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March 26, 2011
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the VCU student-athletes to the dais.
Q. Are you guys allowed to say the words Final Four? Are you allowed to say Beat Kansas, or do you just have to focus in on what you need to do to play a good game tomorrow afternoon?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I think we're just focusing in on Kansas. We know what's at stake. Win or lose, you go to the Final Four, hopefully so. We're focusing on Kansas. It's a great opportunity for us and our school to advance, and we're looking forward to it.
Q. Coach Smart was saying last night sometimes you're unselfish to a fault. Can you just talk a little bit about what you think about on offense out there and does that go back to your high school days when you were playing with Ed Davis?
BRADFORD BURGESS: I just try to go out there and make the right play and I guess trying to find the open man. And sometimes I guess I don't need to look for my shot enough, but sometimes I felt like I was doing that a bit too much, when I should have been passing. But I guess it's just my nature.
Q. I want to know where each of you were during the selection show. Start with Bradford and go down.
BRADFORD BURGESS: Just getting back to my room from Five Guys.
BRADFORD BURGESS: Yep.
ED NIXON: I was in my room watching Cartoon Network.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I was watching the selection show in my room.
BRANDON ROZZELL: I was doing homework.
JAMIE SKEEN: I was eating alone.
Q. Joey, could you talk about when you all came in the building yesterday you all got to see part of Kansas's game. Talk about what you saw seeing them up close and what your conversation was about whether or not you were going to face them?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: They're impressive. We see them on TV, too. They're a great team. They've got a lot of weapons. They move the ball really well. It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but we're not going to back down. It's a great opportunity for us and we're really looking forward to it.
Q. Joey and Jamie, couple years ago George Mason from your conference made it to the Final Four, do you have any memories of that run that they made? I know you guys have plenty of outside inspiration from other sources. Does the fact that a team from your conference has made it to the Final Four, does that give you guys confidence or inspiration?
JAMIE SKEEN: I think the run they made was great. Hopefully we can do exactly what they did and go even further. That's pretty much it. I can't even remember exactly if I was in high school or college when it happened. I think I was in high school, but it was a great run.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I remember watching them. I remember the Connecticut game, also. It's cool they're from the same conference. I think it speaks volumes for the conference we have. It's a different team. We're doing it a different way. I remember they had a lot of close games. And that was really our first close game yesterday. Different team, different university. You can look at it for inspiration, too.
Q. This question is for Bradford. Was that the biggest shot you hit in the game last night and what's been the reaction to it since then?
BRADFORD BURGESS: Yeah, it was definitely the biggest shot. But the reaction is for us to move forward to our game tomorrow against Kansas. They're a very talented team. And staying focused on them and not worrying about last night with Florida State will be important for us.
Q. Joey and Brandon, how quickly did you all refocus after last night and what did you do?
BRANDON ROZZELL: I think we refocused as soon as we hit our beds, and got some time to try to settle. We knew turning the page and going to today and tomorrow, we definitely are facing a great Kansas team. So I think the Florida State game is over and all the rest of the games in the tournament are over, and we're looking at executing our game plan tomorrow.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Same thing. I think when we got away from the fans and all the hoopla, when it was us and our teammates we were talking about Kansas and the opportunity we have. I'm just looking forward to it.
Q. Joey, in Dayton I remember the UAB coach talking about how crushing it was for his players on Selection Sunday to see their name come across the screen as being selected and then to hear people question it. You guys had a little bit of that too. Was it like that for you, and at this point does that seem like a lifetime ago?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: No, maybe the first ten seconds, and then you just want to go out and motivate and prove them wrong. But right now we're in the Elite 8 and that stuff really doesn't matter anymore. It motivates you right before the game. But once the game starts it's you and your teammates and your coaching staff doing what you guys have been doing. It's not worrying about Jay Bilas or anyone else or what they had to say.
Q. Joey and Jamie, last night your coach mentioned the debt of gratitude that you felt the team owes to the CAA and how playing Old Dominion and George Mason gets you ready for the game. How does playing in the CAA get you ready for this level of competition?
