SAN ANTONIO — Joey Rodriguez didn't almost leave, he left.
When Anthony Grant, who Rodriguez had known since fifth grade, left Virginia Commonwealth to be the coach at Alabama two years ago, Rodriguez came into newly-hired coach Shaka Smart's office and delivered the news that he would also be leaving school not long afterward.
"I arrived and I think my first press conference was April 1 or April 2 and (Rodriguez) made the decision a couple of weeks later to transfer," Smart said. "And it was one of those things, kind of like when a girl breaks up with you, but it has nothing to do with you... that's what Joey told me.
"But it was, I think, the coaching change. He had a great relationship with the former staff. They had done a terrific job with him."
Rodriguez, from Merritt Island, Fla., also said he'd grown homesick and that the pressure of succeeding future NBA first-round pick Eric Maynor as the Rams' point guard had begun to wear on him.
"I was just ready to go back home, to be around my family again," said Rodriguez, who has the names of his mother and sister tattooed on the top of each wrist. "I'd known Coach Grant from going to camps at the University of Florida since I was a little kid and he was a big reason I came (to VCU)."
But for somebody who'd quit the team, Rodriguez sure didn't act like it.
"As the semester was ending, he would still come to our individual workouts, and he would still pop by the office from time to time," Smart said. "And you could tell there was a part of him that wanted to stay at VCU."
Before summer workouts began, Rodriguez called his father, Joe, and told him he wanted to stay.
"His father actually called me right before we were about to start summer school and he said, 'Coach, I really think Joey wants to come back,' " Smart said. "And then I got on the phone with Joey and we just had a very brief conversation. I said, 'Joey we'd love to have you back, we believe in you, but I've got to know that you have both feet in the circle if you do come back, and you're not going to look back over your shoulder.'
"He said he would. And that was pretty much it."
Rodriguez has been on a tear ever since, leading the Colonial Athletic Association in assists (5.8) and steals (1.9) last season and averaging 10.6 points and 5.1 assists this season and leading the Rams into a regional final for the first time.
He's also now VCU's career leader in games (140), minutes (4,239), second in steals (233) and third in assists (567).
"Everything that happened, with me leaving, that was a long time ago," Rodriguez said. "Now we've got a great opportunity to make some more history."
He found teammate Bradford Burgess with a perfect inbounds pass for the go-ahead shot in overtime against Florida State on Friday, setting up today's game against No. 1 seed Kansas.
"There was a ton of people that did not feel like he could run the team, they didn't feel he would be a good point guard," Smart said. "They questioned how he would be able to lead a team. And he set about over these last couple of years really proving people wrong. And now he's all over the record books and more importantly he's the guy, not anyone else, that's led a team to the Elite Eight and hopefully beyond."