If nothing else, the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) can lay claim to being the most unique in the NCAA. That’s because you won’t find a best-of-three championship series anywhere else.
“I feel like I’m in the NBA,” said VCU’s Bradford Burgess.
The Rams, who advanced to the CBI Championship Series with an 88-75 victory over Boston University Wednesday night, will host Saint Louis on Monday, March 29 at the Verizon Wireless Arena at 7 p.m. in the opener. Games two and three (if necessary) will be played in Saint Louis, at the Billikens’ Chaifetz Arena on Wednesday, March 31 and Friday, April 2, respectively.
The format presents a number of strategic challenges for players and coaches. Adjustments will be made nightly and VCU’s Shaka Smart will trade wits with legendary Saint Louis’ Coach Rick Majerus.
“It’s unique for me and everyone in our program,” Smart said. “I don’t know that anybody has experienced a best-of-three situation other than like pickup games. From a coaching standpoint it’ll be an opportunity to really utilize some extra strategy because after the first game you can watch the tape and learn and make some adjustments and obviously the opposing coaching staff will do the same thing. There’s a chance to do something different in the second and potentially third game than you did in the first. “ READ MORE...
VCU EMBRACING SECOND CHANCE IN CBI
Virginia Commonwealth University Coach Shaka Smart is a big believer in using quotes as a motivating tool. Given his team’s recent advance to the College Basketball Invitational semifinals, a tournament the Rams had hoped to avoid, Smart would probably enjoy Napoleon Hill’s thoughts on second chances.
“Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.”
In Monday’s 93-86 win over the College of Charleston in the CBI quarterfinals at the Verizon Wireless Arena, VCU started to look like a group of guys embracing a common, redemptive goal. The Rams are a relatively young team, with zero seniors in their starting lineup, and there are plenty of lessons to learn.
Junior Jamie Skeen, a transfer from Wake Forest, booked a career-high 18 points. Skeen, who is averaging 7.9 points on the year, has averaged 16.0 points in two CBI contests. Skeen’s season has been a mix of interesting flashes of star quality, sandwiched between unproductive stretches.
However, Skeen sees this tournament as a chance to assert himself, something he’s done with scary efficiency. The 6-8 post player has knocked down 14-of-20 field goals in the last two games. READ MORE...
RAMS READY TO MAKE A BID FOR HISTORY
From the outside, the Richmond Coliseum looks like a brown spaceship that crash landed in the heart of Virginia’s capital. The sidewalks are crumbling. Inside, it’s dank and often cold. The rims are notoriously tight. But you know what? Joey Rodriguez loves the place.
“It’s just a fun place to play,” Rodriguez said. “Right when I walked in here, I was thinking about last year and everybody charging the court. Good memories, especially from last year.”
Forgive him if euphoria trumps comfort. It’s understandable, however. Last March, on the floor of the Richmond Coliseum, Rodriguez and the VCU Rams hoisted the Colonial Athletic Association trophy after blitzing the field, including a 71-50 rout of George Mason in the championship game. Those types of memories cure a lot of ills.
Rodriguez and company will be looking for a repeat in 2010, albeit against longer odds. From 2007-09, the Rams entered the CAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed and rolled to league titles in 2007 and last year. This season, if VCU wants to claim its fifth CAA title, it’ll have to do so as the No. 5 seed. That means four games in four days. No first round bye this season. READ MORE...
AROUND THE HORNS PICKS ALL-CAA TEAMS
First, let me say that I don’t expect everybody to agree with all of these picks. That’s half the fun, debating who’s the best. I welcome it. Although my selections will look pretty on the internet, they’ll have no influence on the real voting, as they have the last two seasons. That doesn’t mean I mailed this in. I put the same effort I have the past two seasons into these teams.
Also, let it be known that I have not seen the actual selections. Typically, us sports info types get our hands on them a day or two in advance, but that’s not the case at the moment.
Lastly, these are not the actual All-CAA Teams. These are my picks and mine alone. They have no bearing on the teams that will be announced at Thursday’s banquet, although I feel like mine will be pretty close. READ MORE....
