand that's how it works. But I enjoy all around everything about the opportunity at VCU. Also the support that we have there is very, very good.

Q. Four years ago when you made your run, you seemed to explode from nowhere. Four years later, I wonder how your life has changed. You mentioned you've turned down other opportunities. Without that run four years ago, would things be different? Are there some ways that things changed for you and for the program because of what happened then?
COACH SMART: I don't think my life would be a whole lot different just in terms of the way I live my life. Again, you're judged by winning and losing. Especially in March, if you're able to have success, there's opportunities that come your way. I think our program has certainly been enhanced quite a bit by the trip to the Final Four. Some of the success we've had since then, we've been able to upgrade certain components of our program, which are really important. In terms of me personally, hasn't been a big change. Just go about my job the same way. Hopefully I go about my life the same way. I have a daughter now that I did not have when we went to the Final Four. So that's probably been the much bigger change personally.

Q. A lot is being made of what you have to do to counter D'Angelo Russell. The question might also need to be asked, what does Ohio State need to do to counter what you can do on offense?
COACH SMART: Well, I think that would probably be a better question for their coaching staff. For us, we just focus on what we need to do well. I think you just mentioned a lot of it. I think playing with a level of freedom, attacking on the offensive end, getting high-quality shots. It's up to our guys to step up with confidence and shoot the ball in, make sure we share the basketball. Ohio State has a very active defensive team. They've got a lot of guys that can get their hands on the basketball. We've got to be strong and take care of it. We have to value it, make the extra pass. Then just being crisp in our execution. If we're able to do those things, then I think that puts us in position to put some points on the board. What Ohio State needs to do to us, that's up to Ohio State. We just need to focus on playing our style of basketball.

Q. You mentioned your coach left at Kenyon College after your freshman year. Did that have an influence on you staying at VCU?
COACH SMART: That experience had an influence in my life in general. That was one of the worst days in my life, to be honest with you. It really shook me up. As I mentioned, he was the reason I went there. He was a father figure for me. But, you know, it's been a long time since then. I'm the same as any other coach, for matter any other person in any other line of work. You owe it to your family to do the right thing for your family and do what you think makes the most sense for the people closest to you. As coaches, I consider us to be really close to our players. Obviously they're a big factor in any type of decisions we make. I enjoy the fact I've had an opportunity to be around, for instance, Briante Weber, Treveon Graham, Jarred Guest, our three seniors, from the recruiting process all the way through their last NCAA tournament and in a couple months graduation. I enjoy that. As an assistant I never got that. I moved around a lot as an assistant. I was with kids for a couple years or a year, three years. I enjoy the fact we've had some continuity here.

Q. As you have been in the tournament now year after year consistently, do your players come into this any differently, with any more confidence, no longer maybe as an underdog, that you belong here?
COACH SMART: Well, hopefully the experience is good for us, for our older guys, that they've been in the NCAA tournament. I do think that any year when you make the NCAA tournament, I think there's a level of healthy nervousness that comes along with it, even if you've played in it before. I think our guys will experience some of that. But, you know, for our seniors, for our juniors, they've been in this situation before quite a bit. For our seniors, they've literally been here before in Portland. I think that can be an advantage just in that, you know, hopefully they can draw on those experiences. But at the end of the day, whichever team plays better is the team that's going to win and advance. Our guys know that. The basketball game is still based on all the same concepts that any other game is based on. It just happens to be on this big stage.

Q. It would seem this time of year that a lot of success is based off of bigger-budget programs, bigger schools. With that said, what you guys did a few years ago, George Mason a few years back, Butler, is there a recipe of having success or being able to compete on that level without some of the resources that the other schools have?
COACH SMART: Well, the resources give you a better opportunity certainly in recruiting. You want to provide for your players the best possible experience on and off the court over a four-year stretch that they can have. That's one thing that we've tried to do at VCU, is continue to enhance the experience, both our current student-athletes and also in recruiting. But you asked if there's a formula. I think you want to put together a group of guys that can be highly connected around a common goal. One thing we lose sight of sometimes, hopefully when I say 'we', not our coaching staff, but sometimes in college basketball, people that follow or cover it, it is a team sport. There's so much attention paid to individuals, but it comes down to whichever team is better. I think for our guys, we've tried to hammer the point home that we must be connected around our team goals, and that has to supersede anything individual. That's what happened in the case of those teams that you mentioned, whether it was Butler or George Mason, whatever it was. The other thing that those teams had typically if it was a mid-level team, they had experience, some older guys that had been there before. For our team, we kind of have a mix of some older guys. We do play a lot of younger guys, especially after Briante Weber got injured. They're gaining experience as the season goes along. We're excited about this opportunity to see what all of our guys can do.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much.

COACH SMART: Thank you.
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