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March 15, 2011

Bradford Burgess

Joey Rodriguez

Jamie Skeen

Shaka Smart


THE MODERATOR: We're joined by VCU student-athletes Joey Rodriguez, Bradford Burgess and Jamie Skeen. Questions?

Q. Jamie, since this is the first time you've been in the tournament, can you describe the experience so far?
JAMIE SKEEN: So far so good. We just got here yesterday. Flew in and we've just been relaxing so far. But I'm still hyped from the other day when we got our name called and I got those phone calls. I was eating in Great Wrap, so I'm excited.

Q. Jamie and Bradford, do you guys carry any kind of I guess chip on your shoulder coming in, because a lot of people were questioning whether you should get in and you got in and they were still questioning it afterwards?
BRADFORD BURGESS: Definitely, you know, it gives us a certain incentive, especially for us to win, with everybody doubting us and not believing that we deserve to be here. It gives us extra motivation in the game to prove points.
JAMIE SKEEN: Piggyback off what he said, definitely it gives us motivation. If somebody's doubting you in anything that you do and something you do well, you want to prove them wrong. And that's what we're going to try to go out and do.

Q. Along those same lines, did the words that people used about you kind of hurt your feelings? They were basically saying you had no business being in here. I'm just wondering did that make you angry or how did you react to that?
BRADFORD BURGESS: It didn't make us angry, I think it made us I guess a bit hungrier. I think this year this team has been our best when our backs have been against the wall and all the odds have been put against us.
I think this team wants to show everybody that we deserve to be here, and we can play with the best talent in the tournament.

Q. Joey and Brad, if you guys could talk about the 2009 NCAA Tournament and how you plan to draw on that experience for this.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Definitely different. Usually we don't have media and stuff like this and open practices. So we're going to tell the guys what to expect.
And once the game starts, it's just like any other game. There's more on the line, but you don't want to be Superman; you want to do what you do and do what we've been doing all year.
BRADFORD BURGESS: I agree with Joey. We've got a lot of new guys who haven't been here before. Only a few select guys, Joey and myself, Brandon and Ed, have only been here before. So a lot of the guys are just caught up in the whole big dance experience.
But we came here to win a game and to survive and advance, and that's what we have to do.

Q. Bradford and Joey, USC has kind of compared you guys in their own league to Washington, like kind of a run-and-gun team that shoots a lot, kind of gets up and down, strip/steal kind of team. Do you have any kind of idea either for a team that you faced either in your league or out of league that compares to USC and their style of play?
BRADFORD BURGESS: I definitely see probably ODU. Probably -- who else?
BRADFORD BURGESS: A little bit of Drexel. They're a big team, physical team. And we're going to have our work cut out for us. They have a very talented big man. Jamie's going to be matched up against.
They have some quick guards that we'll have to keep in front and not allow dribble penetration. It's just going to be just a team effort that we're going to have to use to win the game.

Q. I'm wondering, Coach Smart coached here a long time ago. I don't know if he's said anything to you guys, familiarized you with the arena or with the town you were coming to. Or, no, he didn't say anything?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, we knew he was from here. He told us how great the arena was. He says it's his favorite arena. He told us that our last day of practice before we came here. We know he's from here. And our director of basketball, Kyle Getter, used to be a -- not an assistant but like a grad assistant here, and he's from the area. And we know they're both from here and they're excited about being back.

Q. Jamie, could you talk about the matchup with facing Nikola, if you've faced somebody similar, what kind of challenges he presents and what do you have to do to defend him well?
JAMIE SKEEN: First, I heard he's an NBA prospect, so that excites me already. I love playing against people who are going to be in the NBA. I like matching up against them.
But what I have to do is limit his touches and make sure he don't get deep post position. That's for sure because he can finish with either hand. So I just want him to catch the ball on deep post or maybe even at the 3-point line, that would be great. And pretty much that's it. And just hopefully he don't score a lot of points against me.

Q. For all three of you, are you aware of some of the kind of soap opera things that have happened at USC the last week or so with the coach being suspended and them having to fly all across country on short notice?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I read about it. But I saw they came out the next day and played pretty well against Arizona. So I don't think it's really going to affect them.
They're a talented group. I'm sure they're going to rally around their coach and it's going to be a tough game.
BRADFORD BURGESS: I wasn't aware of it. I didn't know anything about that.

