Smart glad Rodriguez returned

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HOUSTON (AP) - When the coach who recruited him to VCU suddenly left, Rams guard Joey Rodriguez thought it might be time for him to go home, too.

When Shaka Smart took over the VCU program for Alabama-bound Anthony Grant, Rodriguez decided he was homesick and wanted to go back to Florida. He spent a summer there, then got the itch again. His father called Smart, asked if Rodriguez could return and the point guard was back. Two years later, he’s in the Final Four.

“Would we be here today without him?” Smart said. “I could make up some long answer. But no.”

Rodriguez’s decision to follow Grant out the door wasn’t all that unexpected in Smart’s eyes.

“He didn’t know us; there was no relationship, no trust,” the coach said.

Rodriguez decided he was going to enroll at Division II Rollins College near Orlando, play basketball and get his degree there.

His teammates kept in touch with him, though, and when he decided he wanted to return, he was welcomed back.

“My only question to him was, ‘Are you going to be in the circle with both feet?’” Smart said. “He said, ‘Coach, I will.’ And once he said that, he was back, as far as I was concerned.”

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HOLDING IT TOGETHER: Butler fans may have noticed something different about Shawn Vanzant this season.

The Butler guard has been wearing a brace to protect his left shoulder, which is prone to separate thanks to his days as a high school football player. Vanzant never had surgery to repair the shoulder, and the longer he plays _ and more contact he takes _ the more often it separates.

He finally started wearing the brace this year.

“When it comes out of place, it don’t feel too good,” he said. “So I had to figure out something to keep it in place.”

The brace hasn’t limited his play at all. The senior is averaging 8.1 points and 3.2 rebounds for the Bulldogs, and led Butler in assists against both Pittsburgh and Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament.

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