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9/15/2008 02:31:00 PM
Q&A with ... VCU's Eric Maynor
Defending CAA player of the year Eric Maynor will return to Virginia Commonwealth to look for his second NCAA tournament bid.
The latest subject in our Hoops Q&A series is VCU senior Eric Maynor, a 6-foot-2 point guard who was the Colonial Athletic Association's player of the year in 2007-08. Maynor averaged 17.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season, but is still best known for his NCAA tournament heroics as a sophomore, when he hit a game-winning shot to knock out sixth-seeded Duke in the first round. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:
Luke Winn: You decided not to even test the draft waters this offseason. What's it going to take, this season, to make coming back for your senior year feel like it was really worth it?
Eric Maynor: Making the NCAA tournament and advancing -- not just to the second round. I already had the experience of playing two games in the NCAAs [in 2007], and I know my teammates wanted to play more. We were hungry last year [when VCU went to the NIT, losing in the first round] but some things went down and we weren't able to get another shot at the NCAAs. This team, this year, I think can be pretty special.
LW: What was the worst part of watching the NCAA tournament last year, while you were absent from it?
EM: Knowing that George Mason was in it, and that they came out of our conference instead of us, that was the hardest thing.
LW: What did your decision to return come down to, specifically?
EM: Me and my dad -- he drove up from North Carolina after the season ended -- and coach [Anthony] Grant had a long talk. And it came down to what coach Grant was telling me, that he felt like I could improve a lot as a senior, that I could get stronger before taking my game to the next level.
LW: Realistically, what did you think was going to happen with coach Grant in the offseason? His name kept coming up for a lot of bigger jobs.
EM: I knew the phone was going to be ringing off the hook for him. But we all know that he's a straight-up guy with his players. Whatever was gonna happen, he was gonna let us know first.
LW: Were you guys at least nervous about him leaving, though?
EM: I mean, we'd see stories about it, but he always said, 'Don't listen to the media. I'm going to tell you straight up what's going on, at the time it's going on.' So nobody was really worried about it, because he kept telling us that we'd find out before the media finds out.
LW: That's kind of refreshing -- because plenty of players at plenty of schools get left in the dark on coaching-change situations.
EM: I'm cool with a bunch of players around the country, and I hear stories all the time about that -- about coaches just up and leaving, and players not even knowing about it. So I think what [Grant] did was good.
LW: And you already lost one coach at VCU--
EM: You know, that's one of those situations right there. I was chilling in the house late at night, and somebody came in the room and said, 'Guess what I just saw: Coach [Jeff] Capel is going to Oklahoma!' Everybody was like, 'Naw, that's not true.' And we turned on the news and found out it was true.
LW: You have a game scheduled against Oklahoma this season [on Dec. 20 in Oklahoma City]. Do you hold any kind of grudge against Capel for leaving?
EM: No way. I still talk to him. He's a good dude. No way I'd hold a grudge against him for something like that.
LW: When Capel sold you on playing for him in the first place, how much did he talk about his own career at Duke?
EM: We would talk about it sometimes. I remember asking him how it felt to hit that shot against UNC [in 1995]. He said it was one of the greatest feelings he'd ever had playing basketball.
LW: And when you beat Duke with your shot in '07, what did he say when you talked to him next?
EM: He said, man, 'I knew it would come for you.' I knew your time would come.' He's always told me to keep working; before I made my decision about the NBA, I talked to him too, and he said whatever decision I made he'd be behind me. So like I said, we stay in touch.
LW: On the topic of clutch shots, if you were a college coach, which shooter -- and not anyone on VCU -- would you want taking a last-second shot for you in a big game?
EM: Probably Stephen Curry, from Davidson. He can really score and he really knows the game, and how to get his shot. And then Wayne Ellington, from Carolina. He's just a pure shooter, a knock-down shooter. And he had one [game-winner] last year, when he hit that three to beat Clemson and finished with 35.
LW: Switching to this year, your team already took a Labor Day weekend trip to play in the Bahamas, and then you'll be playing a tournament in Cancun over Thanksgiving weekend. When you saw that schedule, how happy were you?
EM: I mean, I was excited to be able to go to the Bahamas and Cancun. But everything we do is basically like a business. That's what coach always tells us: it's a business. So we had to go out there and take care of business, and then after, maybe, have a little fun.
LW: You sat out of all three games [all victories] in the Bahamas with an injury. What was it?