Q. The travel, they also had to fly out, had to fly across country to come here to the game.
BRADFORD BURGESS: I mean, they're here to win a game just like we are. I don't think they're going to let that be an excuse, how far they have to travel to play the game.
It's going to be a tough battle for both teams with the different styles. But I don't think they're going to let that be an excuse.

Q. Bradford and Joey, I'm wondering, was it a big adjustment going from Coach Grant, Coach Smart? And sometimes it's tough when a team has to switch coaches. And how they were different?
BRADFORD BURGESS: It was definitely tough. The guys I came with in my class and the class before me, they came here to play for Coach Grant. We were definitely hurt when he left, but that's part of the business. He was great to play for.
And Coach Smart is great to play for. He lets us play with great freedom. We can do whatever we want on the court, without looking over our shoulder, worried about making a mistake.
But, I mean, they're two great coaches, pretty similar styles, came from similar backgrounds. But we definitely have been blessed to have two great coaches back to back to keep the team rolling.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Same thing. Coach Grant was a great coach, but it's Coach Smart's program now, and in his second year he's got us here in this situation. So he's done a great job and it's been a fun two years playing with him.

Q. Joey and Brad, can you describe what it was like the first time you were at the NCAA Tournament and how you impart that to the young guys who haven't played?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: It's different. Our sophomore year we were all more role players, kind of like getting led by Eric and following his path, and this year it's us three and Brandon and Ed leading the way with a bunch of young guys, so it's definitely different. It's a great opportunity and we're excited about it.
BRADFORD BURGESS: Definitely. It was my freshman year last time I was here in the tournament. I was caught up in the whole big dance experience. And it's just going to be great for the young guys and it's going to be great for our seniors being in the tournament in their last year and trying to make some noise in the tournament.

Q. What have you told them about the pitfalls of this and trying to avoid it?
BRADFORD BURGESS: Just to stay focused. We came here with a goal at hand to win a basketball game and to play in Chicago on Friday. So just have to stay focused, follow the game plan, and take care of business.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We're joined now by head Coach Shaka Smart. Coach, opening statement.
COACH SMART: Well, we're extremely excited to be here. We just got done practicing. And it's great to be back in Dayton. I haven't been here for, let's see, eight years since I worked here for Oliver.
It's a great venue. It's a terrific place to play. We're really excited about our game tomorrow night against USC.

Q. Shaka, can you describe the experience for you, first-time head coach of this? And also what you've told your young guys, do you tell them to embrace this, or how do you keep them away from all the pitfalls of everything that goes on with this?
COACH SMART: Well, in terms of the experience for me, I'm enjoying it. I'm loving it. It's a chance for our team to play in the most selective tournament in college basketball.
So really excited about being here. I'm happy for our staff and our players. But at the same time, we've got big goals coming into this tournament, starting with tomorrow night's game.
With our younger players, freshmen and sophomores, it's their first trip to the NCAA Tournament. We're trying to encourage them to embrace the moment, enjoy every part of it: the travel, the shoot-arounds, the media obligations, the team meetings, and then of course the game.
Obviously it's a lot easier to enjoy the game when you have a positive result, so that's where our focus is. Our team needs to be extremely aggressive and really play attacking basketball, because when we do that, we're very good.

Q. Do you guys carry any kind of chip on your shoulder coming in because there was a lot of doubt whether you deserved to be in before you got in and then even after there were a lot of questions raised? I think Gene Smith even made a statement about it. Does that affect you guys at all, maybe motivate you more to prove anything?
COACH SMART: We use that as motivation with our players. We have some guys that they love it when people doubt them. It really feeds their competitive juices. And we have a very, very competitive team. So from a player standpoint, we definitely use that as motivation.
Now, personally, I don't really put too much stock into it. You mentioned Gene Smith. They interview the chair of the Selection Committee every year and he has to justify who they put in the tournament every year, and every year there's teams that people pick on and say they should or shouldn't have been in.
The reality is all that is just drama surrounding the NCAA Tournament. Now, the fans, the media love drama. As a coach, as players, it has nothing to do with when the ball goes up in the air tomorrow night at 9:00, that drama all goes away. And either we come out and play really well and win, or we don't. And that doesn't have anything to do with what talking heads are sitting on TV saying.

Q. You mentioned drama. USC has had a little drama in the last week or so. I just wondered if you were aware of any of that. First of all, with what happened with the coach being suspended and then their cross-country travel.
COACH SMART: I'm unaware of the travel. I was aware that the coach was suspended. I have no idea what happened, nor do I really care. I know that coach O'Neill's going to coach the game tomorrow night. I have the utmost respect for him and his coaching staff and their program, so looking forward to playing against them.
But, again, anytime you're talking about drama or things surrounding the game, I really don't dwell on it.

Q. Shaka, I'm just wondering, when you come in this arena, this is where you started your D-I basketball and if any special memories come back or anything you feel coming back to Dayton?
COACH SMART: A lot of special memories. It's an unbelievably special place. And when we came in, we walked down the tunnel, and it just kind of crossed -- the different games crossed my mind walking down the tunnel with Oliver and Ron Jirsa and Josh Postorino and Frank Smith, because every game we would say what we needed to say in the locker room and we would walk down the tunnel. Of course we won a whole lot more than we lost here.
And of course it's a special place, and it's a place that I talk about quite a bit. And now it's nice to actually be back here and get a chance to play here.

Q. USC has referred you guys to as kind of a Washington-type team, kind of a run-and-gun team that can shoot a lot of 3s, strip/steal kind of stuff. From having watched them, is there any kind of team you faced or teams that kind of compare to their style and their lineup and the way they like to play?
COACH SMART: Yeah, actually, we've played a lot of teams that have some similarities with USC. We really have a lot of respect for USC's physical front court and their ability to rebound on the offensive end. And then their guards are extremely good at getting in the lane, making plays, and they can get hot from outside.
So from our league, Drexel is similar to that. Old Dominion has some similarities to their physicality inside, their ability to score around the basket. Wichita State is a team we played in the bracket buster who has a very imposing front line and guards that can play.
And then we played UCLA early in the season, in the preseason NIT, and obviously there's some similarities there between those two teams. And they split the season in very competitive games.

Q. Can you talk about Jamie's impact this year and, two, the challenge he's going to face with their front line?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: His impact has been huge for us. He's been obviously our leading scorer and our leading rebounder. But I think the impact he's had has gone well beyond numbers.
And you're talking about a guy who averages about eight and five last year. So not only is he our best player this year, our most valuable player, but he's our most improved from last year to this year.
What he's able to do for us is we're able to play offensively through him. And even though he doesn't bring the ball up, he's somewhat of a point forward for us, because if teams want to double-team him, he can make plays for his teammates, and if he gets single coverage, then we encourage him to go score as much as we possibly can.
And we're going to give him the ball as much as we can in this game. I think USC does a phenomenal job of getting the ball inside. We need to do that as well. And it will be interesting to see what happens from there.

Q. (Question off microphone about matchup of players.)
COACH SMART: It's a great matchup. I think physically he's not as tall as either of their starting bigs, Stepheson or Vucevic. I might have butchered his name there; if I did, I apologize. I got it right? He's a phenomenal player. I'd never seen him play until this year. But he's terrific. And they do a great job of getting him the ball over and over and over again.
And the thing that's so dangerous about him is it doesn't matter if he catches it on the block or five, six feet off the block, he's very, very effective scoring the ball and he's a pretty good passer as well if you double.
Jamie, I think, can present some problems. If he's aggressive and if he's attacking, the way that he played in our game against George Mason a little over a week ago, that needs to be his mindset going into this game. And if it is, he'll be fine.

Q. You guys shoot a lot of 3s. I'm just curious, is that mentality -- because we've seen that in the tournament some years where teams, they can get really hot from behind the arc and take out anybody and then they might go cold in the game. I think Kent State a few years ago, but, anyways, it's a long -- you know, dating back. I'm wondering, how do you feel that style carries throughout the tournament? And it's obviously worked well for you all season long, obviously. But I'm curious coming into something like this on this stage.
COACH SMART: That's a good question. I think people say if you live by the 3 you die by the 3. And if that's all we shot, then you really are playing Russian roulette going into a game.
But I think in the games where we've been extremely effective, we've been able to establish a presence inside and then also make shots outside. And that's when we've been at our best.
As recently as beating George Mason in the CAA semifinals, we did a great job attacking the basket. We got to the foul line. And then we made a lot of shots from outside. Let's face it, when 3-point shots go in, that scoreboard moves really fast. That's the best way to win.
So we're going to shoot open 3s because we have good 3-point shooters, but at the same time it's important that we are aggressive and get the ball inside and we've got to get to the foul line.

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