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March 24, 2011
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
THE MODERATOR: At this time we'd like to welcome VCU head coach Shaka Smart. And we'll ask coach to open with an opening statement.
COACH SMART: The guys are really excited to be here, playing against Florida State on Friday night. It's a terrific challenge for us, a great match-up. A team that's playing very good, but so are we. So our guys had a great week last week, and we're looking to build on last week's success down here in San Antonio.
Q. Your guys looked very loose out there, very relaxed. Is that something you've encouraged or is that just the way they naturally are?
COACH SMART: Both. It's something we've encouraged quite a bit. In fact, we gave them a three letter acronym, ACL, aggressive, confident and loose. And when we play that way, we're very tough to beat. And in this NCAA tournament we've done a great job playing that way. We try to in our practices get a lot done and be productive, but make sure the guys are having fun and are loose.
Q. In your time as a head coach you've been very successful in the postseason. Can you tell me a little bit about your key success and what you do to get your players ready?
COACH SMART: It's a long season, and it can be a grind, you know, when you start like we do in August with workouts and you start practice right around October 15th and guys don't have a lot of days off. They work extremely hard.
What we try to do when we hit the postseason is make sure our guys understand that most of the work has already been done. Now it's a matter of going out and having fun, executing, playing together. And it's almost like a cumulative test in a class in that all the work you put in, all the time you spend on offense, on defense, on special teams, now is the time to bring all that stuff out. And I think last year we did that well in the postseason and this year we've done it well so far.
Q. You've been asked every press conference about the motivational technique of feeling slighted. So I guess I'll keep that streak going. Tell us a little bit about the video you guys may have put together. Do you do that to put a selection of doubters to motivate your team, and is that still a factor this deep in the tournament?
COACH SMART: Yes and yes. It's something that we still do. It's still a factor. I saw somebody had us rated 16th out of the 16 teams still left in the Big Dance, although I think some of my friends in the media are starting to do it on purpose, just to give us something to use. Thank you for those of you who are, because we do use it.
Our guys are visual guys. You can talk to them and they'll listen, but they're much better when they can see something. So we make little motivational videos. I think the one you're talking about, right before the Georgetown game, our second NCAA tournament game we made a video with Joe Lunardi talking about how we didn't play defense with any type of intensity and in fact we couldn't guard him. But we kept playing that audio clip over and over and over again as we were showing video clips of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, Jason Clark from Georgetown, and our guys sink their teeth into that stuff. As we get down into San Antonio, the message may change a little bit, but the team doesn't.
Q. You've had some experience going up against Florida State. Talk about the challenges they present, and is this any different than the teams you saw before?
COACH SMART: Well, first time we played Florida State when I was at Clemson, Cliff Hammonds hit a buzzer-beater. He was my favorite player of all time I've ever coached, hit a buzzer beater down at the Civic Center and that was a phenomenal game. But the one thing I learned right away in that game and in subsequent games, Florida State really guards. Whatever it is you average on offense, probably not going to get to that number playing against them. And that hasn't changed except for the fact that they've gotten even better defensively since then.
One of the media members made this comment, and I don't disagree, someone said that they're the best defensive basketball team in the college game in the last ten years. So we've got a formidable task on our hands with Florida State. They're extremely well-coached. They've got great players. They're not worried about numbers, and they're playing better and better on the offensive end. So all that adds up to mean we've got a heck of a challenge on our hands. They're a 10-seed, but they're a 10-seed in number only. To me they're playing like a two or three seed or even a 1-seed.
The reason that their seed is a little lower, is their best player, Chris Singleton, had been out before the seeding process began. We're going to have to really do a good job of attacking them on our offensive end. No matter what happens on offense, we're going to have to really keep our urgency on defense and not get frustrated, continue to guard, continue to play with great energy.
Q. First of all, I guess the idea is not to tear the ACL?
COACH SMART: Well, actually not ours. We talk to our big guys, obviously this is figurative, not literal. But when we coach our big guys from August on we talk to them about breaking their opponents ACL. And again, it's not something we want to injure anyone, but that's the type of ferocity we want to post up and duck in with. They hear ACL all the time, but the acronym just happened to be the same.
Q. And also, this is a time of year that there's a lot of coaching speculation, and your name often comes up. First of all, I wonder how you feel about that and how do you manage the rumor mill?
COACH SMART: I don't want to feel any way about it. It comes with the territory, when you are able to win games in the NCAA tournament, it happens every year. It's almost like a formula. You win a game or two and then this is going to follow it.
But how do I manage it? It's easy to manage because my focus is 100 percent on our team. And somebody asked me, Well, how do the guys deal with it? I don't think our guys are focused on the rumor mill or the coaching carousel. They're so locked into the NCAA tournament and they know that I am, too, so it hasn't been an issue.
Q. This is another apology, because you've been probably asked this question a few times in Chicago. What was your team's reaction to all the heat your team took after the selection was made?
COACH SMART: First of all, I don't think our program took any heat, I think it was the selection committee that took the heat. And I appreciate the fact that they stood up and they said VCU was actually more deserving of getting in. They weren't even one of the top two at-large teams.
