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March 19, 2011

Ed Nixon

Joey Rodriguez

Brandon Rozzell

Shaka Smart


GREG GREENWELL: For the VCU press conference, we have student-athletes Ed Nixon, Joey Rodriguez, and Brandon Rozzell. We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.

Q. Joey, you transferred to a division II school at one point? Is that right?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I thought about it.

Q. You thought about it?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I was already gone for the summer. So I wasn't going to come back. It was after my sophomore year after the coaching change.

Q. Can you kind of go through that a little bit? I mean, that's a big switch from a Division I school to a Division II. What made you decide to go back after you'd already left? Can you kind of take us through that?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, it was just our coach left, and I was really close with the other coach, Coach Grant. And I really didn't know Coach Smart at the time.
I was homesick still from my freshman year, and I was just ready to go back home. So I said I was going to go back home and go a school where I used to go to their basketball camps when I was younger. I was just going to go back to Rollins. I had a couple friends there.
These guys kept calling me and hitting me up. I had friends in high school that were like, what are you doing and this and that? I called Coach Smart back, and he said I can come back. Grateful for that.

Q. Had you enrolled in the new school yet?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: No, not yet.

Q. This also is for Joey. Lewis Jackson from Purdue was in here earlier, and the two of you are different but kind of provide the same kind of energy and role for your team. You're neither one 6'6" point guards or anything like that. Lewis said he had seen you when the two of you were in a high school tournament in Ft. Myers. He said it was his junior year. And he was impressed with your game and has kind of followed -- since followed your career. Will this be an interesting matchup for you tomorrow? What's it like to hear somebody from Purdue talking about following your career?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: That's pretty cool actually. I do remember watching him play in that tournament. We're kind of the same -- I think I'm a little bit taller. He's a lot more athletic than me, I can tell you that much. I saw him in a dunk contest.
He's a great player. He runs their team. He runs the show for them. He does a really good job of that. He really handles the ball. It's going to be a tough matchup. I'm really impressed with him. I definitely got to bring my A-game.

Q. He says he's been following you. Have you been following him?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Purdue is always on TV. So you see him. I wouldn't say I've been following him all the time, but every time I watch him, he's really impressive. I'll tell thaw much.

Q. Did you actually play head to head in that tournament or just see each other and not play to head?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: No, we just saw each other. We didn't play head to head. I saw him a couple times. They're on the other side of the bracket.

Q. Can you talk about the defensive motivation the last couple games and what he's done differently. I know you talk about communication being a big thing, but has there been anything else he's done to motivate you or just being in the tournament?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Just being in the tournament, just not wanting to go home. It's our senior year, all three of us up here, and we don't want it to end.
We knew we had to dig in and start playing some defense. Communication has been great. Even when shots weren't going in, the defense has kept us in the game. That's really it.

Q. This is for Brandon. You guys have, I think, including last night, you've taken 823 three-pointers. That's a good number of threes. But yet it works. It works for you. Just talk a little bit -- I mean, I know you don't go into a season thinking we've got to average so many threes a game S this kind of something that's evolved with this team? There's more than one or two of you that shoot them, right?
BRANDON ROZZELL: I wouldn't say it's something that has evolved. I think it's all part of our game that started from high school coming on up. Jamie Skeen shoots the three. Bradford Burgess also played in the four spot and really spreads the floor. We share the ball well and we're all confident players and great shooters. So when we have an open look, we were taught to take that shot. That's what we do.

Q. I know you guys are such a senior team, but there's also a good amount of freshman. How have you guys been trying to help them now that they're in the NCAA Tournament this freshman year and help with the jitters and excitement and what not?
ED NIXON: Us and the freshmen have a good relationship. It started in the summer. We talked to them, just trying to keep them level headed about what's going on. They all want to get better, and they're very competitive too. It just meshes well with us.

Q. Brandon, can you describe what your day has been like since last night.
BRANDON ROZZELL: It's been a lot of text messages and a lot of phone calls, a lot of people from Richmond contacting me.
I guess they're just rooting for me as well as my team. I think every person I talked to is now just happy for my success last night and happy for the VCU team and the City of Richmond as well.
We'll soak it in but remain humble and stay focused on our goals going into tomorrow's game.

Q. Joey, you talked about your matchup specifically with Lewis. Just generally, how do you think you guys match up with Purdue?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Two different styles, for sure. They play rugged, tough. They got two great scorers. It's going to be a tough game.
Hopefully, we've got to keep on getting stops so we can keep going at our pace. That's going to be really important. If we do get caught up in a rugged game with them, I think we'll be able to compete and still have a good chance.

Q. Ed, now that you guys have seen a little bit of tape on Purdue, and I'm sure you've seen them on TV, what do you think is the biggest single challenge to facing them?
ED NIXON: It's going to be a physical battle. If we match them physically, I feel like we'll have a good chance to win.

