Video: Crean, IU players preview VCU
Complete IU and VCU press conference transcripts after the jump.
Q. What kind of challenges does VCU present that maybe some of the other teams you’ve played this year haven’t?
VICTOR OLADIPO: They play high tempo. They press a lot. They get up and down the floor. They like to turn teams over. They’re long and they’re athletic. They’re kind of different from a lot of the Big Ten teams we’ve played. We’re going to have to come ready to play.
Q. Just to follow up on that, what kinds of things can you do in practice to sort of replicate the kind of pressure that they bring you?
VICTOR OLADIPO: Just practice at a high level, work on the things we have to work on in order to be successful, listen to what the coaches have to tell us, work on our press breaks and things like that. And work on taking care of the ball.
Q. Can you talk about the responsibility on you and Remy tomorrow, especially with Jordan having to handle, I believe he played 35 minutes on Thursday, how much is it on you and Remy to help him out?
VICTOR OLADIPO: It’s going to be big for everybody to step up to handle that pressure and be able to handle the ball. It’s going to be big for us to help Jordan a little bit in order for us to win.
Q. The Indiana program was down when you got there, Coach Crean came in. Can you talk about what it took to get it back to where it is now?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: It took a lot of hard work. When I first got here we didn’t really have anybody to lead. So I kind of had to step up and take that role as a freshman. We had some older class, but they didn’t really know how to lead either, when they got here, nobody was really here. So we just had to take it day?by?day. And it was a constant grind. And we finally got to this point.
Q. Wichita State’s big man, Garrett Stutz, was really stopped pretty well last night by VCU defense. What did they do against him and what will be the keys for you against them?
CODY ZELLER: We watched some of that film. They like to play the up?tempo game. Pressure the guards a lot. It makes it tough on the guards to get inside. There’s not going to be as many sets run as just playing basketball, and finding the open guy. I’ll just try to be active.
Q. I know you guys were happy to win yesterday, but what was the team mood like on the bus going back to the hotel? Were you euphoric about it or was it more of a business as usual kind of thing?
VICTOR OLADIPO: We were happy about the win. But it sits in that you know you have a game tomorrow. And we’ve got to get back to the drawing board. And that’s exactly what we did when we first got back to the hotel, we got back to the drawing board. It’s a big game tomorrow and we’re going to have to come ready to play.
Q. What was it about Coach Crean and Indiana that really lured you to commit there?
CODY ZELLER: He’s a great coach, obviously. The program wasn’t winning a whole lot when they recruited me. But I had confidence in the guys that were already here and what Coach Crean was doing with the program. I liked him pretty well just from the recruiting process, and I couldn’t be happier.
Q. What gave you the confidence in him?
CODY ZELLER: Just talking to him. During the recruiting process you talk to all the coaches quite a bit. After you talk to a guy that much you just kind of get a feeling for what he’s about. I found out that he was a pretty genuine guy about what he was saying and I had confidence in it.
Q. Is there any other team out there that you can compare the pressure to that you will see on Saturday that you maybe have faced earlier in the season?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: Not really. Big Ten teams don’t really press and stuff like that. Their length kind of reminds you of Kentucky the way they’re long on length, but as far as pressure, we really haven’t faced anybody like them.
Q. Coach Crean was talking last night that you guys basically didn’t see Tim Buckley leading up to the game yesterday because he was so busy with prep. Going into this one, could you talk about how the assistants prepared you guys for these games, especially on a quick turnaround?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: They do a great job of preparing us. And whenever we get in we’ve just got to learn the game plan pretty fast, it’s kind of on the move. We do a great job of learning it and actually going out and doing it.
Q. What did you think watching VCU’s run through the tournament last year and what was your reaction when you saw that they were in the same bracket grouping as you guys for this tournament?
CODY ZELLER: I didn’t think too much about it. It’s a different team than they had last year. We’re a different team. We didn’t meet them last year, so we don’t have anything to compare it to. But they’re obviously a great team and we look forward to the game.
Q. Victor, how do you balance the excitement of being here mixed with the pressure and all that stuff? How do you guys handle that?
VICTOR OLADIPO: It’s like once you get into the game and the ball is thrown up and you are with your teammates, the nervousness and the pressure kind of goes away. Now that we have a game under our belt, there’s no really reason to be feeling any pressure or feeling any anxiousness. It’s just time to play basketball now.
Q. When you look back to when you got here at Indiana what did you think needed to be accomplished or some of the things that needed to be accomplished to get you to this point?
COACH CREAN: When we first started?
COACH CREAN: Well, there was no way to put it into context when we first started. Really, what I thought I knew about Indiana and the Indiana that I would have imagined, that wasn’t what it was at that time. A guy like Dan Dakich did a really good job of trying to fix it in a short period of time, before the season ended, and made some points, that looking back on it now they made a lot of sense.
And when we got in there it was just a lot different. There was no way to start thinking about where we were going to end up because literally we had to get a team ready to be on the court that year with 28 points coming back. So a lot of our time was spent on recruiting for that season. Spent time recruiting that upcoming class, which was obviously going to be paramount. A lot of time spent recruiting the younger classes.
But I think the most important thing is every day that passed and we realized that we were in a tough situation, we needed to make sure that ?? the fans were so great to us and so gracious ?? that we had to make sure that we kept them with us, because we were starting to get a feel day after day that this was going to be really, really hard. And the bottom line is they stayed with us and our former players came back in droves.
As we’ve gone through it, then you start to really look forward to the future and to get to points like this, but when we first got there, there was no way to think clearly on anything for really past the next couple of days. It was all about what’s going to happen next, how are we going to handle it and how do we get a team ready for the season.
Q. Has it progressed as quickly as you thought or a little quicker?
COACH CREAN: There’s no way to quantify it. I don’t even use the word “patience” with our fans. Nobody knew what they were being patient with. Nobody had been through it. I certainly hadn’t and our staff hadn’t been through it, our players hadn’t been through anything like that.
There really is no way to quantify it. We just had to keep getting better day after day. Now, the vision never wavered. It really didn’t. We always knew where we wanted to end up, and we’re continuing to try to get there.
But as far as putting any timeline on it, especially with the way that we had to literally have a brand?new team that first year, there was no way to have that timeline in place to say we’re going to do this in X amount of years.
Q. Talk about how your staff has rarely seen Tim in the past few days. Talk about what your staff did since last night.
COACH CREAN: Seen too much of Tim now. He’s been diligent. He’s been helping all of us. We got back at it last night right away, brought the team in for a little bit, Tony La Russa spoke to them again, which was really good. And then the kids went to bed and went to see their families and we continued to work.
We’ve just spent a lot of time watching segments of how they played. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to really understand their pressure, to understand the things that are not as normal for our guys of what they’ve seen. A lot of times your concepts can take care of some of the things you see in a short turnaround, and there are a few things.
But this is a tough preparation because of their pressure, because of their ?? we see a lot of good pick?and?roll teams. This team is no different. This team doesn’t take a backseat to anybody we’ve played in pick?and?roll basketball. They do a lot of switching. They make you get ready for a lot.
And we’ve tried to take that time, not try to inundate our players with a ton of information, but try to keep giving it to them in bits and pieces. And then this practice that we have this afternoon will be very important.
Q. Is there any way to replicate their pressure in practice? Gregg Marshall from Wichita State said he was using six guys on the press to get his guys used to not having time and space. Is there any way to do that?
COACH CREAN: I don’t know if we’ll do it today. What we used to do to get ready for Louisville’s press back at Marquette is we’d start it with 8 and drop it to 7, to 6, and then give them confidence at 5. What we’ve done at Indiana is more 7 on 5 and rotate guys in, maybe sometimes from different spots.
I don’t know if we’ll do a lot of that today because we’ve got to put a couple of different pressure releases in. But there will be some live action, there will be some stepping through traps. There’s some definitive places that VCU wants you to catch the ball, which is like most pressing teams, which is deep in the corner, and then try to get you to throw it back underneath the basket. And they do an excellent job.
And this is not a game where I think we’re going to be able to bring fatigue to the game. I thought we were able to bring fatigue to the game last night. I think this team is deep. I think they’re used to the way they play. And we’re not going to be able to replicate it as much. So it’s really a lot more about how strong we are with the ball, what our vision is like and what our mindset is like in seeing that press.
Q. You and your coaching staff have been through NCAA tournament situations before. Is there a balance between getting as much work you want but getting enough rest for you to be as crisp as you want to be?
COACH CREAN: Absolutely. But it’s more important for the players. It’s adrenalin. It really is. Nobody is tired. The coaches are excited and we’re locked in. There’s a lot of dialogue.
The one thing that I like to do back home is I like to get away and really kind of watch a lot of the games myself before we sit and have meetings. It’s a little bit harder to do that right now because there’s less time.
But our conversations are great. But, yeah, nobody is sleep deprived. We get the balance. Went for a run before I got ?? before I went up, changed and got on the bus to come over here. We’ve got pretty good balance.