SIMPLY THE BEST: VCU’S BIG THREE PAVE THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
Every year, from colleges all around the country, you’ll see a steady parade of press releases, cooing about next season’s recruiting classes. It makes no difference which sport or gender. Next year’s swimming and diving class always looks like a team of Greg Louganis’ on paper. Many of them will fail to reach the lofty predictions we inflate from within.
However, for VCU’s “Big Three”, the senior trio of D’Andra Moss (pictured, left), Kita Waller and La’Tavia Rorie, it would have been difficult to over-hype their potential. Prior to their arrival in 2006, there was no real script for success at VCU. Now, they are the standard by which all future classes will be judged.
In four seasons, Moss, Waller and Rorie (pictured, right) have won more games (87) than any other group in school history. They helped lead the Rams to just their second postseason bid, a WNIT appearance in 2007-08. They topped that the following season, when VCU earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament and battled Rutgers to the wire. VCU’s 26 wins in 2007-08 smashed the previous school record of 21. The Rams reached that milestone again last season. The Black and Gold need to win two more games this season to reach 20 for the third straight year. Prior to 2007, the program had a total of two 20-win seasons. READ MORE...
On a lonely basket on one end of the Ted Constant Center, two small children squared off to shoot hoops. Using a miniature Old Dominion basketball, one you’d probably find in any team shop, they fired short jumpers wildly into the air as arena workers hummed past them.
Seated just behind the goal was the VCU Men’s Basketball team, watching quietly as the tiny ball clanged off the netless rim. It was the final act of a raucous Old Dominion celebration, one the Rams knew they could’ve prevented.
The 2009-10 regular season has been an education in triumph and heartbreak for VCU players, coaches and fans. If you’re categorizing this stuff, Saturday’s 73-70 loss to Old Dominion was one of the toughest the Rams have had to endure.
When Brandon Rozzell’s 3-pointer from the corner crashed off the side of the rim as time expired, VCU Coach Shaka Smart could only shake his head and grin as he walked off the floor.
“You think about what could’ve been, what might’ve been,” Smart said. “So many missed opportunities and I certainly give all the credit in the world to ODU with the way they battled and made some huge shots down the stretch, but as a coach you think about, if we’d just made this play or just gotten this rebound or been able to corral that ball, the result might’ve been different. That was going through my mind. READ MORE...
MEN’S BASKETBALL NOTES: FOURTH SEED WITHIN REACH
The fourth seed in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, and the first-round bye that is attached to it, seemed like a pipe dream two days ago. That was, of course, until an unlikely series of dominos began falling.
First, there was first-place Northeastern’s loss on its home floor to seventh-place Hofstra on Tuesday. On Wednesday, William & Mary fell in Williamsburg, Va. to a 7-20 Towson squad. Suddenly, VCU (20-7, 11-6 CAA) found itself in a fourth-place tie with the Tribe (19-9, 11-6 CAA) with a very real shot at staying there. If the season ended today, the Rams would own the No. 4 seed, based on tiebreakers. But the season doesn’t end today and it’s not nearly that simple.
The scenario has painted Saturday’s VCU-Old Dominion game, a contest between arch rivals, with an even greater importance. Here are your tiebreaker scenarios, as they affect the Rams. Saturday, William & Mary will be at UNC Wilmington and Northeastern will be at George Mason (trust us, it’s important): READ MORE...
In 2008, LexioPhiles.com, a website dedicated to the love of linguistics, released an article with a list of the 10 hardest languages to learn. Pulling in at No. 9 was English. Filled with paradoxes and words with multiple meanings, English can produce more headaches than a migraine convention.
Kirill Pishchalnikov would probably agree. It wasn’t that long ago that the VCU senior forward would’ve gotten eyestrain from reading this article. When Pishchalnikov landed on United States soil in the spring of 2007, he spoke virtually no English.
