As part of the NCAA tournament interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel has also been able to catch up with some familiar names from tournaments past. One such player is former VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez, who helped lead the Rams from the First Four to the Final Four last year.
Jon Teitel: You played for Coach Shaka Smart at VCU. What makes him such a good coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him?
Joey Rodriguez: He is a different guy who you can call whenever you need something. We fed off his level of confidence, and he gave us the freedom to play. He taught us something called ACL (Aggressive, Confident, and Loose), and we just followed that plan.
JT: What are your memories of the 2009 NCAA tournament (Eric Maynor scored 21 points but missed a 17-foot shot at the buzzer in a one-point loss to UCLA)?
JR: We all struggled in the first half, and then started to cause some turnovers in the second half. Eric was our best player, so the last shot was his to take.
JT: After a four-point overtime loss to Old Dominion in the 2010 CAA tournament title game you won five straight postseason games to clinch the CBI title. How devastating was the loss to ODU, and what did it mean to you to win the title?
JR: The ODU loss was devastating, as we were up by about 12 with four minutes left in regulation before losing in OT. The CBI win was great. We got some extra wins under our belt with our first-year coach, which helped us going into the following year.
2011 NCAA Tournament
JT: You scored eight points in a win over USC in the First Four. How nervous were you on Selection Sunday as a "bubble team", and how much of a blur is it to see your name on TV and then have to go play your opening game only three days later?
JR: It was a total blur. I was on all the websites looking at all the brackets I could the entire week leading up to it. That was a very exciting day when we got into the tournament.
JT: You scored 17 points and made all nine of your free throws in a win over Georgetown. How did it feel to hear your fans chanting "Jay Bilas" (who said VCU did not belong in the tournament) toward the end of the game?
JR: It was pretty funny! It was awesome to play in the United Center where Michael Jordan had played, and since we were playing Georgetown I got to see Hall of Fame coach John Thompson sitting in the front row.
JT: You had 12 points and 11 assists in a win over three-seed Purdue. Where does that game rank among the best ball-control performances you have ever seen (26 assists to just four turnovers)?
JR: It is probably the best. We were definitely clicking on all cylinders and our execution was the best I have ever seen. Purdue was one of the best defensive teams in the tournament, but they could not stop us.
JT: You had ten assists including an inbounds pass to Bradford Burgess for a layup with 7.1 seconds left to clinch a one-point overtime win over Florida State. What did Coach Smart tell you after the Seminoles called a timeout to switch their defense?
JR: We were going to run an inbounds play called 12, but he switched it to 11 and then Brad just got open.
JT: You scored nine points in a ten-point win over one-seed Kansas. Was it extra-special to beat the Jayhawks after one of the Morris twins told you "the run ends here" during the pre-game captains' meeting?
JR: That game was really special. Brandon Rozzell finished with 12 points but really carried us in the first half. I relayed the statement to my teammates, so we were ready to play.
JT: You had eight assists in an eight-point loss to eventual runner-up Butler. How did the run to the Final Four change your life?
JR: I got to go to the White House and now I am doing some things with Allstate along with Hall of Famers like Dick Vitale and James Worthy.
JT: You graduated in the top five of several career statistical categories (second with 211 three pointers and 237 steals, and third with 580 assists and 80.2 FT%). Do you feel like you are one of the best players in VCU history?
JR: I do. I never missed a game in four years and my teammates and I did a lot for the school.
JT: Your alma mater plays Wichita State on Thursday night. What do you think about their seed, and do you think they will be able to pull off the upset?
JR: I figured they would get an 11 or 12 seed, even with a down year in the conference. We played a tough BracketBusters game against Wichita State last year that we won by a point, so hopefully we can beat them again this year.
Joey is a part of Allstate's "Team Mayhem" campaign and will be at the Final Four in New Orleans to interact with fans at Bracket Town.