It’s most important for the players that they stay fresh, that they stay excited, that they absorb what we’re trying to give them. And it’s not so much that it goes in one ear and they don’t really comprehend what you’re trying to give, that you do it in bits and pieces. That’s the one thing I learned a long time ago.
I saw Tom Izzo reference 1998 when we were playing Eastern Michigan and Princeton and Connecticut. And that’s very much where that formula was created, and really happenstance. It was late at night and it was very short meetings for the players. And it worked. So I’ve adopted that. I know he has.
And that’s really what you try to do to keep them at a fever pitch so when that game time comes that they feel great, that they feel prepared but yet they’re really rested and ready to roll.
Q. You’ve had success at multiple programs now. You coached Wesley Matthews at Marquette, so now there’s a coaching vacancy with the Blazers, I imagine it’s just a matter of time before we see you here in Portland full?time?
COACH CREAN: I think Tim Buckley already told Bob that he is not a candidate for the Portland Trail Blazers job. We leave the declarations of not being involved in jobs to John Calipari, not me. I told him I was going to say that. I talked to him today. We were sharing notes. I say that in complete jest, and with respect, and with respect.
Q. Maurice Creek is the guy that’s had to sit through the season on the sidelines and last night he’s in the civilian seats. What was that for him like last night and what has it been like for him the whole season?
COACH CREAN: It’s a great question. I tell you what, I hate that. If there was one thing that anybody gave me, you can change one thing about the NCAA tournament it would be to have a few more people be involved in that bench. And it’s just the way that it is. But everybody down there has a job to do.
I just wanted to make sure before we went out that he understood there was really no way around that and it’s nothing against him at all. But I’ve had three or four people tell me, including the guys last night that were here, including Tony La Russa, my friend Dick Strong, they kept talking about how great our guys were at calling things out. And Maurice is a big part of that.
And when you hear something like that, because I’m not tuned into that during the game, I’m tuned into it on the bench, but that’s a great thing. Maurice has got a maturity about him. This cannot be easy. It’s so hard ?? there’s no way to be in his shoes when you look at this and you look at all he’s had to endure with those three surgeries within 22 months. But he keeps coming back.
There’s obviously no way he would have been able to play this year. He’s never been able to practice with us, other than shoot a little bit. But I just ?? there’s no question we want him to have the success that he so truly and richly deserves moving forward.
It’s like why it’s so hard to deal with when a guy like Verdell Jones puts so much into this, does so much and then can’t play in this. And then you think about where Maurice has been the last couple of years. Again, as we said so many times to him, his mother said to him, God doesn’t give you anything that you can’t handle. And I think Maurice is living proof of that. And really, really proud of how he’s continued to respond and mature this season.
Q. What about their pressure makes them so effective, a lot of teams obviously maybe try to press, but VCU does it better than anybody?
COACH CREAN: It’s their length. And you grew up in Louisville, so you know what that length has been like, with what Rick has done with those presses at Louisville. Because it’s the intensity of it. There’s a toughness to it. But it’s really, really hard to play against that kind of length. And they have tremendous length.
And I think they do an excellent job of pushing you in a spot. Their traps are really hard nosed, they close their traps. They’re constantly coming at you if you get an advance with the back?tipping procedures.
So you’ve got to do a great job of catching the ball where you want to catch it. If you catch it where they want you to catch it, it’s going to be a problem. It’s going to be in the deep corner, there’s going to be two defenders that are live and there’s going to be a baseline and a sideline line that now turn into four people. And we’ve watched so much film where people have been in that situation and there’s no way to capitalize on that.
So where you catch it, what you do on the next pass, those are the most important things. Your fundamentals really come into play, getting the ball out in front, reversing the basketball, head up, all those types of things. But if you asked one question, I think it’s their length. Or one reason, I think it’s their length.
Q. What was kind of the overall message that Tony La Russa gave to the team yesterday?
COACH CREAN: There was a couple of different ones. When you can have speakers that can give you real life situations there’s nothing like it. It was like this when Jim and John, my brother?in?laws, were in a while back. He really talked about things that made their Cardinals team special. And the messages that he gave them. When you look at their team and look at how ?? we’ve got a lot of Cubs fans in there and he took a few shots at them, which is okay.
But the bottom line is everybody can respond to a message when they’ve been through it to a degree. That team was really ?? they were close to being out of it. And there wasn’t really a lot of people midyear, end of the year that were picking them to go anywhere. And their team really rallied around one another. And he gave some of those examples. And they hit home with our guys.
Q. Cody is obviously from a basketball family. Can you talk about the advantages of recruiting someone like that that’s watched siblings have success and what he’s done to help your program get back to this point?
COACH CREAN: Well, the recruiting part of it is nothing was going to phase him. The recruiting never phased him. They had a plan. They had a process. I don’t know this for sure, but I think they probably learned and developed this process when Luke, the oldest, was going through it, when Steve and Lorri had their oldest son go through it. And they probably had it down pretty well when Tyler was going through it. And it was nothing new when Cody was going through it.
It was truly an honor to recruit him. And the day that he was making his decision, it was a Thursday, I believe, I’d gone to get some breakfast and I made a call to his father. And it was, on my part, it was somewhat emotional. I said I don’t know how this is going to turn out, I know I hope it turns out, but it has been an absolute honor of the parents of our three children, my wife and I, to be able to watch how they raised theirs, especially Cody. And I say that because nothing was going to speed them up, nothing was going to distract them. They knew what they wanted to do in the sense of how they were going to have it play out. And that’s exactly how Cody is as a player.
And you’re starting to see it with the jump shot, you’re seeing it with the driving. We see all those things in practice. It’s a comfort level he has, when he brings that comfort level to the game that he knows he can do those things, his game takes another step. That’s why he’s as good as he is right now. There’s so much great basketball ahead of him.
And that’s really what the recruiting process was like. It was fun to watch him get better. It was fun to get to know him. It was fun to see the process that they used and the things that were important to them.
And as I’ve said many times before back home, when the Zellers are able to write a book, I’d be the first in line to buy it, when it comes to how to deal with your children, how to raise them, and in the same sense how to have people that have that kind of attention bestowed upon them, they’re as real a deal a family as you could ever possibly imagine, to have all this attention that they get.
Q. Is there anything that you can draw upon from Butler’s national semifinal victory over VCU?
COACH CREAN: You know, we haven’t looked at that yet. And we haven’t looked at a couple of tapes that we want to look at them from last year. So that’s a good question.
I think the bottom line is as we go through what we want to do to attack them today and be able to get back tonight, watch the practice film and decide is this what we want to do and spend some time tonight and maybe tomorrow morning a little bit on bits and pieces from last year.
We’ve seen enough of how they’ve just destroyed certain teams this year with their pressure. And that’s where we wanted to get our guys’ attention more than anything else.
One thing that helps us and helps these guys is when they can see, okay, if this team would have done this, if this was open, look at how they’re handling this, and I think our guys start to get a better example. At the same time they see just how good it is.
Q. How important is it for all five guys to handle the pressure and not just Jordy?
COACH CREAN: It’s important. As we said as a team last night and this morning, everyone has to be a decision maker, a handler, everyone has to be a play maker, and everyone has to be a finisher. It’s the way that it is.
To expect one or two people to break this pressure, that’s what they would want. And certainly we will miss Verdell. There’s no question. There’s no way around it, we will. But at the same time, other guys have to step into these opportunities and play with confidence and strength and toughness.
And like I said, execution equals recognition, and recognizing what’s there and what the defense is giving us, and we’ve just got to go play.
Q. How much do Vic and Will change the attitude of this program, and how are those guys different and similar personally, I guess?
COACH CREAN: That’s a good question. I think they came in, when they came in a year and a half ago, they came in with a tremendous work ethic. They established right away that they were going to be full?time recipients of the benefits of having a place look Cook Hall. And they were in there a lot. We’d see them in the summertime bouncing in and out. Jordan would be in there a lot.
They helped really bring an even stronger work ethic to the program, even more of ?? as simple as this sounds, it’s really sometimes kind of complex, they love basketball. I mean, they love it. And there’s very few things you could ask them about the game or about college or pro that they wouldn’t have a clue, and they love playing it, they love following it.
And that kind of permeates inside of your team. And they came at a time when guys were kind of at the crossroads, how much do they love it, we’re not winning, all this hard work, all this stuff that I’m asking them to do and we’re doing, and we’re not getting a payoff for it, and these guys really brought another level of energy to the program. This past summer it went up a couple more notches.
And we had a lot more guys that had a hard work, work ethic, gym rat mentality that spring, summer and fall than we had had in the past. And some guys changed, but I also think there was, we’ve got to keep up, this is going to be really, really competitive. And Will and Victor led the way.
And I think there’s no question that the success that we’re having this year, when you look at how their improvement has been, it’s a big part of it. It speaks for itself.
Q. I know your players talked about this last night, but can you talk about the way Remy Abell played and the game last night and how important he will continue to be?
COACH CREAN: Remy is fearless, and I think that’s a big part of it. Remy is hard to deal with in practice. He’s hard to guard, I mean when I say hard to deal with. He gets to the lane. He’s got the strongest lower body on our team. He’s had some very good games. I think the Purdue game, at Purdue gave him tremendous confidence that he could be a big part of this team and lead it to victory.
And there’s no question that he’s now got another coach in Verdell sitting there and making sure he’s ready to go. Sitting by him in the film room. Those things are important.
But the biggest thing is he’s fear also. He doesn’t get too tight or wound up in all of this. He’s played in a lot of big games in his mind and this is just another stage for him.
Q. How important is it for you guys tomorrow to get a good offensive game out of Juvonte Reddic?
DARIUS THEUS: I think it’s very important for him to come out and play and just to show his skills against Zeller who is like a pro. It’s a good opportunity for him to show how good he is.
Q. Why do you feel you guys are so much better defensively this year than you were last year?
DARIUS THEUS: I just think the guys really have a commitment to defense. And we showed last year that defense wins games. I know coach really put an emphasis on it this year, that we’ve really got to put a hundred percent of our energy on defense. He gives us a lot of freedom on offense. He wants us to be very committed on defense. And I think that’s what it is this year.
Q. Even when you guys are not forcing turnovers necessarily what does your defense do to unsettle offense?
DARIUS THEUS: They just try to ?? defense just try to speed them up. Some teams like to walk the ball up the court or they just want to play at a slow pace. If our pressure can speed them up a little bit, it can really take them out of their offense. If we’re not forcing turnovers, then we’re speeding offenses up, they’re not used to doing that, we’re just trying to pressure as much as we can to speed up the offensive team.
Q. Athletes at your level in general are pretty confident. You guys seem to be supremely confident, and it’s like the idea of losing never even crosses your mind. I wonder how you develop that attitude and did you learn much of it from the players who preceded you last year?
DARIUS THEUS: Yeah. From last year we were with a great group of seniors last year, and they told us about heart. You’ve just got to have heart to play the game of basketball. And it comes with confidence. A lot of players have confidence. That’s just what you want to have within yourself. And you also get confidence from your teammates. It comes from each other and comes from within yourself.
Q. With a team like Indiana who has kind of been comfortable playing at a faster pace, like you said before, do you guys change your defense at all or do you just kind of adjust to them being able to play that fast?
DARIUS THEUS: No, we don’t change anything at all. We want to bring our style of play into the game. We’re going to pressure. We’re going to be very aggressive, like we always have been. We’re going to try to force turnovers like we have been doing all season.
Q. Would you mind addressing the confidence question, because you’ve come along the last two or three years?
TROY DANIELS: That’s something that Coach Smart really emphasizes in practice, just going out there and playing aggressive, loose and confident on the offensive end and playing our havoc on the defensive end. That’s just something you have to have within yourself. Knowing you can go out there and do it. If you don’t, you’re not going to have the great results that we have. And we have guys that believe in themselves and believe in our teammates and we’re able to go make plays.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like to be the Cinderella of March, what the run was like last year. How has that changed the program there at VCU?
TROY DANIELS: It was a great run we had last year. We’re trying to start that run this year. It’s great for the community. Great for VCU. And really great for us.
Touching back to the motivation standpoint, it was just a lot of people were doubting us, and we’re very motivated. And it helps us win in games, late in games. We know a lot of people are against us, we just want to use that as motivation. We want to start this run this year, so we’re looking forward to it.
Q. Is it possible for a mid?major like VCU to ever shake that Cinderella tag when you do well in a tournament?
TROY DANIELS: I have no idea. We can be the Cinderella, we don’t have to be the Cinderella. We are just going to go out and play hard every game in the tournament, because everybody wants to win.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Coach Smart’s style, what makes him unique, from a player’s perspective what makes him a successful coach?
TROY DANIELS: He really just emphasizes in practice that we’re great. And he really instills that in us. He makes us feel like nobody can stop us. He builds confidence in us, first of all. And then we work on our defense more than we work on our offense. Offense will come if we play aggressive, confident and loose. The defensive end and us being confident on both ends of the court is really a testament to Coach Smart.
Q. Last couple of years you guys have beaten UCLA, USC, Kansas. What did those schools mean to you as basketball kids growing up? Do the names on the front of the uniform, does it mean anything now when you’re going up against a school with a history like Indiana?
BRADFORD BURGESS: Those schools that we looked up growing up, those players that came from those programs, they went on to do great things in college and in the NBA. We aspire to be like those guys. When we get an opportunity to play against those guys, we just see another opportunity to be the team. And we did a great job of that last year. And hopefully we continue that this year.
Q. In what ways is this team similar to last year’s team and in what ways is it different?
BRADFORD BURGESS: Really, the only similarity is the name on the jersey. We lost a group of guys from last year’s team that did great things. But this year we have a new nucleus of guys who are stepping up and doing great things for this team. Our defense is one of the best. We’ve done a great job of getting teams out of what they do. And hopefully we can continue to do that.
Q. Why do you feel you guys are so much better defensively this year than you were last year?
BRADFORD BURGESS: I’d say our focus. Coach does a great job of keeping us focused on stopping teams and getting them out of what they do. Last year we had so many offensive weapons. We didn’t focus as much as we needed to on the defensive end, we tried to almost outscore teams sometimes, and that hurt us last year.
This year we’ve done a great job for a majority of the season getting teams out of what they do, and enforcing our havoc style defense on them.
Q. There seems to be no self?doubt among the players on this team. The shots you took late in the game last night came, just your second shot of the second half, and you were one for like six on your 3’s before that. What is it about you guys that gives you that confidence and where does it come from?
BRADFORD BURGESS: It just comes from within. We’re a confident group of guys and that’s the only way we want to play is with confidence. And that’s the only way coach allows us to play. If we’re not playing confident or loose or aggressive on the court, he doesn’t want us out there. And that’s what he’s saying to us all the time is to be aggressive, confident and loose on the floor and just play your game.
And I just had an open shot at the end and I made it. And Darius had a play at the end, and he was confident in making his shot, and he made it.
Q. At what point in your career did you decide that going to pressing, trapping, havoc style was the way to go for you?
COACH SMART: I just always liked the press, even going back to when I played in high school and college. I was fortunate to work for quite a few coaches that had a lot of know?how about pressing. And sometimes it comes down to who your influences are.
And I worked for three coaches specifically that I think were terrific, are terrific pressing coaches, Keith Dambrot at the University of Akron, Oliver Purnell I worked for at Dayton and at Clemson. And those Clemson teams, to me, were as good of pressing teams as any in the country. And then I worked for Billy Donovan at Florida, as well, who everybody knows is a great pressing coach.
Q. Does it also help that the press was already established at VCU before you got there. You had guys that kind of knew how to do it to a degree. Did you have to change a lot or was it established that they knew how to play it?
COACH SMART: They didn’t press the same way that we press now, not taking away from anything they did. But we did, we had to install a completely new pressing system.
But I think to your point, there were some guys that had some pressing concepts already built in, Anthony Grant did a terrific job, getting guys to play hard. Getting guys to extend ball pressure. And that’s what pressing is all about.
So when we got there a few years ago, we put in our presses and we’ve kind of built the system from there and continued to evolve it.
Q. Your players seem to have no self?doubt. They seem to never think that they’re going to lose. And you talk about playing aggressive, confident and loose. How do you instill that in them? Is it something that starts in the recruiting process when you see new players or do you develop it once they get there?
COACH SMART: We talk about it a lot. Basketball is a game that these guys have been playing for a long time. They’ve made winning plays for years and years and years, but now they find themselves on this grand scale of being in the NCAA tournament. But that shouldn’t change anything, nothing should change in terms of what they want to do.
I know we’re playing the Hoosiers, but I’ll reference the movie “Hoosiers,” they talked about in the movie, the baskets are still ten feet. The court is still the same length. Nothing has changed.
So I think for our guys, as coaches we try to instill a lot of confidence in them. Let them know they can go play their game. Our No. 1 rule on the court is to play hard. And if guys follow that rule, which I think our guys do a pretty good job of doing, then I’m all about allowing them to let their hair down offensively and go attack.
Q. When you guys are playing, have a short turnaround like you do tomorrow, how much of an advantage is there to playing a unique style?
COACH SMART: Well, we’ll see tomorrow how much of an advantage there is.
One of the reasons ?? there’s a lot of reasons that we play the way we do. But one of the reasons we play with our style is because it’s different than what teams are used to practicing against in their own practices and playing against throughout the course of their schedule. In the case of Indiana, it’s a Big Ten schedule and whoever they played in the non?conference play.
So in theory, our style is something that will be new for them to see tomorrow. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t work out. But we practice the way that we play every single day. And in theory that should be an advantage for us. Hopefully our guys can turn theory into practice.
Q. To follow up on that, Gregg Marshall from Wichita State said they used six guys in practice and press. Is it possible for an opponent to replicate what you guys do?
COACH SMART: You can do certain things in practice, but I don’t think completely. Just like if we play against a team that runs the Princeton offense, it’s next to impossible for us to replicate that. We’re just not a Princeton offense team.
We can’t replicate Cody Zeller. He’s one of the best big guys in the country. We don’t have anyone we can throw out there on our scout team and say, he’s going to do what Cody Zeller does.
I’ve never been big on that, putting six guys out there. I understand the concept, but there’s certain opportunities that are going to be there when there’s five guys out there and when you put a sixth guy it’s a little bit artificial.
But I think what that does is maybe addresses the mindset of hey, there’s going to be people flying at you, there’s going to people all around. If we can break the press with an extra guy, then we’re going to be fine against five guys.
It’s much more mental than it is anything else. And for us in certain games this year that’s where we’ve had an advantage is mentally we’ve really been able to get teams on their heels. If we can be the aggressors, usually we have a really good chance to win.
Q. You were talking about Cody Zeller and not being able to replicate him. How much of a tough match?up is it with the press and with him being able to run the floor so well?
COACH SMART: Yeah. I’ll tell you what, just watching him on tape, he’s as good as any big kid that we’ve played in the three years I’ve been at VCU. And the scary thing is he’s only a freshman. His future is extremely bright. He’s going to do terrific things at Indiana and beyond.
You talk about him running the floor. We definitely can’t give him easy baskets in transition. I would guess that one of the things that they’ll try to do is get the ball in quickly after makes or certainly on misses, get the ball outlet quickly and then look for Zeller running to the rim. If you can get the ball in extremely quickly before the press is set up, then that’s one way to beat pressure defensive teams.
So for us, that’s going to be a big point of emphasis. We have to get in the press quickly and make sure we get back and take away layups from him.
Q. The nation has gotten to know you and your program a little bit over the past couple of years. You’ve spent a few days in Portland now. And as of last night there’s a vacancy in the head coaching position of the Portland Trail Blazers. So I guess the question is: When are we going to see you throw your hat in that ring?
COACH SMART: Never. You want me to elaborate on that (laughter)?
A couple of the fans last night after our game asked me that. It’s unfortunate that in this business there’s so much change in coaching, and Nate McMillan is a phenomenal coach. But I guess in the NBA that’s commonplace for during the year coaching jobs to change hands.
But I’m in the moment right now at VCU. And I love it at VCU, I’m just excited about our opportunity against Indiana tomorrow.
Q. Are jobs like that something ?? is that appealing to you, that NBA position?
COACH SMART: The question was: Is the NBA job appealing to a college coach? I can’t really speak for anyone other than myself. Certainly there’s a lot of college coaches that have looked at the opportunity to go to the NBA.
For me, I’ve never thought about it seriously. I’m just a 34?year?old guy at VCU. I played at Kenyon College. That kind of stuff is unreal to me. I just try to do a good job with our team here and hopefully things will work out.
Q. The Hoosiers attributed some of their success yesterday to getting out here early and their preparation. I’m curious what stands out to you about your team’s preparation in particular in these instances where you have a very short turnaround?
COACH SMART: Well, I think you can get there early and you can fall flat on your face. Or you can get there late and not play well.
So I don’t think it’s so much about when you get there, for us. Maybe for other teams it is. I think in the book, the “Art of War,” it says the first side to the battlefield normally wins.
It’s all about how you look at it. But it comes down to having your guys, when you get on the floor, locked in on what they need to do. And for us when we got to Portland, the first practice we had, we practiced over at Portland State. I thought it was just okay. But then I thought about it when the practice got done. And it’s a five and a half hour flight, our guys had been laying around in the hotel for awhile.
So, again, it’s all about once you take the floor for the game, are you in the right frame of mind? Are your guys ready to execute the game plan? With the short turnaround, there’s so many things that you try to cram into your guys’ heads, especially with a Tom Crean?coached team. They’re probably putting in ten new plays as we speak. We can’t know everything that they do. We just have to have three, five, seven key aspects of what they do that we’re trying to take away.
Q. Since you already got a coach question, you’ve obviously been mentioned for various actual college jobs, Illinois among them. Have you given any thought to that? Is it a distraction to hear your name starting to come up when you’re getting ready for an NCAA tournament run?
COACH SMART: No and no. I have not given any thought to it. And no, it’s not a distraction.