“Before I came here, everybody told me, oh, don’t worry about English,” Pishchalnikov said in his thick Russian accent. “You’ll come here and in two months you’ll know how to understand and everything. [I thought] oh, cool. When I came here, I started everything from zero. It was tough.”
Those early days were difficult, and Pishchalnikov struggled just to get through practices.
“When coach is telling you something and you don’t understand, you’re like, coach, please, I can’t understand,” Pishchalnikov said. “After practice, my head was so big.” READ MORE...
MEN’S BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK
It may have been a little uncomfortable, but Virginia Commonwealth University Head Coach Shaka Smart claimed his first win over one of his former bosses in Saturday’s 70-53 victory over Akron in an ESPNU BracketBusters contest at the Siegel Center.
Smart spent two seasons as an assistant under Zips Head Coach Keith Dambrot from 2004-06. Prior to the matchup, Smart admitted that he wasn’t looking forward to facing his former mentor and close friend. Both men put their friendship on hold for a couple of hours, but that didn’t necessarily make the game any easier.
“It was hard because it was really a shift in terms of mindset,” Smart said. “When you talk to someone on a daily basis and you pull for them and you’ve worked with them and been through ups and downs with them and now you’re going up against them in a competitive situation and you’re trying to kick their butt.
“Even though you’re a coach and you’re not really on the floor playing, you have to develop a mindset in your head of being a competitor and he’s on the other side and it’s really either us or them. That’s difficult. It took a concerted effort on my end to set that aside and focus on what we were doing.”
Afterward, Dambrot, whose Akron team is tied for the Mid American Conference lead, was able to make light of the situation. READ MORE...
MEN’S BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK
When VCU and Akron line up for their ESPNU BracketBusters contest at the Siegel Center on Saturday, Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart will do so with a bit of a heavy heart.
Smart spent three seasons (2003-06) as an assistant coach with the Zips, two of which were under current Akron Coach Keith Dambrot. The two men are close friends and talk regularly.
“Akron is a team that’s near and dear to my heart,” Smart said. “I spent three years working at Akron. I met my wife at Akron. Keith Dambrot, the head coach, is my best friend in coaching. I talk to him almost every day, although we’ve been talking a lot less since I found out I was playing him.”
Whether or not ESPN chose to pit VCU and Akron against each other because of the two coaches’ history is debatable, but it does make for an intriguing storyline. That may play well on TV and with fans, but Smart isn’t in any hurry to lock horns with a good friend. READ MORE...
Not all of losses are created equal. There are some that players can easily separate themselves from and move forward. Then, there are the losses so crushing that they hang like the smell of fish at the docks.
VCU rolled into the Verizon Wireless Arena with two of those unshakable losses hanging in the background Tuesday night. But the Rams team that failed to hold halftime leads at George Mason and James Madison last week was nowhere to be found. In its place was a supercharged defensive unit that stonewalled Drexel in an impressive 73-54 victory at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center.
Larry Sanders, who averaged 1.4 blocks in the 10 games leading up to Tuesday’s showdown, swatted five shots and altered countless others to key a signature defensive performance for VCU. Behind Sanders, the Rams forced the Dragons to shoot 36 percent (21-of-58) from the field. The Rams also outrebounded their CAA foes by a 45-26 margin.
“Our coaches tell me to come and play with unbelievable energy, that’s what I tried to bring, to try to talk and get my teammates involved,” Sanders said. “If that means we’re going to win then it’s worth it. That’s what I try to do to keep my energy up.” READ MORE...
“A free lunch is only found in mousetraps.”
– John Capuzzi
As the room erupted around her, Ebony Patterson joined her teammates in celebration. But her outward exuberance only masked her extreme inner disappointment.
It was March 16, 2009, and VCU had just been invited to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament for the first time. When the letters V-C-U appeared on the television screen, years of sweat, grit, pain, tears – you name it – were released by those cathartic cheers.
It should have been the happiest moment of Patterson’s basketball career. She wanted to enjoy it, but she couldn’t. She didn’t own it. What was a catharsis for her teammates became a wake-up call for the talented, but unfocused sophomore point guard.
