I remember my first true reporting folly like it was yesterday.
Following a standout performance against Stanford in late August by outside hitter Deja McClendon, I was eager to pack up and head home after a brief press conference.
When asked after the second set who my fellow beat partner and I wanted to interview after the match, naturally, we requested the team’s reigning All-American, McClendon.
Down in the media room, I asked a question.
“Uhm, Deja, tonight it seemed like..,” and then I was cut off.
“Are you talking to me?” asked Ariel Scott.
Yes, Ariel Scott, a completely different player.
There was no Deja McClendon at the podium, just a lowly, embarrassed and confused reporter slouched in a leather armchair. It was one of my first times getting acquainted with the team, so the players and coach Russ Rose were sure to cut me some slack, right?
Unable to tell if she was offended or trying to be funny or sarcastic — or all the above — the right-side hitter quipped something to the effect of, “It’s cool, you can ask me the same question. I’ll answer like I’m Deja,” while Rose piled on some dry humor at my expense.
From there on, I learned that nine times out of 10, Rose does not care who reporters think had the best performance or who they want to talk to. He’s going to bring out who he feels played the hardest.
For example, Lacey Fuller did not record a single kill this season. She finished top-five among the Lions in digs, but even her best performances were not reflected as such in box scores.
And knowing all too well the most she will say in interviews is, “Yeah,” and, “Well, kind of,” Rose ushers her to the postgame stage anyway — because she leaves it all out on the court.
As for himself during postgame press conferences, he drags his body to the podium in a way that you cannot tell whether they won or lost.
From there, he speaks in generalities, using a carbon-copy method of deflecting questions; he praises opponents for playing hard and is tough on his own players for not playing hard enough, even though in 33 out of 35 times this year, his team won.
While some may describe his approach to coaching as stern or unsentimental, it’s a modus operandi that has rarely failed in his past 10 years at the helm of the program.
With a sterling resume like his, highlighted by five national titles and an induction to the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, players will endure any method to his madness to learn from the best.
Big Ten Setter of the Year Micha Hancock is one of the players Rose admits to being especially harsh on when critiquing her play.
She doesn’t mind it, citing his “perfectionist” ways as a positive thing.
Rose chuckled at Tuesday’s press conference when told Hancock said he has loosened up on the team as the season has wore on.
“Well, I’m not sure she would be in a good position to judge,” Rose said. “Because I’m not relaxing on her, but certainly when you qualify for the Final Four there’s a sigh of relief when you get that last point.”
By Saturday night, the national championship will be history, and with that, Rose hopes to breathe another sigh of relief, probably while puffing on a cigar.
In humdrum fashion, as if he’s made the trek out-of-state hundreds of times — well, he has — Rose described his ideal night in the Bluegrass State.
“I’ll find a nice place to have dinner and a steak and a cigar and I’ll do what I do whether I’m here or I’m there,” said Rose, a simple man on the surface with complex techniques.