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April 1, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Coach Smart from VCU.
Q. Are you out of your mind? We just watched you at the end of that practice. Is that something you do all the time?
COACH SMART: It's a drill we do pretty regularly with our team. Our guys are taking charges and diving on the floor, not with our coaches. We've been talking about how important some of the defensive things are to the game tomorrow night. Our coaches figured we would step in and put our bodies where our mouth is.
Q. How have you emotionally navigated this past week where you have the very highest of highs getting to the NCAA Final Four, but you lose your grandfather, who is the father figure in your life?
COACH SMART: Just do the best you can. Nobody's perfect, nobody's a machine. The biggest thing, to be honest with you, is I've tried to focus on my team and then the rest of my family when it comes to our family's loss. I try not to think too much about myself.
After the season, there will certainly be more time to reflect back and mourn. But it's a time, the Final Four is not going to stop, let you get to the point where, you know, you're past all that stuff. It's going to move on. The game's tomorrow.
Our team is ready. Our guys are excited and I am, too.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the lift that Rozzell has been able to give you off the bench, particularly with his three-point shooting?
COACH SMART: He and Ed Nixon are the energy brothers. They're very close. We gave them that name last year. Ed is now a starter. They both give terrific energy to our team in different ways.
Brandon is an unbelievable shooter, particularly when he gets going. He's got great confidence. Every shot he takes in his mind is a good shot. A lot of times the assistant coaches look at me and say, How you going to let him shoot that?
I know with Brandon, he's a guy, you got to give him freedom. When you do give him freedom, it pays dividends. It has quite a bit in the NCAA tournament.
Q. You were just talking about the energy of the team. I was wondering if you could, with all the footage that I've seen, explain the dance that your team does or huddles around that dance, then talk about the overall energy that VCU seems to be exuding right now?
COACH SMART: Well, the dancer is a player by the name of Heath Houston. None of you know because he hasn't played a minute for us. He's redshirted. This is his first year with us. He'll have four more after this.
He's a guy from the beginning of the year our players have always got a kick out of the way he dances. I don't know. It started early in the year, but it became an every-game thing in the last few weeks. And now after each game, that's kind of how we conclude the game, is Heath dancing in the locker room and everybody going nuts around him.
In terms of our energy and enthusiasm as a team, I don't think there's any other way to play, I don't think there's any other way to coach. We're in the Final Four. What more can you say? It's a phenomenal opportunity for us. Opportunities multiply as they're seized. We want to seize them with all the energy we have.
Q. You face one of the team's best defenses in Florida State. What kind of lessons did you learn from that game and can you apply any of it to a team like Butler with their defense?
COACH SMART: Definitely. Different types of defensive teams. Florida State was as athletic and long and active on the defensive end as anybody in the country. Butler is much more sound. They're not going to make any type of defensive mistakes. They're always in the right position. They play with as much or more toughness on the defensive end as compared to anybody we've played.
So some of the same things that were effective for us against Florida State if we do them again, would be effective against anybody. We have to get into the paint and not always to shoot the ball. We've got to touch the paint to pass. We have to make the extra pass on the perimeter. We have to use shot fakes. You have to finish with strength.
One thing that great defensive teams all have in common is they're extremely physical, they're aggressive, and if you don't take the fight to them, then you're going to be in for a long night.
Q. I'm guessing you haven't played in too many football stadiums this year. Do you even mention the depth perception aspect to your players?
COACH SMART: There's not really much we can do about it. It's not going to change. They looked pretty good out there shooting it just now.
We went to the Alamodome last week. It was a bigger arena than we're used to playing in. We shot it great. We're hoping the same thing continues.
But I don't know exactly how it will affect us. I think if you're a great shooter, you make shots. If you're a bad shooter, you can be in the best shooter's gym in the country, that thing's not going in.
Q. Last weekend you mentioned how everyone had assumed that Kansas was winning the game. Your kids fed off that. Have you heard any of this talk about how the championship is going to be decided in the other game and are you using that?
COACH SMART: Hadn't heard much of that. But we really do most of that stuff kind of by the seat of our pants the day of the game. Our video guys are constantly taping all the things that the prognosticators say. We print off every single article that talks about our game, that talks about Butler. We'll certainly use some of the things that are said.
To be honest with you, I've heard just as many people pick Butler to win the whole thing as anybody else. So that was the first I've heard of that, what you said.
If we find that, we think that will motivate our guys, we'll definitely use it.
Q. You were very successful kind of heating up Kansas, getting them to play the style you wanted to play. Can you address the challenge of that with Butler.