Indirectly we took some shots, from some media members, because of the criticism of the selection committee. And again, we used it as motivation with our team. I really didn't take it personally, because I know those guys were just doing their job. I sat back and smiled when they were making those comments, because I knew that was something that we could utilize with Joey Rodriguez and the rest of our team as a motivator, and that's exactly what we did.
Q. Was the shooting contest at the end of practice with Steve Kerr today your idea? Did you have to explain to your players who Steve Kerr was as a player (laughter?
COACH SMART: The answer to your last question is absolutely not did we have to explain it, and this is why it was so neat that Steve Kerr is here and participated in our shoot around. He is one of the three pros that we use on our scouting report to help our guys understand what type of close out they should use when the ball is passed to their man. We use Rajon Rondo as a player that you should close out short to, because he's much more likely to drive. He's much more effective putting the ball on the floor than he is shooting. We use Dwayne Wade as somebody that's in between. He can shoot and he can really put the ball on the floor. And then we use Steve Kerr as a player that we've got to do a great job on closing out on, and we've got to make him put the ball on the floor. All of a sudden Steve Kerr was in the gym and Kyle and I, we always think of something to do at the end of shoot around's to again keep it light and get our guys excited, make them feel good about what we're doing. So we put our heads together and pulled Steve out there. I thought for sure Steve would win because he's the best shooter I've ever seen. But Joey stepped in there and knocked them in.
Q. Which clips of him do you use? Do you use the NBA championship series games or any of Steve Kerr?
COACH SMART: We don't use any video clips of him. Maybe we'll show at the beginning of the season the three different type of guys. But on our scouting report we have a big picture of the players we're going up against. Derwin Kitchen from Florida State, for instance, and then underneath their picture is either Kerr, Wade or Rondo, whichever close out we're instructing our guys to use on that player.
So they know very, very well about Steve Kerr, because when the ball is passed to a shooter and we don't do a good job of closing out, the first thing we yell is, Guys, he's a Kerr. And it's nice to have Kerr with us today.
Q. You talked about the visuals and the motivation. What did you come up with this week for this game? Is there some new tools you came up with that you can talk about?
COACH SMART: I'll tell you after the game. Just in general I can tell you it's a lot more of the same. I think there's still some people that are doubting, you know, how well we can do down here in San Antonio. And then there's some things directly related to this game, itself, and there's some challenges that we have to battle through. But our guys know what brought us success last week. It's mostly a matter of maintaining that mindset going into this game.
Q. What would you say is the key match-up for you in this game?
COACH SMART: That's a good question. I think we've got to do a really nice job with Kitchen. He is a much better player than people give him credit for. I think he's an all-ACC caliber player, it's just they have a lot of guys that they kind of share the wealth. But to me he is very, very good and he's got terrific size for the position. And when he really gets going and has terrific games their team is tough to beat.
I remember watching the Duke game on TV, just happened to be watching it, I think it was in January when they beat Duke at home. And he was as good as anybody on the floor in that game. So that's one guy we've got to do a great job on.
Q. That will be it?
COACH SMART: That will be it.
Q. How have you compartmentalized going through the size of venues going from the Richmond Coliseum to the size of the crowds, media crush, the send off in Richmond, how have you compartmentalized as you stepped through this process?
COACH SMART: We just try to do what's next. Oliver taught me that. When he first said that to me, I didn't really understand what he meant, but now I do. You can't really focus on the 15 to 20 to a thousand things you have to do that day or the next day or that week. You've just got to step up to the challenge of whatever is next.
And sometimes the challenge is much more mental than it is physical, particularly, you know, when you get into the NCAA tournament and you advance. And I told our guys, we're really -- we're in the midst of two different situations right now. There's the game itself, the preparation for the game, and then there's everything else surrounding it. We can't let that second situation take our minds off the first because the first situation is what's going to determine whether we stay here in San Antonio over the weekend or whether we go home.
Q. One thing I've noticed about your NCAA tournament you guys are really taking care of the ball well. Tell me something about Rodriguez, what makes him so good, for people that haven't seen him play much.
COACH SMART: Well, the best thing about him is unbelievable toughness, mental and physical toughness. I've been fortunate, I've had a chance to be around a lot of great players, a lot of talented players, but I don't think that I've coached a guy as tough as Joey and mentally strong as Joey. So no matter what the situation is he always believes in himself and his teammates and he's very good at coming up with a way to win or to overcome the situation.
He's led the way for us, taking care of the ball. I think great passing can be contagious, infectious, just like bad free throw shooting can be. And I think we've really done a nice job moving the ball around, sharing the ball, creating shots for our teammates. In our last game we had almost seven times as many assists as we had turnovers. And that's a recipe for success.
Q. You mentioned your time at Clemson playing Florida State. Did you get to know Leonard at all, and what are your thoughts with the job he's done turning that program around?
COACH SMART: I got to know him as a coach. I didn't really get to know him personally, because in coaching you just do your job and you run into guys on the road a little bit. But Coach Hamilton is the type of guy that really comes across as a no-nonsense kind of guy. As you get a chance to be around him a little bit you can tell he's a friendly guy that really enjoys what he does.
