Here's what UA coach Keith Dambrot and players Zeke Marshall, Demetrius Treadwell and Brian Walsh said at the podium Wednesday at The Palace of Auburn Hills before their NCAA Tournament today against VCU. (Courtesy ASAP Sports)
COACH DAMBROT: We go way back. I think first and foremost, we come from the same DNA, the same genetics, the same mother, really, as VCU.
So the foundation in the two programs is exactly the same. We're kind of like the ugly big brother. You know, like I'm Danny Devito and he's Arnold Schwarzenegger and we're kind like the Chevette and he's a Ferrari, but that's my guy. I love Shaka like a brother and they've done a lot of great things but we have the same attributes that make us a great team, too.
We played them last year to a one-point overtime loss where they beat us at the buzzer, so we definitely feel like we belong.
Q. I don't know if I'm asking you to give up any secrets here, but is there anything you can say about what Coach Tressel said to you yesterday?
ZEKE MARSHALL: I mean, he basically just gave us some encouragement for coming to the tournament, basically. You know, some words of wisdom. That's the best I can describe it.
BRIAN WALSH: Just keep our minds focused on the task at hand.
Q. Zeke, there's so much focus on the coaches because of their relationship. Your thoughts on that?
ZEKE MARSHALL: I mean, yeah, we -- you know, they go way back. They have just, as you said, the same DNA that we have. We are coming in this game just as we came in any other game in the regular season, in our postseason. We're going to come in ready to win.
Q. Can you guys go back to last year's game, or are the teams so different from that game that it's almost like the game didn't happen?
DEMETRIUS TREADWELL: Well, the game last year, I felt like our team wasn't as good as it is this year, and I feel like they might have been a better team last year.
This year we just go out there and play. Last year doesn't matter. We just going to win this game tomorrow.
Q. Brian, I'm just wondering how you guys have improved over the past week as far as the pressure you're going to face tomorrow?
BRIAN WALSH: Yeah, absolutely. You know, Coach D has given us a great game plan coming into the game. We know they're going to be full court pressing us and being the pressure. And Carmelo Betancourt and Nick Harney have been doing a great job the past -- not only the past week but the past ten days, ever since the incident.
They've been doing a great job. We have all the confidence in the world in them and I think we're going to get the job done tomorrow.
Q. Zeke, were you the only player on the team that's actually been in an NCAA tournament game before. Have you told them or passed on anything about what it's going to be like?
ZEKE MARSHALL: I have. I've basically been telling them that this is going to be all since the media pressure, outside, external forces that there is but we're going to -- all we need to do is go out there and play the game like we've been doing all year and we've got nothing to worry about.
Q. Your coach is regarded as the mentor in this matchup. Can you talk about what makes your coach good in your opinion?
ZEKE MARSHALL: Our coach is good just because he knows how to unlock the potential out of his players and he's a very winningness coach. His way has proven the win. I mean, he has one of the world's winningness percentages in our league right now.
So he knows how to unlock the potential. He knows how to make sure you give out your all and push to your max. And that's what makes him a great coach because he knows how to do that without pushing too far.
Q. Third of time in the tournament, Coach. Have you approached this any differently than the first two? Anything you've learned from those first two NCAA tournament bids and games?
COACH DAMBROT: No, I don't think so, Joe. I think the players play the game. The coaches get the players ready to play the game and ultimately, you know, the players make the plays that either win or lose the game really.
So we've done what we've done all year. We've tried to make it as similar to the regular season as we can. That's why it was great that we bust because we probably bussed more than anybody in the world. So we're keeping it just like we did in the regular season.
Q. Your friendship with Coach Smart well documented but in regards to the preparation for the game, can it help you? Can it hurt you?
COACH DAMBROT: It's equal. I mean, we revamped our whole defensive call scheme and it's all just like theirs. So like we know their calls. Half our offensive sets are his. We talk every day as to how to handle different situations.
Like I said, I mean, that's my best friend in coaching, so we bounce a lot of ideas off each other. So does it help or hurt? I mean, we're not going to surprise them with anything, and he's not going to surprise us with anything. It's going to be a simplification, which really the game's about any way. It's just like blocking and tackling, right? It's the same thing.
Q. Shaka said his wife tried to talk him into wearing Fear the Roo shirt and he wouldn't do it. Did your wife have to cajole you to put that VCU one on?
COACH DAMBROT: Not really. I didn't anticipate that we'd be playing, but I root for the Rams when we're not playing, and they're my favorite college basketball team other than the Akron Zips. So it wasn't hard to put the shirt on. I just didn't anticipate that we would be playing each other in the NCAA tournament, but I guess I was wrong.
Q. What was your initial reaction when you saw the bracket come out and you saw VCU's name first and then your team's name come up?
COACH DAMBROT: Well, I thought we were going to be 12, maybe a high 11, and when I saw them at 5, the way my year's gone, you know, with the peaks, valleys, ups, downs, complete whirlwind, I just knew. You know how you just know sometimes? So the gut feeling came and I knew Akron Zips-VCU Rams.
That's the way it goes. I think everybody's right. It's not really a game about Shaka and me; it's about the guys. And it makes for a good storyline, but ultimately the guys got to play, and there's a lot of respect amongst everybody. It's almost like the players are playing their step-brothers because we here, we talk a lot about VCU in our program and I'm sure they do about us.
Q. You talk about how this team has regrouped without Alex and how key it will be for whoever's playing point guard or has the ball to have some level of exposure against the havoc that VCU will want to put?
COACH DAMBROT: Well, I kind of -- I think it's a little bit oversimplified that it's just about the pressure. I think it's more about us guarding them. I think if we can guard them and play great defense, then havoc becomes less havoc, and I think if you can keep them out of making baskets, then all of a sudden it becomes more our kind of a game.
We do have the tremendous shot blocker at the rim. So the one-on-one defense, the gap defense becomes very, very important for us. Because if we can get it into more of a half court game, we have some good advantages. We're big and strong. You know, we've got Marshall who's now a very good offensive player. We've got the beast next to him, Demetrius Treadwell. So we have some advantages, but if we can't get it solid down to that point and guard them, then they have some advantages.
So I think from that perspective, you know, it's going to come down to how well we guard them. I think the teams that have been able to guard them have kept the score down, which allows them to have a chance to win.
If the game gets up into the 70s, the mid to high 70s, we have no chance.
Q. If you make this a half court game, how much do you like your chances against VCU?
COACH DAMBROT: We've got a good chance. We're better than what people think.
Relatively speaking, it's the best team I've ever had other than when I had LeBron in high school (Laughter).
Q. Do you get a sense that Zeke has geared up to be on a national stage?
COACH DAMBROT: Zeke has been way more consistent. If you look at the numbers this year, he's been consistently good. Whereas last season, the year before, he was -- he showed signs of brilliance, but could never consistently put it back to back to back. I think he's gone eight or nine games in a row in double figures. I think he's averaged last nine games over four blocks a game and he's rebounding at a high level. So I think his maturity as a man has really made him a better basketball player and has made him more consistent as a player.
Q. Coach Shaka told us an anecdote, he said you wanted to introduce him to somebody and it was LeBron James. What do you remember about that day?
COACH DAMBROT: I remember it was in the summer. He came in and LeBron had just been drafted and I worked him out before he went to the pro camps. So I said, come on, let's go, I got a couple errands to run. I want you to come with me. So we went over to Springside Racket Club and worked LeBron out.
I think it was a good first day of work for him. He got to meet one of the best players of all time, and that's kind of how our relationship grew. We roomed together every day on the road, even when I was the head coach. So like I said, man, that guy's my brother. I love Shaka, but I'm going to try and kick his ass tomorrow (Laughter). Excuse my language.
Q. Since you've already played him twice, is it easier to have your blinders on for this game and focus on the task at hand as opposed to who's on the opposite sideline?
COACH DAMBROT:.Listen, it's both of our obligations to make sure that we have our blinders on. Once we get between the lines, listen, we're both two of the most competitive guys you've ever met. So there isn't going to be any, you know, gloves out there. When the game's over, we'll go back to being brothers.At least one of us moves on tomorrow, right? That's a good thing.
Q. Shaka said when you called to do that video thing, there was no -- I sent it like 15 minutes later. He said he still feels like an assistant when you call. Have you noticed that?
COACH DAMBROT: Well, let me say two things.One, anybody that thinks I'm the mentor to Shaka Smart is out of their minds.
It's a co-mentorship. Old people can learn from young people, and that guy's one of the smartest guys I've ever been around with an unbelievable work ethic, passion, compassion, and he's taught me as much or more than I've taught him, believe me.
So I don't view myself as his mentor or he's my protege. I think I'm his protege in some regards. I'm just older. He's one of the bright stars of college basketball.
I remember this story: I was driving home from Chicago with my son who was playing soccer in Chicago, and they beat Kansas in the NCAA tournament. I think that was what, an Elite 8 game? I don't really remember, but I started to tear up and my son says what's wrong with you, Dad? I said, well, that's our family. You know, so that's how I feel about Shaka.
But with that being said, you know, we're going to give it everything we have tomorrow, and that's what we have to do.
Q. You know your team better than anybody on the eve of this game. Can you read them right now?
COACH DAMBROT: I feel the same way I did going into the MAC tournament. Listen, I know this absolutely 100 percent, that we're going to compete like there's no tomorrow. We're going to play hard and we're really good defensively. If we do a good job definitely, we may kick it around, slap it around, you know, throw it to the wrong team a few times, but our message to our guys is very simple.
We have to play for one another, right? We have to play for one another. And we have to recover quickly. So that's a key against VCU is you have to recover quickly. You got to get on to the next play because they prey on people that dwell on the last play, because the last play then becomes the next play and then that last play becomes the next play and pretty soon they got a 12- or 14-point burst and spurt on you. So you have to recover quickly. You can't worry about the last mistake. You got to get on to the next one. And you got to play for one another in order to do that.