COACH SMART: It's up to our guys. First of all, there's a lot of different forms of pressure. There's full-court pressure, and obviously to get into the press the most effective way you can, you've got to make baskets so you can set up your press. There's also pressure on the ball in the halfcourt. There's pressure in passes, getting out in passing lanes. We've got to do all those things.
Butler is, again, as sound as anybody we've played all year. They're not going to just start playing your way because you ask them to, you have to force them to. That's going to be a battle of wills. It's going to be a big- time challenge for us to constantly trying to get playing a little bit faster.
The other end of it we have to push the ball on the offensive end and get them on their heels. Anytime you're playing a great defensive team, the best way to battle against their defense is to beat them down the floor, before they get set, attack them with different actions and with drives and kicks.
Q. Your offense has been described as up-tempo. Talk about why that style works with this particular team.
COACH SMART: First of all, I think any player in the country coming out of high school, coming out of AAU basketball, wants to play fast. I think when you get in college, depending on what program you go to, a lot of people learn, maybe for that team, that's not the best way to win. Coaches are going to do whatever it takes to win.
Our guys like playing fast. They love throwing the ball ahead, shooting it or attacking. The great thing is when we play other teams with guys that also like playing that way, but maybe that's not their style of play, sometimes we're able to get those guys seduced into playing that way.
I don't know if that will necessarily happen with Butler because they're so mentally tough, we're going to have to force the action, like I said.
Yeah, it's a lot of fun for them. Nobody wants to play in a walk-it-up style. I don't care who you are, at 18, 19, 20 years old, everybody wants to fly, and that's what our guys do.
Q. In looking at a blueprint for success for a team from a non-power conference, what are two or three things you think are important in building a program like that? Also, do you think having two teams in the Final Four this year is kind of a signal for the future in college basketball?
COACH SMART: You mean a blueprint for success long-term or one year?
COACH SMART: I think the biggest thing in building a blueprint for success long-term, when you come from a non-BCS league, is continuity from a player standpoint. You got to have guys that are in the program for longer. I think the reason that Butler and VCU in my mind have a chance to win at all is because the other two teams in the Final Four are probably more talented, they probably have more NBA players on them, but they're younger, significantly younger.
I think when you have a team that's junior and senior laden, you have a chance to beat those teams, particularly if you have winning experience.
Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon, Rozzell on our team, they've won 102 games over the course of their careers. Butler seniors have won more than that. You're talking about guys that have won big games, NCAA tournament games. That's the biggest thing in the blueprint, you have to have guys that are around that have winning experience.
The next thing is you have to find a system that you're going to stick to and that you believe in and that you can get your players to believe in. You can't just go out and play willy-nilly basketball.
Butler has the Butler way. They have their way of doing things. It works. It's tested. It's proven. They're not going to stray from that system. We have ours.
Next year we'll have three, four new players, and they'll have to learn our system. The older guys will teach them the system. I think that's definitely a key component in any type of success at the mid-major or whatever you want to call it, non-BCS level.
In terms of two teams in the Final Four signaling a change, I think the change has been signaled a while ago. I think with the early entrance to the NBA and the fact that many of the dominant teams at the BCS level have quite a few younger players, I think you've seen this change coming. But certainly with two teams in the Final Four from non-BCS leagues, I think that definitely indicates the trend is growing.
Keith Dambrot, who I worked for at Akron, he always used to say, One of these days a mid-level team is going to win it all.
I'd say, You're wrong, Keith, I disagree with that.
When I was an assistant coach, I knew everything, had all the answers. Keith would remind me of that.
He's exactly right. When you look at the runs the people have had over the last six, eight years, it's been close. Butler was a bounce away from it last year. Who knows, maybe one of us will win it this year.
Q. When you look at your run, how much of it has been dependent on the vast improvement you've made at the three-point line, and is that the key to making Butler play your game?
COACH SMART: I don't think it's the key to making Butler play our game, but it's the key to making the scoreboard move. The scoreboard never moves any faster than when that ball goes in from behind the arc, for any team, not just us. We've shot the ball well from 3-All year. We set our league record, all-time CAA for most three-point makes ever in our conference. Certainly we've shot at a higher percentage in these last five games, and in some games we shot more threes than twos.
When you watch the Butler/Wisconsin game, Wisconsin got pretty good shots and they didn't make them. That's why they didn't win the game. Sometimes it comes down to that.
Q. Prefacing that this is the Final Four, it's a huge stage, the fact that two high seeds are playing, is there any danger at all in change of approach? The fact there is no Goliath you're facing, you're not the major underdog.