JAMIE SKEEN: I think the CAA prepares us really well. We played a lot of good teams in the CAA. Old Dominion beat us twice. They're a really good, competitive team. And George Mason was really good. They beat us at our house. I just think that the CAA prepares us well for this tournament.
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I think all of our teams are really good from top to bottom. And a lot of them have different styles so you get to play against different styles all the time in our conference. There was a lot of good players in that league. Just really prepares us and glad we're kind of holding the torch right now for it.
Q. Joey, you guys have won four games before, if anybody won four games they were in the Final Four or won a National Championship. Is this another mountain for you guys to climb in order to get to the Final Four?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, just another mountain to climb. Nobody has ever done it, so another chance to make history. That first USC game feels like a long time ago. Right now it's all about Kansas. I actually think that game kind of helped us.
Q. Joey, you guys have been talking about how you just want to keep on playing, you don't want the season to end. What was the feeling like right when that buzzer sounded yesterday and you knew you were going to have another game to play?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Just hype. We're just excited. We fought hard the whole game and really kind of got crushed in the backboards and that kind of kept them in the game. But once the buzzer went off and Rob blocked that shot, we were excited for our fans traveling all the way down here to support us. It was a great feeling for our teammates.
Q. Joey, you just mentioned you thought that first game might have actually helped you guys. Can you elaborate on that?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Just a lot of guys have never played in an NCAA tournament. And getting that first game under our belt and proving to people that we could play, I thought that gave some of the guys on the team a little bit more confidence, even though we're a confident group already. And, yeah, I think that's another way to get some confidence. Actually we guarded really well in that game, and that kind of springboarded how we're guarding lately.
Q. You mentioned that a lot of people have come up. Can you talk a little about the motivation trying to play for all these people at VCU, that have never had the experience on the run before?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: It's been fun. Yesterday we won the game and the whole team was going crazy. It's just a good feeling. You have the whole city on your back, now. We have Richmond out there cheering for us. We've got to come out and play hard and play aggressive, and I think we'll have a good chance.
Q. Brandon, when you guys began the season you talked about your goals being to win the regular season, win the conference tournament and get to the NCAA tournament. When you're setting goals, do you set them this high and think we want to get to the Final Four, or do you set them, get to the tournament and do as well as you can?
BRANDON ROZZELL: Yeah, I think definitely get to the tournament and do as well as you can. We failed short on our first two goals, when we saw our name roll across the screen on Selection Sunday, we knew we had a shot at our third goal. This team, we stuck in there. We're playing our best basketball right now when it matters the most.
Q. Jamie, there's one ACC school left among the eight. Do you ever think of the irony of being at that conference and leaving there and having things work out the way they have?
JAMIE SKEEN: Well, I mean, the ACC is a really good conference, but so is the CAA. I feel like now since I'm in the CAA that we're just as good as the ACC. It's not really no difference between conferences to me.
Q. When VCU was courting you for the job and you looked into it, what did you learn about the school that maybe separated it from other mid majors, and what did you learn about it that you didn't learn about it before?
COACH SMART: I knew quite a bit about VCU before, because of a program called the Villa 7 Consortium, which VCU helps run with Mike Ellis from our athletic director. So I had a good relationship with those guys. That's a program that they run for assistant coaches that are aspiring to be head coaches. I had been to VCU before a couple of times, so I was familiar with the facilities, familiar with the program. I worked at Florida, which is obviously where Anthony Grant came from when he got the VCU job. And of course he had such immediate success at VCU, everybody in the country saw what he did. And I followed real closely, just because I became a Florida guy and he was a Florida guy and we had a connection through Billy Donovan. I really didn't learn much new about it when the job opened up, because I already knew quite a bit about it. It was just a matter of whether it was a situation that would be a good fit for VCU and would be a good fit for me.
Q. I was curious about the background or history of your first name. And also in the first half of the game last night, not to over-simplify, there was a play with Joey missed the shot, he steals it from behind. Would that kind of be in a nutshell of how your team plays, the fact that it never gives up?
COACH SMART: We're a very resilient group. There have been countless plays like that, in two years that I've coached these guys. They never give up. And we rarely play perfect basketball but basketball is a game of mistakes, even the best teams, even a Kansas at 35 and 2, you're going to make some mistakes out there. And the key is obviously how you respond, what you do next. And our guys, to a man, particularly during this NCAA tournament run have done a great job responding.
As for my name, it's about the best thing my dad ever did for me, because I was raised primarily by my mom. Shaka is an African name, named after a king in southern Africa who united hundreds of thousands of people. He was a warrior, he was a tough dude, and my dad chose to name me after him. You may have seen the movie Shaka Zulu, that's who I'm named after. When I was growing up, and still to this day I get kidded a lot about that, you know, people call me that, or Chaka Khan, different things. Doesn't bother me, I've heard it all before.
Q. You guys played Wichita State in the Bracket Buster game. First, do you think that if you don't win that game you'd even make it to the tournament? And with the way that game ended and Wichita State being in the NIT Final Four, how easily could the roles be reversed?
COACH SMART: That's up to the selection committee. I'm not sure if that one game would have made the difference to Wichita State or if it would have made the difference for us. Yeah, we probably needed that win to get in tournament as did George Mason in 2006 when they went to Wichita State and won the Bracket Buster. We were, I believe, the third or fourth at-large team that was selected. That's why we played in the first four. So we needed every win we got. That was a huge win for us. As you know, Wichita State's home court environment is as good as anywhere you go in the country and as loud as anywhere you go in the country. For our guys to go in there and play as we did, and make the big plays down the stretch, I think that really showed to a national audience in ESPN that we were worthy of the at-large bid.
Q. You are the flavor of the month right now. What is it like being you, experience going from who you were a month ago, you're the same guy, but the world didn't know who you were, and now the world knows who you are.
COACH SMART: First of all, you're a lot younger looking in person. They've got to change that picture.
Q. So are you.
COACH SMART: They've got to change that picture online, man. (Laughter.) One of the best things about the NCAA tournament is I finally get to meet guys like you.
It's something that goes with the territory of playing and advancing in the NCAA tournament. It's just the way that our basketball culture works. It's not necessarily right or fair, it just is what it is. And I try not to get caught up in that. My wife tries not to get caught up in that. The reality is I have a phenomenal opportunity to be the coach at a school that I love and to every single day work with players that I absolutely adore and care about. And that's where my focus is and that's where my focus will be.
Q. Do you remember the first time you thought about wanting to be a coach and what inspired that? What are some of your memories from the days at Kenyon College?
COACH SMART: I just wanted to be involved in basketball as long as I could. And I remember when I first got into coaching, I remember thinking to myself, this coaching stuff is not as good as playing. And something about being out there as a player and being in the middle of it all. But obviously you can't play forever.
My coach that recruited me to play college basketball at Kenyon College, he left after my freshman year, he broke my heart. But I guess the positive of that was he told me when he left, he said he wanted me to come work for him when I graduated. So that was kind of my plan after college to go with him. I had coached my younger brother in some kid leagues and I enjoyed it, got a kick out of it, thought it was fun. Knew nothing about college coaching and the work ethic part of it, you know, the off the court part of it. But I gave it a shot and I loved it. I got a chance to get some great experience early and then when I got into Division I coaching at Dayton under Oliver Purnell, I got kind of a taste of big time basketball, and it was something that I really wanted to be a part of and just wanted to keep learning and keep getting better.
I'm trying to think about the second part of the question, Kenyon College, it was a great place. It's a long way away from here, but it has everything to do with who I am today. It's a tiny school in a tiny, tiny town in central Ohio and nobody has probably ever heard of or been to but it's a great place. And I had some terrific mentors there. I had some people there that truly helped me make the transition from being a boy to a man and learned a lot of great things. Had a terrific education and basketball-wise was able to grow up and develop. And a lot of the experiences there helped me with what I do every day today.