At Clemson I learned very quickly a couple of things about him. No. 1, his guys play extremely hard and they do a great job sharing the wealth. He doesn't typically have one guy that everyone defers to. He's got a lot of different guys that can step up at different times. I think that's a testament to him and his staff. And then the other thing I learned about him is, and everybody knows this now, because it's been so well chronicled, he's one of the best defensive coaches in the country.
When I was at Clemson, when I first got to Clemson, Clemson and Florida State were kind of in a similar situation, they were both an NCAA droughts. And people were saying, Can Oliver Pernell get Clemson to the tournament or can Leonard Hamilton get Florida State to the tournament. And what Coach Hamilton has done since then is phenomenal, the number of ACC games that he's won. People don't realize how hard it is to win double figure games in that league. It is extremely hard. He's done it three years in a row now. I have a ton of respect for him and he's one of the coaches I definitely admire.
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with two of the three VCU student-athletes, a third will be joining us shortly. We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Joey, your coach was talking about how you're using all the criticism the selection committee got over taking you as motivation. How much motivation has that been for you this tournament?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: It's been a lot of motivation. Whenever people doubt you like that you want to come out and prove them wrong. I thought we've done a great job of that this first week of the tournament, and take it for what it's worth.
Q. You guys seem very loose, very relaxed. How much of that is Coach Smart? How much of that is just the way you guys are as a team?
BRADFORD BURGESS: It's a bit of both. You know, we're a great group of guys to be around. And on the court we are just playing the game that we love. And it definitely helps when coach tells us to be out there loose and relaxed. And I think it shows on the court, and it's definitely shown these last three games.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Same thing he said. Coach Smart kind of let's you play loose and do all that stuff, so he helps out a lot. I think it's the character of the guys on the team is how we are, just a bunch of loose guys, just out here having a good time.
Q. I saw you out there schooling Kerr. Can you tell me a little bit about how that felt?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: That was cool. I'm sure if he had a couple more warm up shots he would have killed me. It was cool shooting against someone like that. And you could kind of see at the end he wanted to win. He's a great shooter, probably the best clutch shooter of all times, one of them at least. I'm sure if I was out there against Utah, I would have air balled it. I've got nothing to say about that.
Q. I want to be clear that on Selection Sunday your team was not together. Can you tell me where you were, kind of how you heard through the grapevine you'd been invited?
BRADFORD BURGESS: I just got back to my room and I wanted to turn the TV on and see who got in and who hadn't gotten in. As soon as I sat down I saw our name pop up against USC. Our whole room erupted, you could hear everybody outside in the courtyard screaming and jumping. It was crazy.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I was in my room just watching it. I had my iPad out looking at all the brackets, seeing who was in and who wasn't in. And once we got in I just started screaming and started banging on everybody's door, and me and Brad went out and chest-bumped and that was it, we were in.
Q. You played three games last week. Does that make you fatigued this week, or does it maybe help you all get in the groove that you're in now?
BRADFORD BURGESS: I don't think we're fatigued at all. We've had a few days of rest. We're coming down here to San Antonio to face a tough Florida State team. I think with the break they probably had a better chance of preparing for us as well as us preparing for them. So I think it will be a great game.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I think we're good. I could have played two days ago.
Q. Describe the scene in Richmond when you guys showed up, came back from after that crazy week and all of a sudden you're celebrities.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: It's been pretty cool. Everybody in Richmond is all cheering for us. I was just walking around campus, people wanted to take pictures with you and stuff. It's cool. But I think it's better that we're in San Antonio. We just get down to business and get ready to play.
BRADFORD BURGESS: It was definitely crazy. It was a city-wide pep rally. Our University had a pep rally before we left, about 700, 800 people in the parking lot of our gym. It's just been great, great for the city.
Q. Going to Selection Sunday, what chances did you guys think you had of getting in?
BRADFORD BURGESS: We have two different views. After our championship game I didn't think we had a chance to get in. That's why I didn't watch it, really. But I'm glad we're in and I'm glad we have a second chance to show that we belong here.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I thought we had a chance. I was like the bracketologist of the team the whole week, so I was watching all the games. And everybody who needed to win, won, for the most part. I knew we had a chance. Shout out to Jerry Palm, he had us in the whole time.
Q. Could you talk about Florida State's defense. There's a lot of talk about their shot blocking. Does that affect what you guys do or do you guys do what you guys do and let them adjust?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I think we'll do what we do. They're a great defensive team. We're going to do what we are going to do. It's going to start in the defensive end with us getting stops and getting going. We're going to attack them. They're big, long and strong, so it's going to be a fun game.
Q. If I could go back to Steve Kerr, again, Coach Smart mentioned the players he uses as examples, a Rondo, a Wade or a Kerr, and you mentioned Kerr in the Utah game. Had you seen him play on film or anything?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, you see all those games on TV, and I think all of us have the Michael Jordan DVD's, and some of the things he said in huddles in big time situations. So we all know how clutch he is. That was a fun experience. That was great.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports