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Shaka Smart Says This Year’s VCU Team is Harder Working Than Last Year’s Final Four Team
March 7, 2012 – 6:00 am by Eric Schmoldt
Shaka Smart isn’t going to come right out and say that this year’s VCU team is better than last year’s group. To do so would be foolish, and likely false, seeing as last year’s team made a Final Four run. That said, Smart has no problem putting it out there that this Rams team is the hardest-working team, and the one that has most bought in to the principle of hard work.
The Rams secured another berth in the Big Dance by building up an early lead and then holding on to beat Drexel — the CAA’s top seed — 59-56. While it’s tough to predict any sort of back-to-back national semifinal runs, the Rams are not a team that anyone is going to look forward to playing during March Madness.

Shaka Smart joined 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis with Dan Dakich to discuss the Rams’ hot start against Drexel, his mantra of havoc, how he gets players to enjoy playing so hard, this year’s team compared to last year’s and the hardest-working team he’s coached.
Did you sense your guys would come out hot in the tournament title game against Drexel?:
“I really sensed that they were locked in. We had a terrific start the day before against George Mason. We got off to a 22-0 run. In that game, we were just making everything. In the Drexel game … I really sensed that we were very, very locked in on the scouting report, what we needed to do to defend them. Our guys knew that we had to play with a high level of physicality because of Drexel’s toughness. They really carried out the gameplan well.”
How did you come up with your system dubbed “Havoc?:”
“Well, I’m not going to say it was by accident, but in the press conference when I got the job, I said that we were going to wreak havoc on our opponents. At the time, I hadn’t said, ‘Well, this is going to be our style of play,’ but I used that word. … Dave Telep was visiting with our staff and we were talking about branding and what is VCU basketball going to be all about? He referenced that teleconference and he talked about how, ‘If we’re going to play the way we were talking about playing, that was the word we should use.’”
How do you create an atmosphere where the players seem to really enjoy playing so hard?:
“We just tried to really lead with enthusiasm with coaches and get our older guys to do the same. … You can look at practice in a lot of different ways. You can say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a great opportunity to practice here and get better.’ Or you can say, ‘Aw man, we’ve got to practice and it’s going to be a drag for three hours.’  I’ve just really tried to get our guys to have an enthusiasm about what we’re doing.”
Can you make any comparisons with this year’s team to last year’s Final Four team?:
“We’re better defensively than we were last year. Adding Briante Weber, who’s just a defensive force for us, and then our returning players having another year under their belt in terms of being a part of the system, it’s really what we work on more than anything at practice … is pressuring the basketball, trapping the basketball and getting your hands on the basketball. … On the offensive end, we’re not as explosive as we were. We have our moments where we can make shots but last year just had so many different threats from outside. That’s what allowed us to make more threes than anyone’s ever made in an NCAA tournament run. Hopefully we can get hot and make some shots at the right time.”
Do you really mean it when you say this is the hardest-working team you’ve ever coached?:
“No question. And it’s also been the most bought in I’ve ever seen a group of guys. As you know, that’s really up to the players. … You can’t make someone buy in completely to everything that you’re saying 24 hours a day. … They always say that you play how you practice and that’s why we’re able to play so hard because we do practice that way.”
Listen to Shaka Smart on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis here
Tags: CAA tournament, College Basketball, NCAA Tournament, Shaka Smart, VCU Rams, VCU Rams Final Four run

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