EM: Something was just bothering me with my toe, and I didn't want to re-aggravate it down there, so I just laid off it that weekend. I had hurt it right before we left, and by the time we got back, it was fine. But it was good for the other guys on the team -- both the freshmen and the guys coming back -- to play without me. They gained a lot of confidence, and showed they could play as a team, rather than depending on one person. The first game down there, they came out and went down a little bit in the first half, but talked at halftime and grouped together. They ended up winning by 20, or something like that.
LW: What player, specifically, was the biggest surprise on the trip?
EM:Brandon Rozzell [a sophomore two-guard]. Coach had him playing like a point guard, and he had to learn everything new from that position. So that was good for us, to know that he can handle playing the point.
LW: So after the business was done, you had to do something vacation-like, right?
EM: The hotel -- the Atlantis -- was real nice. Had waterslides, and there was basically like a waterpark in the hotel. So we swam. And we ended up going on jetskis the last day. Me and my boys were racing them, deep out there in the water.
LW: There was a picture I wanted to ask you about from the Bahamas. Have you seen emaynor.com?
EM: Don't know anything about that site. Hold on, I'm by a computer right now -- I'll look it up. (Pausing).
Wow, this is crazy. (Laughing.)
LW: The swimsuit picture is the one I'm talking about. Everyone's in basketball shorts ... and then there's one of your teammates -- Kirill [Pishchalnikov], right? -- in a Speedo.
EM: That's Kirill. He's from Russia. Everybody on campus has been talking about the Speedo; that picture was up on Facebook. He said that's how they do it in Russia.
LW: I assume you heckled him about the suit, right?
EM: Of course. We were just like, 'Kirill, what do you got on? You've gotta put on some shorts.' We were bashing him. Then on Facebook, people have been saying that everyone else looks cool, but Kirill messed the picture up.
LW: How much do you keep in touch with your old teammates that have gone overseas? I saw that B.A. Walker was in Iceland ...
EM: I talk to B.A. all the time -- he's in Holland now, though. Jamal [Shuler] is in to Germany. I talk to him almost on a daily basis; he said the style they play is just like what we ran at VCU. And Jesse Pellot-Rosa is working out in Georgia right now, trying to get a job overseas. B.A. told me that basically, you've gotta perform on a daily basis [overseas], because they expect Americans to be the stars of the team. And the minute you don't perform like that, they want to send you back to the States.
LW: Switching up a little bit, I read that one of your favorite movies is He Got Game--
EM: Matter of fact, I'm going to go watch it today. I just got it from one of my teammates, and since all we had is a shoot[around] today, I'm just going to chill out and watch it.
LW: If you were Jesus Shuttlesworth, would you have gone to Big State or Tech U?
EM: I think I would have went to Big State.
LW: Even with that recruiting visit to Tech U?
EM: He had some fun at Tech U. I was like, whoa, when I saw that part. But I still would have gone to Big State.
LW: Any other favorite hoops movies?
EM:Above the Rim, Blue Chips, Glory Road, Love and Basketball. That's my favorite one. I just can relate to it, the way Quincy grew up, his life, all the ups and downs he went through on the way to becoming a man.
LW: I remember talking with your dad, George, at the NCAA tournament in '07, about his own career -- how he got drafted by the Bulls out of East Carolina in '79 [in the fourth round], but didn't make the final cut in camp. How would you describe his game?
EM: He played the point, but he could really shoot it. He didn't really do anything fancy -- he was really basic, but he could really score. I'll put it like that. He could shoot the three real good.
LW: Did you ever see videos of his East Carolina days?
EM: Never. I got to watch him play pick-up when he was older. I could the end of the stick. But he could still shoot it.
LW: And I remember him saying that the biggest difference between the two you of you was your shot -- that you didn't have the same kind of 3-point strike when you were coming out of high school.
EM: The mechanics of it weren't right, and I didn't shoot a great percentage from three. But I've gotten better through repetition, just getting in the gym and shooting a lot. That was the main thing. [He shot 39.4 percent from 3-point range last year, a career-high].
LW: Last season ended, in the NIT against UAB, with you taking a last-second three-point shot ...
EM: And it fell short. I can envision myself taking that kind of shot again. I know I'll be in more situations like that this year. There's going to be another game where I have a chance to do that, and make it. I'm the type of player who wants that kind of clutch shot. I'm willing to take it.