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Comments from VCU coach Shaka Smart’s Wednesday media gathering

     (Most of it, anyway)

       On what NBA scouts are saying about Juvonte Reddic:

       “Just that he’s got to get better. He’s got to get in unbelievable shape. He’s got to continue to improve his midrange shooting. He’s got to rebound at a higher level. They typically look at what they call rebounding interval, which is your minutes divided by your rebounds. … If you play 30 minutes and get 10 rebounds, that’s a 3.0. That’s kind of the standard that they look for. Ju was a 3.4 or 3.5 last year. That’s a measurable that he can attack and get better at.

       “If he can average a double-double, it just stands out. There’s not a lot of guys who do that. I called a bunch of guys who I know at that level and I asked them, ‘Where does he need to improve?’ I made a whole sheet of areas where he needs to improve, things that can separate him from other guys. I shared that with him.” 

       On the nonconference schedule:

       “We’ve got one more game to get. We want to get it done and released for our fans. It’ll be a great schedule, a challenging schedule. We’ll have some teams on there that come from big leagues. Then there will be some teams on there that are mid-major type teams. It’s always really challenging to get people to come here. Our road schedule is really, really daunting. At home is where we play some of those mid-major teams that don’t have as big of a name. But at the end of the year, we’ll have a very good RPI.” 

      On the skills camps attended by Reddic and Briante Weber:

      “Some of them (I lobby for). Some of these opportunities our guys are getting are really good for them, good for our program. The No. 1 reason why these opportunities are coming about, including me being able to work USA Basketball, is because of our program’s success. I’ve tried to explain that to our players. They understand it to some extent. If we’re not for winning, none of this stuff happens individually for any of us.

            “The biggest things coming back from those type of experiences is you come back to VCU with a renewed level of urgency to be a great member of our team at VCU.”

       On what the players get out of the opportunity:

       “They learn some things just being around other players and other coaches, little intricacies of the game. More than anything it’s a chance to go against high-level competition and prove yourself.”      

       On whether he’s seen any differences in Reddic:

       “No. He’s the same guy. He’s just gained some new experience. He’s always been a laid-back guy. He and I go around and around about that. I wish he was a little more assertive sometimes. I don’t know that he’s ever going to be a type-A personality. He’s worked very hard. He’s done a good job with his body.” 

       On Reddic teaming with Terrance Shannon:

       “I’m excited about not just those two. I’m excited about more frontcourt depth overall. Based on this summer, Jarred Guest is improved. Mo Alie-Cox is going to be able to help our team. Antravious Simmons is coming, but he’s a freshman. He’s got a lot to learn.

       “When you look at Juvonte, Terrance Shannon, Jarred Guest and Mo, I think that gives you four guys who, at least going into the first day of workouts on Aug. 22, you feel like can compete with one another. … It was kind of Juvonte by himself for much of the year last year and the previous year, although D.J. (Haley) had a better sophomore year than he had a junior year.

      “Any time you have competition at a position, it should make everyone better. It adds to accountability. … My biggest emphasis for those four guys is getting in unbelievable shape, and then competing with each other at a high level.”

       On coaching with USA Basketball: 

       “It’s a chance to learn and grow. The team we coached this summer has probably six guys who will play in the NBA, maybe more. When you coach guys that are that talented and have that level of skill, you learn things just from being around them. Then getting a chance to work with Billy Donovan and Tony Bennett and the rest of the USA Basketball staff was phenomenal for me. I got to steal things from them — just add drills and concepts that we can implement into what we do.”

      On which newcomers have caught his eye: 

      “They all have at different moments. Nobody has set the world on fire. I’m excited about the guys we signed. They all can have their moments and have had their moments throughout the summer. But they’ve had a rough go of it as well in relation to our older guys, which is how it should be. If you have a program that you feel like you’re going to be successful, then usually that’s mostly dependent on your older guys, unless you’re Kentucky.”

       On the ACC teams on the schedule: 

       “I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to play those guys. It’s not going to be easy. The second game of the year we get to go to John Paul Jones Arena and play a Virginia team that I think is going to be one of the best in the ACC. That’s going to be a heck of a challenge. Just being around Tony Bennett this summer I have even more respect for him and his program than I had before.

       “Then getting a chance to play Virginia Tech here in Richmond will be a tremendous opportunity for us. Let’s face it. Most years we don’t get to play those ACC teams, let alone the two ACC teams in our state. A lot was made a couple of years ago about comparing the teams in the state. I think that’s actually a pretty fruitless discussion. In basketball, we compare ourselves to hopefully the teams we’re playing the NCAA tournament … and then obviously to the teams that are in our conference. Those are the areas that we’re going to try to be the best that we can be.”

        On who will carry the mantle this year with the departures of Darius Theus, Troy Daniels and David Hinton:

       “One of our core values is unselfishness. Anytime you lose three guys who are that good in that area, it’s got to be a huge area of emphasis for you moving forward. I can’t necessarily say there’s one guy or two guys who have to carry the mantle, but we do have six juniors and seniors on the team, five of whom are returning players. Those are the guys we’re going to expect to provide leadership, along with — it may be crazy to say it because he hasn’t even played a game yet — Jordan Burgess is a guy who has been around our program for a long, long time because of his family. He’s someone who is wise beyond his years, so I think he can provide leadership for us as well, once he gets his feet wet and gets acclimated to game competition.”