COACH SMART: No, I don't think so. At this time of year, if you can't find a way to motivate yourself, there's something wrong with you. Fortunately we've won five games. For five games we've been the underdog. We continue to be the underdog for tomorrow's game. If we win tomorrow, we'll continue to be the underdog. We'll use that as much as we can.
To be honest with you, that's secondary to taking the approach of playing extremely aggressive, confident, loose basketball. If we follow that formula, the same formula we've used over the last few weeks, we'll be fine.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH SMART: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Let's start with questions for the VCU student-athletes.
Q. Joey and Jamie, defense is obviously going to be a key tomorrow night against Butler. You looked like you were having fun with it when you played Florida State. How do you feel about defense? When you play a team that is strong defensively, is that more of a challenge, an opportunity for you guys?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I think it's more of a challenge because you know everybody is looking at their defense, how good they are. We want to come out and try to prove to people we can play defense just as good as them. We're having a good time out there playing defense. That's important for us to start our offense, and we know that against a good defensive team.
JAMIE SKEEN: I think it's an opportunity to show that our defense is really good because that's what's got us here. For five straight games we've been playing great defense. If we play great defense again against Butler, we can probably come out with the win.
Q. Joey, I know you've gone over the story, but I'm fascinated by you going back to the gym and watching the new coach. Did you inform him face to face that you were leaving? What got you back to go to the gym and check it out?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I did tell him one-on-one. I told him face to face. I'd never call him or text him. I went to his office, told him face to face.
Just going to the gym, I care about these guys. I knew they were working out. I still wanted to support them at the time. So just went to the gym, encouraged them. Once I was there, I really wanted to work out. It would just be hard, right after I told him that, to tell him that I wanted to come out and work out and come back. Just took some time.
Q. What did you think was going to happen for you by not continuing with the team? What was the greener pasture out there that you saw?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Just being around my family. I was homesick. I was homesick my freshman year, too, if you ask Coach Grant. Just being away. I'm really close with them, so I just wanted to be around them.
Q. Joey, you were telling a story about your coach jumping on the loose ball at halftime of the Kansas game. There was today's opening drill. Can you give me some more examples of how hands-on this guy is. Do you ever think he's going to break a hip or something?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: Trying to think of any other ones. Just in practice.
You know, in practice, usually when our other point guard, Darius, messes up or something, he'll try to hop in in practice, tell him to get out of the way, run the offense. When he's done, he's like, Yeah, just like that. He does that a lot actually.
If anything, it's that, just hopping in and trying to prove to people that he can do what you're supposed to do in practice.
Q. Joey, did you see the guy who won the slam-dunk contest yesterday?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: It was pretty amazing. I actually watched the YouTube video first. I knew he could jump. Watching that dunk contest yesterday, that was nuts.
Haven't seen nothing like that usually. That was crazy.
Q. Bradford and Jamie, how does Butler's toughness on defense compare to all the teams that you played so far in the tournament? Billy Donovan said he felt they won the game by getting to all the loose balls and rebounds.
BRADFORD BURGESS: Butler is probably the toughest defensive team we'll face all year. All of our coaches have said the people they talk to, they're so physical on the defensive end, it will just be a challenge for us cutting, making passes, being strong with the ball. With that toughness, that's how they've been winning ballgames, that's how they made it to the Final Four.
If we handle that, we'll be all ready.
JAMIE SKEEN: I feel like all the teams that we done played have been pretty tough. I feel like Florida State had a pretty tough defense. We done been against tough defenses already so I feel like we should be prepared to go up against their tough defense.
Q. Joey, is your ability to continue to hit the three-pointer, your team, is that bottom line the key to this game?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: I actually don't think so. It's helping us out making threes. This guy here is probably the best low-post scorer in the tournament. I think if we get him the ball, we'll be able to play with him and do some things we did against Kansas. If he comes out aggressive, ready to attack, then I think we'll be fine.
Q. I know you watched the Butler game against Duke and thought, Why not us? What lessons did you take from that? What kind of experience or edge do you think their experience here last year gives them?
JOEY RODRIGUEZ: The experience thing, you know, I heard their coach say they're not really using the experience and all that stuff. I really don't lean on that as much. It's a different set of guys every year. It's a new opportunity for everybody.
So experience, I don't think that's going to affect anything, to tell you the truth.
You know, it gave a lot of mid-majors belief they could get to the Final Four and make some noise. We were all cheering for them to win the game last year. Lastly, their defense, they guarded last year. They weren't always making shots, but their defense is what got them to the national championship game. We took that in stride for the next year and we've been preaching that all year.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports