Auburn Hills — At least someone in the family will move on.
When No. 5 seed Virginia Commonwealth plays No. 12 seed Akron in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday, two best friends will battle for the right to advance.
"That guy's my brother," Akron coach Keith Dambrot said of VCU's Shaka Smart. "I love Shaka, but I'm going to try and kick his (butt) tomorrow."
Both coaches tried to deflect attention from themselves to the players who will decide the game, but since Smart was one of Dambrot's former assistants, there will likely be some overlap in style.
"The foundation in the two programs is exactly the same," said Dambrot, who coached briefly at Central Michigan in the early 1990s. "We're kind of like the ugly big brother, like I'm Danny Devito and he's Arnold Schwarzenegger. We're kind like the Chevette, and he's a Ferrari."
VCU is a popular Final Four pick this season because they've made a run before. In 2011, Smart led the 11th-seeded Rams to the Final Four and has since been considered one of the best young coaches (35) in college basketball. This year, though, the Rams and their turnover-inducing "havoc" defense" won't take anybody by surprise.
"I think for our program to receive a five seed, which I believe is the second-best seed VCU has ever had, says a lot about our players and the season that we've had," Smart said. "But I wasn't expecting Akron. When Akron came up, I was sitting right next to my wife, and it was just kind of a strange feeling, but that feeling came and went and then we started our preparation."
Smart worked with Dambrot at Akron from 2003-06 and landed the VCU job in 2009. Although Dambrot was the head coach for those final two years and had more experience, including coaching LeBron James in high school, it wasn't a typical mentor-protégé relationship. The two roomed together on road trips even after Dambrot became the head coach.
"It's a co-mentorship," Dambrot said. "Old people can learn from young people, and that guy's one of the smartest guys I've ever been around with an unbelievable work ethic, passion, compassion. He's taught me as much or more than I've taught him."
Dambrot and Smart hoped to avoid this matchup, but after it came up on Selection Sunday, Dambrot's wife tweeted a photograph of him wearing a VCU shirt taken before the matchup was announced.
"They're my favorite college basketball team other than the Akron Zips, so it wasn't hard to put the shirt on," Dambrot said. "I just didn't anticipate that we would be playing each other in the NCAA tournament, but I guess I was wrong."
Smart said his wife wanted him to take a picture in a Zips shirt that he still owns, but he declined.
"Maybe after the tournament," he said.
Dambrot and Smart have played twice before, with VCU taking victories both times. But Thursday night, there's a bit more on the line.
"We're both two of the most competitive guys you've ever met, so there isn't going to be any gloves out there," Dambrot said. "When the game's over, we'll go back to being brothers. At least one of us moves on tomorrow, right? That's a good thing."