It’s pretty easy actually while you’re still playing just to focus on the task at hand. We talk to the guys all the time about being in the moment, letting go of the past and certainly not focusing on the future, because you don’t have control over those things.
There’s a lot of things that in the past that we certainly would love to go back and change. I think all of us here. And there’s a lot of stuff in the future that we’d love to mold and shape and control. But all we can control is what we have today.
And that’s been our motto as a team all year long is to own today, focus on today. Today is all about preparing for Indiana. Tomorrow is about playing Indiana. And then we’ll go from there.
Q. Troy Daniels said that in a practice you’re always telling the players that they’re great and it’s something you’re trying to instill in them. So are your practices just sort of big love?ins filled with pats on your back and everything or do you have to do it in a variety of ways?
COACH SMART: I wouldn’t call them love?ins. I would say ?? you know, I’m a pretty positive guy. But I’m also very energetic and very demanding of our guys. I think we talked about this before, you try to get the best out of your players. You’re trying to get them to where maybe they don’t know that they can go. Sometimes that requires a pat on the back. Sometimes it requires a hug. Sometimes it requires a swift kick in the butt. So you just have to do what the situation requires.
We’ve got a lot of young guys on our team, and even someone like Troy who is a junior barely played at all, he was sitting and watching last year this time when we were making our NCAA tournament run. So we’ve got to help those guys understand how great they can be. And particularly Troy, I’m always telling Troy I think he’s the best shooter in the country. I want him to believe that. I want him to feel that. And well, last night he tied the school record for made 3’s in a season. I think there’s something to breathing life into these guys and letting them go out there and play.
Q. You’ve given us the first Sun Tzu reference. I know you collect quotations, I read that someone. Any particular quotations you’ve rolled out in particular for this postseason?
COACH SMART: I use them pretty sparingly with the team. Those guys get tired of that stuff. They’re not into quotes like me. You learn in coaching it’s not about you, it’s about the guys you’re working with.
No, I haven’t rolled too many out. We joke around, our coaching staff, we use different quotes. I think there’s a Shakespeare quote, everyone wants to talk about the past, Shakespeare said what’s won is done. Soul’s joy lies in the doing.
We’ve used that at times because everyone wants to talk about last year’s Final Four run, but that’s done, that’s over. It’s all about now.
Q. Can you elaborate on that a little bit, talking about getting over the run from last year. You said you’ve moved on, it’s in the past?
COACH SMART: Yeah, we’re over it. No disrespect to the media, but it’s pretty much the media that continues to bring it up. Which is fine. Everyone has a job to do and it’s a compelling story. But as a team we moved on a long, long time ago. The guys all have their rings. They all have ?? when they go in our arena at home there’s a banner up there that says 2011 Final Four, Houston.
But nobody really sits around in their room and dwells on it or is watching tapes of last year. It’s all about the opportunity that we have now. And there’s 32 teams after tonight that have a chance to win a National Championship, 32 teams. And there’s 300?some teams in Division I basketball.
So to be around, to be alive at this time of year in the NCAA tournament is such a special, golden opportunity. So why would we take any of our energy and focus on the past?
Q. Bradford talked about how last year you guys had a lot more offensive play makers. And how this year you guys are really focused a lot more on defense. How much better is this team in implementing your system?
COACH SMART: Defensively? Yeah, much better. I think we’re much better defensively than we were last year. Last year’s team could be good on defense at times and we were at times, but nowhere near the level of focus, game in, game out, for a 40?minute period, as this year’s team has.
Because we’re not as good of a shooting team, we have our stretches where we score really well, where we shoot really well. But we really depend on our pressure defense. We depend on our ability to stop teams in the half court and I think that’s what’s allowed us to win 29 games.
Q. Just curious, the success your conference has had with you guys and George Mason, are you surprised you haven’t gotten the benefit of the doubt on Selection Sunday as a league that maybe the A?10 and the Mountain West has gotten at this point?
COACH SMART: I’m not surprised. A little bit disappointed about that. I think Drexel is a team that definitely deserved to be in the NCAA tournament this year. I’m not on the selection committee, so I didn’t have a vote. Anytime they have the season they have, winning 19 games, finish first place in a very competitive league, I think they should have been included. But they weren’t. And unfortunately, that’s what happened to us as a league. We only got one team this year.
I do think if you look over the past several seasons the teams from our league that have been given the opportunity in the NCAA tournament have really taken advantage of it and done well. So hopefully in the future we’ll continue to do better. We’ll continue to get more teams in the tournament. And I think as we get teams in the tournament we’ll have an opportunity to advance.