        On the leaders during the summer: 

        “By committee. Briante is certainly the loudest voice. Rob Brandenberg has done a terrific job. He’s had a better summer than anyone overall. He has a bounce in his step and a confidence that we’ve been looking for in him since his freshman year. I’m really excited about him.

        “Juvonte provides leadership here and there. The biggest leadership I’ve asked him to provide is by example. Treveon Graham has made a big step in that area. He does a really good job mentoring guys. Jarred Guest is a junior. He’s been around. He knows what we do.”

        On the point guard situation:       

        “What I did the other day, just for the staff’s purposes, is I made a list at every position of who can potentially play at those spots. There were seven guys at point guard. There were seven guys at shooting guard. There were five or six or seven at the 3, 4 and 5.

        “I would love to see Rob playing some point guard. I think Treveon Graham can play there some. I think Melvin Johnson can play there some. The primary guys who are going to get the lion’s share of the minutes if they do what they’re supposed to do would be Briante Weber first and foremost, and then the two freshmen who played a lot of point guard in high school. JeQuan Lewis played exclusively point guard and Jairus Lyles played point guard and shooting guard.

       “If those guys progress and are ready to play, then the first guys I mentioned don’t need to play there as much. But I do think in situations we can have those guys there.”

       On where Briante Weber is in his progression as a point guard: 

       “He’s had his best summer in terms of work ethic. I think he’s learning more and more that in order to make withdrawals, you have to make deposits first. That’s been a big emphasis with him.

       “Every two years, it’s just kind of worked out that we’ve had … our point guard moving on. In my first year, Eric (Maynor) had graduated, so the question marks were about Joey (Rodriguez). He had a phenomenal junior year. He was an all-conference player in the CAA.

       “Then, coming off the Final Four, Darius had played in a backup role, but there were a lot of questions about him. What are you going to do? Joey’s gone. The sky is falling. Darius had an all-conference year in the CAA. Now this year it’s Briante.

       “Maybe one of those other guys earns a spot. It’s certainly not his in stone, but it’s certainly his position to lose.” 

       On how you work to maintain the hunger:

      “You’ve always got to have something to prove. That’s the key. We have a lot to prove coming off last year. We did a lot of good things, but we also lost in the game to go to the Sweet 16. We lost in the conference championship game in Brooklyn. Those are games we want to win this year. I think if we can be highly connected as a team, if we can play with a level of unselfishness in practice, with a level of focus, we can win those games. But we’re going to have to get way better.” 

        On what things he addressed with Melvin Johnson going into the offseason:

        “Just consistency as a person and continuing to get better there. Melvin,  like a lot of guys, didn’t understand when he first got here the connection between who he is as a person and who he is as a player. He’s come a long way physically and mentally and emotionally. Just getting him to understand (that) continuing to make progress in our core values off the floor is going to help him as a player.

       “His work ethic has been tremendous. He has just been killing himself in June and July, working so hard we almost had to kick him out of there. He really wants it. Now it’s just a matter of him understanding in the team setting how he can integrate himself and be a bigger part of what we do. I’m excited for him. I think he’ll take a big step. Most really good players do from their freshman to their sophomore year. The key with him is all going to be mental. How does he respond when something doesn’t go his way? He’s a guy who has worked so hard, I sense that he wants it almost too much. He’s got to kind of let it come and understand that basketball is a game of mistakes. Sometimes there are going to be games when you miss your first couple of shots. Just keep going, keep playing, and good things will happen.” 

      On what Jordan Burgess brings:

      “He’s much different than Brad. He’s very, very tough. … When we had a hard time with guys like Dwayne Evans at Saint Louis, we’d watch the tape and we’d just look around as coaches and say, ‘Jordan.’ Not saying if we had him we would have won that game, but certainly he helps you with a guy that’s physical on the wing.

      “His physicality, aggressiveness and toughness will really be a big benefit for us. I think he’s getting better and better skill-wise. He’s made great progress. The biggest thing with Jordan is just integrating him in our team because he did not play last year. … I think he’s going to be a big part of what we do.” 

       On the A-10:

       “I think the A-10’s going to be really strong this year, (with) nine, 10 teams that could compete to finish at or near the top. There’s some teams with a lot of really good players back that will be much improved from last year. …  I think it’s going to be a league that gets quite a few bids in the NCAA tournament. The thing that’s going to be interesting is now there’s an extra conference, so that’s going to impact everyone. Last year we got five bids. I think all the coaches would be ecstatic if you told us today we’d get five again. But that’s what we want to shoot for. I think it’s doable.” 

        On Brad Stevens going to the NBA:

       “I was just happy for him. It’s the Boston Celtics. It’s a phenomenal opportunity. He’s a terrific coach. He’s earned it. I think he’ll do great there. Brad is very intelligent and he’s very good at going into situations and learning and adjusting and understanding what he needs to do to be successful. In conversations, he had brought the NBA up before, so I wasn’t quite as shocked as everyone else. Just really happy for him. That’s not just an NBA job. That’s the Boston Celtics, who arguably are one of the top two or three franchises in all of American sports. I’ll be pulling for him. I’ll be a Celtics fan and also a Wizards fan with Eric (Maynor) making that move.

       “I’m just excited to see how (Brad) does. I hope he does really well because people always kind of talk about college coaches who make that move and group them all together. I think he’s a unique case. I think he’ll do really well.”