Q. Someone mentioned earlier that this team is the first to have to win five games to get to the Final Four. Then you go overtime last night. Are there any concerns about being out of gas or is that on your radar?
COACH SMART: No. Concerns send you home at this point. Excuses send you home. So the teams advancing in the NCAA tournament they don't look at the glass half empty, they don't look at the roadblocks on the way. They do what they have to do to advance. And we've got a terrific team standing in our way tomorrow afternoon, probably the best team left in the field. Certainly the most imposing, most dominant team up to this point in the season, when you look at their entire body of work. So we've got a tall task on our hands. But if we sit back and think about being fatigued or having played an extra game or how much time we've spent or how much time we've slept, that's the quickest way to go home. And we don't want to go home. We want to advance.
Q. Kind of continuing with the educational theme, growing up in a one parent household if I understand, where did you get your foundation to value education? If I understand you were selected to Harvard after high school, is that right?
COACH SMART: Yes, I was.
Q. Why did you is choose Kenyon over Harvard?
COACH SMART: Because of the basketball coach. I was accepted to Harvard, Yale and Brown. And I visited all those schools. I'm from the midwest, and to be honest, that kind of East coast, fast-paced attitude, it was a little intimidating to me when I went out there and visited. And I had a very strong relationship with the coach at Kenyon College, Bill Brown is probably the closest I had, definitely the closest I had to a father figure in my life. Going to Kenyon was an easy decision, because of the relationship he and I had established.
In terms of valuing education, I didn't have a choice. My mom didn't have a lot of rules. I didn't have a curfew when I was a kid. I never had to make my bed. But if I came home with a bad grade then I wasn't able to do what I wanted to do, which was play basketball and the other sports that I competed in. And sometimes a bad grade was as high as a B, so I had to excel in the classroom. I didn't really have a choice. My brothers didn't have a choice. At the time I didn't really understand it but I really appreciate it now because when I went to college I wanted to do well for one reason, and that was just to make my mom happy and make her proud and to follow what she had taught me.
But what happened was a beautiful thing. In college I found a subject matter that I really enjoyed and classes that I loved. And all of a sudden I started learning because I enjoyed it and because I wanted to. And I no longer needed that drive that my mom had instilled in me. I wish that would happen for everyone that goes to college, because I think that's what it's all about. It opens up so many opportunities for learning.
Q. Are you even saying the words Final Four to your players? Are you letting them say it? Are you using the words beat Kansas or are you talking about what you guys need to do to play well tomorrow?
COACH SMART: Of course. We're 40 minutes away from the Final Four, and Kansas is who we play. So we can't talk about anyone else. You know, we're like everyone else in the Elite 8, we're one game from the Final Four. If we win, that's where we go, if we lose, we go home. We're not different than anyone else. We happen to be playing a phenomenal basketball team.
But as I've said since this tournament began, anyone can beat anyone on any given day. And I think that certainly applies to tomorrow. Make no mistake about it, our guys believe we can win. I know we can win. And that's what we're going out there to do.
Q. Just going back to the selection show night, why no watch party for your team? You didn't have a watch party or gathering of the team.
COACH SMART: Well, because I didn't know exactly what was going to happen. I knew there was a chance we'd get in. I thought we would get in because a guy I trust had us in his projections, but I didn't know for sure. And I didn't want our season to be defined by that night. And that's the reason that I kind of played it low-key with our guys. And I knew if we did get in we would quickly be able to get back together as a group and there would be a high level of excitement and that's exactly what happened.
Q. Coach, going back to your educational experience, what were the subjects that interested you most outside of basketball and is there a way to communicate that to kids when you're coaching kids at 18, 19, 20 years old?
COACH SMART: I was interested in a lot of stuff. I liked all the social sciences and I liked English and literature. I majored in history. Psychology, sociology, I liked all that stuff, all the theoretical stuff was interesting to me.
In terms of communicating it to guys now, it can be a challenge because, let's face it, a lot of people who come to play basketball at a high level have a mindset that, you know, playing the game of basketball is first and foremost above everything else. And to be honest, that was my mindset, too. But I had that mom that drove me so much academically. And what I try to help our guys with is letting them understand, there is something out there that you can sink your teeth into academically and really enjoy and really get a lot out of. And then it's something that when basketball is over, because the ball stops bouncing for all of us at some point, it's something that you can earn a living in and really try to explore what that is for different guys on the team.
I keep a quote list, where I use quotes as inspiration, and with some of our guys, particularly some of our younger guys that I recruited and we recruited as a coaching staff, I use a lot of quotes with those guys during the recruiting process and I continue to do that with our team. Just something to kind of get them thinking about someone else's words that might inspire and motivate them.
Q. Can you talk about the experience of last year's tournament, your run and the other tournament last year? Did that help you and your staff and the guys kind of get into the habit and routine of the quick turnarounds. And talk about the challenge you face in the short turnaround to get ready for a team like Kansas.
COACH SMART: Well, last year we played the CBI and I think it was good for us in that we fell short on our goal. Everyone's goal is to make the NCAA tournament and we didn't make the NCAA tournament. And then we felt we were really robbed not getting into the NIT last year. And certainly if you look at the numbers, we had a good case. But we didn't make it. We could have sat there and felt sorry for ourselves. We could have ended the season right there. But we decided to keep playing. Our guys did a great job turning the page, playing well and as you said for our coaching staff it was great preparation in terms of a tournament setting, preparing with short turnarounds and playing in several games where if you lose you go home, your season is over. And if you win you advance. And we were fortunate to win that tournament.
Then as far as the short turnaround with this game, we're used to it. In fact last week we played three games in five days, so two games in three days. From a preparation standpoint, is not an issue. Now, we're playing a terrific team. That could be an issue. But that's why you go out and play the game. And our guys are excited about going out and competing.
Q. Have you been able to really marinate and kind of process just how much this run will be able to help you with recruiting?
COACH SMART: Not too much yet. I talked to some of the recruits since we got into the NCAA tournament and there's a different sound in their voice. They certainly call back a lot quicker. That's just the nature of the beast. But I haven't been able to think about it much. I think when you make a run in the tournament it gets people's attention, everyone's attention, particularly young guys that follow college basketball. But the way to make a splash recruiting-wise is to sustain success.
I was fortunate to work for Bill Donovan, that's what he has done in Florida. It's not like he had one great year, he's been great over and over and over again, and that's caused them to be an elite level school in the area of recruiting.
This run will help us, as far as it goes, it will definitely help us, but what's going to really help us long-term recruiting is if we're able to continue to have success both within our league and nationally.
Q. Can you just talk a little bit about the lift that Brandon provides by coming off the bench and scoring so consistently?
COACH SMART: He is certainly a huge energy giver. Brandon is probably our most outgoing personality on our team. He can definitely be the Mayor of Richmond. He's from Richmond, and everyone in Richmond either knows him or knows of him. And he's very well-liked. Our guys, to a man, really respect and like Brandon. So when he goes in the game he has unbelievable belief in himself. He could go out there against anybody and he's going to believe that he can get it done.
His play last night was huge because -- and a lot of fans may not look at this element of the game, but Florida State went to zone in the second half and he hadn't shot at all in the first half. And he shot them out of the zone. And if he doesn't make those shots then they may stay in zone and we might not be as effective as we wanted to be against it. So he's huge. He's done that for us several times this year and that's why he's one of our key players.
Q. Thomas Robinson had a big night for them last night. Can you talk about knowing his story, what he went through this year with the loss of his mother, how impressive it is for him to maintain that kind of focus and how difficult it is for a young man to do that?
COACH SMART: Well, when I heard about the story, my heart went out to him and to the whole Kansas family because you never want to see anybody go through that. But you particularly don't want to see a sleeting through it because he's already got a lot on his plate as a student-athlete, and I don't think people really take time to think about what these guys, on a regular basis, have to deal with. Then you add in this sort of tragedy. I think it says a lot about the kid's fortitude and mental toughness that he was able to come back in a relatively short time frame and play so well for Kansas, and play such a terrific role.
This is the first time that I've seen him live since he was playing AAU basketball. The guy's body is unbelievable. What they've done and physically what they've done with Robinson and some of these guys on their team, their strength coach should get a raise, because he looks terrific, as do a lot of their guys.
I have a ton of respect for him. If you look at what he gets done in the minutes he plays, he's an extremely productive player. And that's not always easy if you're not a starter or a guy that's playing 25, 30 minutes.
Q. Were your as amazed as a lot of people when George Mason took down UConn that one year, and an 11th seed beat a 1-seed, a team you know well, does that figure in a lot right now as far as the confidence you have and your kids have in what can happen?
COACH SMART: It doesn't affect my confidence in our team. But it says it certainly can be done, it has been done. It will be done again at some point. The question is will it be done tomorrow? This is a different year, these are two different teams. UConn, if I remember correctly, had the most talented team in the tournament that year, they had five or six pros that year. They were the No. 1 seed. George Mason came out with a better team that day, that's why they advanced to the Final Four.
Can we do that tomorrow? Sure. But it's going to come down to what Kansas brings to the table, what we bring to the table and whether we're able to stand there up against Kansas toe-to-toe and go 12 rounds. It's not going to be a game that we can come into and play well for a stretch of time and plan on knocking them out. It doesn't work that way when you play a great team that's the No. 1 seed.
Yeah, the George Mason game, I think what it does is it gives you perspective, it let's you know that underdogs can win games like that. In terms of confidence, my confidence is sky high on our team. I don't need any other games or teams to add to that confidence. I know what we can do, now it's a matter of us going out and executing the plan.
Q. You mentioned on Friday that you would tell us after the game what you were using for motivation. You had said it's more the clips of people talking bad about your team and do you have any sort of motivational things up your sleeve for this one?
COACH SMART: More of the same. You want to know what I used for this past game? We put together another tape and it was all the pundits and prognosticators and their picks for the Florida State game. And there are so many guys on TV now that make these picks that it's pretty impressive, when you put them all together. They kept saying Florida State, Florida State, Florida State, and Jay Bilas went on, which is our favorite guy (laughter), he talked about their length is going to bother VCU, and they're going to have trouble shooting the ball because of their length. And a couple other guys went on, so that's what we used for the Florida State game.
Obviously it will be more of the same for Kansas. I saw something last night, one of my sisters showed me something where it said Kansas now has a 44 percent chance of winning the National Championship. And we have a .9 percent chance. So it's kind of like the movie Dumb and Dumber, So you're saying we've got a chance (laughter.) That's how our guys are. If we have a chance, if there's an opportunity for us to go do it then we're going to put everything into it and we're not going to stop until that chance is zero. And there's no question right now there is an opportunity for us.
Q. A lot has been made of the way you guys finished the regular season, but it was almost like a light switch went on once you got to the CAA tournament. You beat Drexel, you beat George Mason, came back and almost beat ODU. When you look back, what turned things around, because those turnarounds don't happen when a team is going the way you guys had been going?
COACH SMART: I think our players did a terrific job of putting February behind us. In your league, for those of you who don't know, our regular season ends with the month of February ending. So when March comes it's kind of a clean break with that regular season and the postseason arrives and as you know, we took the month of February out of the calendar and I set it on fire in practice. And our players watched it burn. And that was a symbolic way to demonstrate to them that, hey, that month is over. Those setbacks that we had in February are gone. We have to be in the present moment and we have the opportunity to go create some special memories, some special moments.
And I think we did that in the CAA tournament. We played really well, particularly the win over George Mason. I don't think people think about it nationally, but they had won 16 games in a row, which is by far the nation's longest winning streak and no one had played them even close in that stretch. And then our guys came out executing and we won that game by 16 in the conference semifinals. That really built a level of confidence and I think we've drawn on that during the NCAA tournament.
Q. Talked to a few of your players and they seem mixed on whether it's your age that relates to them better or if it's just your style of personality. What helps you relate to your players?
COACH SMART: Well, hopefully it's both. It wasn't too long ago that I played college basketball. Now, I didn't go through anything like this as a player. I played Division III basketball where there was probably this many people in the game or at the game (laughter.) But I did love it and I did live it, eat it, breathe it, sleep it, like they do. And so I can relate from that standpoint. So hopefully age is an advantage there.
I know one thing, age is certainly an advantage in terms of energy level. Because in this job it requires a lot. And it's never ending. There's always more you can do, particularly from the standpoint of spending time with your guys. And that's something we try to do a good job of.
But personality-wise, hopefully that's a good fit with our guys. I really try to coach them the way I would want to be coached. They might not agree with that when you ask them to practice sometimes, but I really try to make it fun for our guys and at the same time make sure that we're getting better and making progress.
The bottom line for me is if we can view our program through the lens of the development of our guys as people then I really believe that the winning will take care of itself. And sometimes it's hard to get young people to understand that. But that's what we try to do. So if that means we relate to them well, then I think that's a good thing.
Q. How similar style-wise and as a player are you to Joey or were you compared to Joey? Can you discuss the dynamic of a point guard being the extension of a coach?
COACH SMART: Well, we have actually a lot of point guards on our staff, as do a lot of coaching staffs. And by far the best point guard on our staff as a player was Mike Rhoades, he was one of my -- he was two-time Division III player of the year. We have this bias toward Division III guys on hour staff. Joey and Mike are very close. And Mike has been a terrific mentor for Joey as a point guard.
In terms of me, how similar I am to Joey, similar. I had different strengths and he had different strengths. We both had a lot of assists. I think we both were guys that really thought about the team and leading the team. I'll admit it, I was similar to Joey and another of his high school teammates that I coached, Nick Calathes out of Florida. I was kind of stat conscious, Joey is that way, too, don't let him fool you. But it's good when you look at assists. When you want to rack up assists, that's good for the team.
Joey and I, we had a lot of similarities. He did a lot more winning than me, he's done a lot more winning. As I said before, his toughness continues to amaze me. He's the toughest guy I've ever been around in college basketball. He jokes about when his career gets done, playing pickup basketball with our staff and dominating me. I'm looking forward to that opportunity, but hopefully not for a couple more weeks.
Q. Calling upon the players and burning calendars, did you pick up these coaching methods from anyone or are these your own devices?
COACH SMART: Everything in coaching is stolen, so I would probably say .001 percent of what I do is an original idea. So I've been fortunate, I've been around some great coaches and I've worked in some terrific programs and been able to use some of the strategies that a lot of the head coaches I've been around have used. Actually with the closeouts that we use, Kerr, Rondo and Wade, that's one of the things that I adopted from the previous coach at VCU, Anthony Grant. Their coaching staff had used that with their players in the scouting reports. And when I got to VCU just in talking to some of the players and getting to know those guys, that was something that they really sunk their teeth into it. They would say this guy is a Kerr, this guy is a Wade. I said, Why not use it? It doesn't need to be my idea, if it works we'll use it. That's where we got that.
In terms of burning the calendar, I always talk about our guys being on fire, defending like you're on fire. I toyed around with the idea of setting something on fire early in the year, but I didn't want to burn any buildings down. It hit me, on March 1st, it was March 1st, Hey, we've got to show these guys February is over. So we set the calendar on fire. Fortunately nothing burned down.
Q. I apologize if this has already been addressed, but could you discuss the challenges of preparing for a team like Kansas on short notice, a team that has a lot of depth but a lot of players that can early influence the game?
COACH SMART: If we had a month to prepare for Kansas that stuff wouldn't change. It's not so much the short notice. It's more a matter of finding ways to slow down their personnel and to counteract the terrific system they have. They have a great offensive system and they really get after you offensively. Coach Self has done a great job putting the pieces he has in the right spots and moving them around at the right times so that if you try to defend them in a certain way they can really make you pay. So there's really no correct way to guard Kansas, other than the fact that you've really got to do a great job personnel-wise taking away what they do best. You've got to be aggressive.
I thought just watching the Richmond game on tape from last night, I thought Kansas was far and away the aggressor in that first half, really setting the tone. And the game was pretty much over once they set that tone. Like I said, we've got to stand toe-to-toe with them and it's not easy to do. You talk about a No. 1 seed, a team -- I voted in the USAToday, ESPN coaches poll every week, all season long, and there's several times I voted for Kansas as No. 1 in the country. I've got a ton of respect for Coach Self and his team and it's going to be a heck of a challenge.
Q. Just talking to Joey on the one-on-one, he said that a couple of years ago he was thinking about leaving. Do you think welcoming him with open arms was a huge reason why he stayed, can you talk about that time a little bit?
COACH SMART: He did leave. I'm not sure if he told you. Joey made the decision in April. I arrived I think my press conference was April 1st or 2nd. He made the decision a couple of weeks later to transfer. And it was one of those things, kind of like when a girl breaks up with you, it has nothing to do with you, that's what Joey told me, but it was -- I think the coaching change. He had a great relationship with the former staff. They had done a terrific job with him. He was homesick, he's from Florida. He's very, very close with his family, as close as anybody is with their family. And he made the decision to go home. And he did. But as the semester was ending, he would still come to our individual workouts and he would still pop by the office from time to time. And you could tell there was a part of him that wanted to stay at VCU.
He called his father. His father actually called me right before we were about to start summer school and he said, Coach, I really think Joey wants to come back. And then I got on the phone with Joey and we just had a very brief conversation. I said, Joey we'd love to have you back, we believe in you, we think you'd be a great player here, but I've got to know that you have both feet in the circle if you do come back, and you're not going to look back over your shoulder. He said he would. And that was pretty much it. And that next year, my first year at VCU it was the first year in five years that VCU did not have Eric Maynor, who was unquestionably the best player that ever played at VCU. And Joey took the lead as a point guard.
There was a ton of people that did not feel like he could run the team. They didn't feel he would be a good point guard. They questioned how he would be able to lead a team. And he set about over these last couple of years really proving people wrong. And now he's all over the record books and more importantly, he's the guy, not anyone else, he's the guy that's led a team to the Elite 8 and hopefully beyond.
Q. I understand your grandfather was a big influence in your life. I heard he's in bad health. How is he right now? And what influence did he have on you?
COACH SMART: My grandfather is not doing so well. He's in, I guess they call it hospice care. So he's just trying to enjoy his last days. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. And in terms of the influence he had on me, he was the strongest male influence in my life. My dad really wasn't around. And my grandfather was in Chicago. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, which is a couple of hours away. I didn't see him a lot, but when I did he taught me a lot of valuable lessons that I'm able to apply today. He taught me about humility. He taught me a lot about manners, how to treat people, how to express appreciation when people do things for you. He's always, ever since I was in college, cut out every single article in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times that had anything to do with basketball and mailed it to me, wherever I lived. And I'm going to miss those clippings, but he's been a great source of inspiration for me. He's a guy that started with nothing and really made a great life for himself and his family. He's a guy I love very much.
Q. What did he do for a living?
COACH SMART: He was in print. He sold printing. And like I said, he started off really at the bottom. He was a World War II Veteran and lived in Chicago, Illinois, and made a really good business for himself. He's the only guy -- when I was growing up my mom didn't have much money. She was an educator, so we didn't have much. But my grandfather, he made a good living, so he was the one guy when I did go to Chicago and got to spend time with him he spoiled me little bit. So I certainly savored those trips.
Q. What was his name?
COACH SMART: Walter King.
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