Q. Joey, you're not really 5'10", are you?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I'm really not. I'm like 5'9-3/4".

Q. Not 5'8" maybe?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: No, I'm not 5'8". I take that to heart.

Q. I'm sorry. I should have said no offense. Maybe because the guys around you are so much taller.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. When I'm walking around, I think I'm 5'10" for real. I'm really sad right now.

Q. Can you talk about having to guard Moore?
ED NIXON: Watched a couple films on him. I've seen him play a couple times on TV. He's a good player. He can really get going. I'm going to try my best, stay in front, test all shots, try to do my best to contain him.

Q. Joey, Richmond plays a completely -- their offense and Purdue's have nothing in common, but there is that common opponent, and you're very familiar with Richmond, obviously. Did you guys watch any of that game, or does that -- because they're so different, it doesn't help you at all.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: We haven't watched the game at all. I don't think we're going to watch it either because they play totally different. They play the matchup zone and the Princeton offense. So I don't think we're going to watch any of that.

Q. This is for Ed. The fact you've been playing -- you would have played three games in five, six days, is fatigue an issue at all? Or are you so pumped now it's irrelevant?
ED NIXON: It's irrelevant. I feel like during the CAA Tournament we played three games in three days. This should be pretty good, pretty easy for us. I'm not tired.

Q. Joey, you all have kind of been the adopted favorite throughout the first couple of games, but you're going to face pretty much a hometown crowd, I'm guessing, with Purdue. Any thoughts on that?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: We live for these -- times like this, everybody against you. It's going to be a packed house. They're really close. We're going to have to stick together. It's going to be like a road game we're playing at Old Dominion.
It's going to be a lot of fun. Really looking forward to it.

Q. You guys were thought maybe you wouldn't get into the tournament. You've been playing with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder since that time. Is that chip still there, or now that you've won a couple of games you feel like you've already proven yourself and now you're just playing to keep advancing?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: No. The chip's still there. It's always there for us. We had a goal before the year started to get to the Sweet 16, and that was our last one. It's our last game to get there. Definitely motivated. And I think we can do it. We just got to bring our A-game.

Q. Brandon, you had that hand injury halfway through the year. You missed eight, nine games. Last night, in amongst all the craziness, did you have time to think back to that and where you were a couple of months ago? Your season was sort of in jeopardy.
BRANDON ROZZELL: It's funny because first person I talked to after the game is my father, and he mentioned my hand injury. All he could talk about was how the injury helped me sit out and get my legs back into my shot. So I guess he looked at it a different way. Me sitting out to recover from the injury is a way for me to rest my body.
He said the jump shot looked good. I guess I'm using my legs fine. I credit that to the sitting out because of my hand. It's cool. It doesn't really affect my shot anymore. I'm thankful for it. It helped me learn and help improve myself as a player.

Q. Joey, if you guys win tomorrow, the 53 wins in your last two years, that would be the most ever in a two-year span in VCU history. What would that mean to you as leader of the team and being the driving force as juniors last year and seniors this year, to be the most successful two-year run in the history of the school?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: It would mean a lot. You come to college to win games. For us to do that with trying to do this after we had two NBA players, it's a big accomplishment for us and hopefully keep that going. That's great. I didn't even know that. It's awesome.

Q. This is for Brandon. So Joey leaves school. Are you one of the guys calling him? And what are you saying, and how certain were you that he would come back?
BRANDON ROZZELL: I was his roommate, first and foremost, and I told him that the sunshine in Florida is going to get boring after a while. That's the only reason he went back because the weather in Richmond is up and down.
I knew he was coming back. I knew he just wanted to go home and play on the beach and stuff. There was no worries on my part. So I called him. I heard the smile in his voice, heard the smile in his father's voice. I knew he was coming back. I was just cleaning up his room for him.
GREG GREENWELL: VCU head coach Shaka Smart. Coach, we'll start with an opening statement and then take some questions.
COACH SMART: We're excited about another terrific matchup with a great team in Purdue. They obviously have two superstars who we're going to have to give a lot of attention to, but they also have a terrific supporting cast.
So we know it's going to be a huge challenge for us once again on the defensive end. Offensively, our guys are playing with a lot of confidence and playing very aggressively. We need to continue that. Purdue has a very physical brand of defense. We're going to have to be tough and battle through that and play through some contact.
But I'm excited about tomorrow night's matchup.

Q. Coach, you mentioned the supporting cast, and when each of the young men were in here, Lewis Jackson talked about his admiration for Rodriguez and Rodriguez for Lewis. They met at a tournament, I guess, down in Ft. Myers when they were in high school. An intriguing matchup, two very special players, would you not say, for their respective team?
COACH SMART: No question. Lewis Jackson is a guy I've known about for a while. Actually developed a little bit of a relationship with during the recruiting process. I was an assistant coach at Clemson. I believe he was at Decatur. I can't remember the name of the high school, but he went to school in Decatur, and I really thought a lot of him. I thought he'd be terrific in our style of play there at Clemson.
Of course, he soon after that committed to Purdue, but I followed his progress, and he's gotten better and better every year. He's always been a mature kid and kind of a very tough kid.
He's going to be a great matchup for Joey. Hopefully, Joey will be a great matchup for him. Lewis is strong and tough and low to the ground, and he can give people trouble. We've watched a lot of tape in the last 20 hours or so of him and the things that he does. So that will be a great matchup. We can't let him go nutty.
In the games where he's had terrific offensive games, along with Johnson and Moore doing what their usual deal, you know, teams have been in trouble.

Q. Coach, you guys have talked about how you've been able to use some of the stuff that's been going on in the past week or two as motivation. Now that you've gotten a few wins, how do you keep the motivation high and the chip on the shoulder mentality going?
COACH SMART: Well, first of all, the motivation, at this point, if it's not high, then there's something wrong with you.
The reality is both Purdue and VCU are 40 minutes away from going to San Antonio and playing in the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, only one of us can go, and it's the same setup where you either win or go home.
I told our guys against USC, and I told them again against Georgetown, these teams aren't going to hand you the game. You've got to play it for them. And our players have done a great job of adopting that mindset, being extremely aggressive, and really taking the fight to our opponent.
Purdue is going to be a notch above in terms of their winning experience. They've been there before. Their senior leadership and the fact that they've got two guys that they can go get themselves a basket pretty much any time they want to. We're going to have to do a great job of counteracting that.

Q. JaJuan Johnson is the one guy that Purdue has. He's the one player that has difficulty matching up with. How are you guys going to play him without giving away your entire game plan?
COACH SMART: Someone asked me a while ago what our exact game plan was, and I said, I can't tell you that now or I'll have to kill you.
We're going to put multiple guys on him. We're going to use our entire front court to block him at times. We've got a lot of big guys that don't play a lot of minutes, but when they do go in there, they should have a great deal of energy and a great deal of passion for stopping their man.
Different people will take turns on Johnson. Jamie Skeen is going to find his way onto him at some point, whether it's to start the game or later in the game. If he really gets going, we can double-team. Purdue can make you pay for doing that.
It's something I really don't like to do, double-team big guys, but, again, you do it if you have to. We did it on Wednesday against Vucevic from USC, and it really paid off for us. We held him to five shots and 11 points.
Johnson is a more versatile player. He can step out on the floor, make jumpers, put it down on the floor, dangerous on the offensive glass. So it's going to have to be a total team effort on him. And the reality is you're not going to shut him down, neither him nor Moore. You're just going to take them out of the game. They're too good a players to do that.
You have to contain them, hold them under their average, and you've got to do a phenomenal job on the supporting cast.

Q. When Joey Rodriguez left the team after Coach Grant left and all that, what was your vibe on whether or not he was gone for good or was going to come back? How did you feel about bringing him back when he decided to do that?
COACH SMART: Marilyn, you're a terrific writer by the way. I just want to tell you that. I've read your stuff. As far as Joey, he -- when there's a coaching change, nowadays, just with today's basketball culture, a lot of times guys leave. There's nothing really you can do about that as a new coach. The reality is I didn't have a relationship with him because I was a new coach.
He made it clear that he wanted to leave. So we respected that. But you could tell he -- there was part of him that didn't. We had workouts most of the month of April after our coaching staff arrived, and even though he was transferring, he would come and watch workouts. He would sit there, and he would -- you know, you could kind of see him envisioning himself out there, but mentally he was back in Florida. I think a lot of it was home sickness.
And so he did decide to go back and almost went to Rollins College, but then when he called me in the summer, he said, Coach, I made a mistake. I want to come back. I just -- I made one simple comment to him, and that's all I needed to know. I said, Joey, we'd love to have you back as long as you're in the circle with both feet. And he said, Coach, I'm in. And that was it.
A lot was made of it last year after that, but not within our team. Our guys wanted him back. Our coaching staff wanted him back. And from that point forward, he's been a very hard worker, and it's not something that we've ever really had to revisit.

Q. Coach, Matt Painter enjoys the three ball, his team's shooting it well. A couple times this year he felt like they had shot too many. He said with us -- and it's unique to every team -- less is more. With you guys, I know you've taken 823 of them, and you've had great success doing it. Is this something that evolved, or did you say, hey, go ahead, guys. Let them fly.
COACH SMART: I'd say more the latter. The way we play, we really try to get out and go offensively. Last year we set a school record for three-point makes. This year we actually set a conference record with made three-point shots. It's not really by design that I want to go out and want our team to take as many threes as possible, but we do have quite a few guys that can shoot.
Some of our lineups, all five positions. So I'm not going to tell them to turn down open shots. If Jamie Skeen has an open three, take it. If Bradford Burgess is open, take it. Brandon Rozzell, you saw what he did last night. Joey, Ed Nixon, so it goes down the line.
Your goal as a coach is just to get a high quality look every time down, and for us, I feel like, if we have a wide open three-point shot, that's a high quality look. Now, some games it doesn't fall as much as it does other games, so you've got to make a concerted effort to get the ball inside and get in the paint.

Q. As you guys are taking down Georgetown last night, I have Twitter open, and I see national basketball saying Shaka Smart is printing money now. He's the next job, blah, blah, blah. Obviously, you have no problem focusing on what's ahead. Do you have to deal with any players, anything, wondering about what might be next for you or not next for you?
COACH SMART: That's a good question. I had not even thought about that. I guess I should put some thought into it. We're just so focused on what we're doing and so focused on Purdue right now. Those guys got to do their job, the media. They've got to say the things they have to say. You know, March and April is all about the coaching carousel and all that stuff.
That couldn't be further from my mind or, I hope, anyone's mind within our program. It's just not important right now. We've got a huge game tomorrow against Purdue with the opportunity to make school history, and that's basically all there is to it.

Q. You talked about how the efforts to defend JaJuan Johnson and the efforts to defend E'Twaun Moore and you acknowledged they're probably going to get theirs anyway, maybe make them work for it. Would you say it's more important to try to stop Lewis Jackson than to try to stop JaJuan Johnson?
COACH SMART: I think so, Jerry. Jackson can't be up 15, 20 points. That would be a problem if he gets that many. I'm not saying he can't do it. I'm saying we can't allow that. Moore and Johnson, for them not to score in the mid-to-high teens, like I said, it would be a miracle, but it would be pretty close. So we're going to do the best job we can on them.
Ed Nixon is a terrific defender for us. He'll draw the assignment on Moore, and he'll do a very good job. They're going to get some baskets because they're going to get a lot of shots because they're All-Americans. We've got to do a great job on Byrd, on Smith, and on anyone else that comes in the game for them.

Q. Describe your defensive style a little bit. You're going to use some pressure, some full-court pressure?
COACH SMART: Yes. We try to press each and every game. Yesterday was interesting because I never really called the press off, but our guys were just bombing in so many threes that sometimes when you make a shot, you get excited and run back because you know the press is on you. We didn't press much in the second half because we didn't need to. Yeah, we'll press. We've got a few different presses we use.
We're mostly a man-to-man team in the half-court, but we've been mixing in some zone of late, and it's helped us. I would guess we're probably going to need to do that some against Purdue. Their motion offense worries me quite a bit because it's not something that you can take with your team and say, okay, this is exactly what they're going to do.
It's interesting. I go to a clinic every August in Florida that Billy and his staff host. This past August Matt Painter spoke on the motion offense. I was sitting in the front row in the clinic watching him, and it was an unbelievable display of knowledge of motion.
I don't have my notes with me. They're back at the office. I asked someone to fax them to us, but I'm not sure how much those will help. But the key is it's all about reading the defense and taking what the defense gives you. So it's not as easy in scouting as just telling our guys there's going to be a screen here and a cut there. You've got to react, and you've got to talk, and you've got to make plays.

Q. Have you played anybody this year that runs the motion offense similar to the way Purdue does it? Or maybe as committed as Purdue is to it?
COACH SMART: No. We haven't played anyone that runs motion as well as they do. There's some teams in our league that play motion at times. Old Dominion does some, but theirs is more for round one just trying to move the ball around the perimeter and get it inside. It's less predicated on screening.
A few other teams we've played are kind of secondary motion teams, but not as dedicated to it as Purdue is. So it will be a challenge for us. But when you get to this time of year, you're going to face new styles. You're going to face different players, and you've got to step up if you want to win those games.

Q. Coach, I heard you had an opportunity to go to Harvard coming out of high school. How close did that come to being a thing for you?
COACH SMART: Well, I was accepted there. I visited there. I don't know. That's a good question. I really wanted to go somewhere where I felt comfortable and where I had a great relationship with the basketball coach. So that made my decision easy. I went to a little school in Ohio called Kenyon College that there was a coach there that took a great interest in me. He turned into basically probably the closest thing I've had to a father figure.
So it was an easy decision. A lot of people said I was nuts to turn down the Ivy League schools I got into, but I think I got a pretty good education, and I was able to get a good start in coaching because of it.

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