VandyMania: Corey, when you think back to your sophomore year when you finished with only 11 wins, and then turned that around this year to finish with 23 wins and a trip to the NCAA's, it almost seems incredible. Can you just talk about your thoughts on the team's big turnaround?
Corey Smith: I think we were a much more mature team this year. Our seniors really did a great job of stepping up and leading us to where we are now. From last year to this year, I think our seniors [Matt Freije, Scott Hundley, Russell Lakey, Martin Schnedlitz] really learned how to be real leaders. Most of the credit has to go to them. They stepped up and did a great job of leading us this year.
VM: Could you talk about the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in your career?
Corey: It was absolutely great. We didn't allow ourselves to get excited about it until we actually heard our name on TV. We wanted to go further, but looking back we feel good about what we accomplished.
VM: Later in the season you seemed to get more and more confident with your outside shot. It seemed as though Coach Stallings was giving you more of a green light to shoot the 3 than you had in games earlier in the season. Was that the case?
Corey: Yeah, you could say that. I think Coach's confidence in me as a shooter did [increase] as the season went on. He's seen me working on my shot and things like that. Toward the end of the season I hit some big shots and hopefully gave him some reasons to be more confident in me. So I think it all just stems from practice, shooting well in practice, working on my shot, and him seeing that.
VM: Coach said that having senior leadership was one of the real keys to this team's successes, and you mentioned that as well. Could you talk a little more about the senior class, what they've meant to you and to this team?
Corey: They have meant absolutely everything to the team. Whether it's in the locker room and we're kidding around, or them stepping up and telling us to be serious and get down to business, they've been the greatest part of this team. There's just no way that we could have had the success we had this year without them.
VM: So now it's your turn-- you and Jason and Dawid are now the leaders, and you have to step into that role. Can you talk about what that's going to be like?
Corey: (Laughing) I'm still adjusting to that. I really haven't thought about it that much yet. During a season like we had, you're really just trying to live in the moment. We've enjoyed the seniors' leadership and have just tried to follow it as much as possible. With the seniors coming back next year, we know what we have to do. The only way you're going to make it back to the NCAA next year is work harder. I think we know now what it takes, and with the good recruits we have coming in, we'll know what to tell them to do.
Corey: Oh, yeah! He was a lot skinnier back then though. What's really helped him out a lot now is that he's put on a lot more muscle. He showed the nation this year just how much it helped him out.
VM: What kind of relationship do you guys have today?
Corey: It's a kind of relationship where... we talk a lot through our high school coach, through mutual friends, things like that.
VM: You're not really best friends with him any more, correct?
Corey: I wouldn't say that. It's just that by us going to two different colleges, we kind of lost contact. He's switched phone numbers like 3,000 times! (Laugh) It just gets kind of hard to keep up with him.
Photos by Brent Wiseman and Bryan Hufalar, copyright 2004 for VandyMania.com