VCU had played 32 games that season and Patterson had logged just 210 minutes. In two seasons, the former high school star had scored a total of 71 points. Over the course of her freshman and sophomore years, there were 18 games in which she never stepped on the floor. Patterson could feel her once-promising college basketball career slipping away. READ MORE...
I remind Rick Childers that there’s some irony in calling him today, as a foot of snow is piling up outside, the result of Richmond’s worst winter storm in years. He doesn’t seem fazed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever missed a game because of snow,” He says. “We always seem to make it.”
That might be the understatement of the year. Counting VCU’s Feb. 9 game at George Mason, Childers has been “making it” to every VCU Men’s Basketball game, home or away, for five straight years - 165 in a row. That includes excursions to Reno, San Juan, The Virgin Islands, New Orleans, Buffalo, Oklahoma City, Peoria and everywhere in between.
The last time Childers missed a game was Feb. 2, 2005, after his father died. Before that, he had been to 72 consecutive games.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some close calls along the way. Last November, VCU was scheduled to play Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. The day before the game, Childers was driving up 95 North on the way to the airport with his wife, Yevonne, and Hook Shepherd, his friend and longtime travel partner, when he learned his flight had been cancelled.
“Hook said, ‘I think that means we’ve got to take a left,’” Childers joked.
And they did, spreading the 19-hour drive over two days, with a stop in Memphis along the way. READ MORE...
PISHCHALNIKOV, RAMS MUSCLE UP, TAKE OLD DOMINION BY FORCE
It was supposed to be a matchup that pitted contrasting styles, VCU’s up-tempo attack against Old Dominion’s bruising, physical defense. But instead of trying to push the Monarchs into hyperdrive, the Rams muscled up and beat first-place ODU at its own game, with defense and toughness in a 70-58 victory.
Old Dominion entered the game with a plus 8.8 rebounding margin, which ranked fifth nationally. That didn’t stop the Rams from out-boarding the Monarchs, 39-37. It’s the first time a team has won the rebounding battle against ODU since George Mason on Jan. 2 - a span of 10 games - and just the third time all year.
The Monarchs give up 55.0 points a night on average, but it was VCU that shined on the defensive end Saturday. Old Dominion shot 41 percent (22-of-54) from the field in the game, including 33 percent in the second half. In the paint, VCU outscored Old Dominion, 40-24.
Brandon Rozzell is a pretty easy guy to root for. He’s the consummate hometown kid making good before an audience of friends, family and admirers - not to mention the fact that he’s just so darn nice. If you see a group of VCU players laughing and having a good time, chances are that Rozzell is probably nearby.
“I think it just comes from my personality,” Rozzell said. “I like to have fun. I like to make guys laugh. Guys laugh at me. It’s all about chemistry. I’ve been with these guys a long time.”
Rozzell’s popularity extends throughout the city of Richmond and the Siegel Center, a building he’s been patrolling since he was a high school star at Highland Springs. He’s so popular, in fact, that Rams’ Head Coach Shaka Smart often refers to his junior shooting guard as “The Mayor.”
“It’s because he knows everybody and he’s so well liked around Richmond,” Smart said. “I’ve run into countless people that either know him or have some story about him or his family. They’re all positive. Brandon has built up a tremendous relationship with the people in this city.” READ MORE...
MEN’S BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK
It was the most stunning loss of an otherwise sensational season, and the Rams haven’t forgotten it.
On Feb. 4 of last year, VCU delivered an uninspired performance at Trask Coliseum and left with a puzzling, 81-72 loss to a dreadful UNC Wilmington team. Nearly a year later to the day, the defeat still feels fresh.
Much like last year, the Rams routed the Seahawks at the Siegel Center earlier this season, 91-57. In addition, UNCW (7-16, 3-8 CAA) has lost seven of eight and recently parted ways with Coach Benny Moss. Twenty-nine year old Assistant Brooks Lee has been named interim head coach and will lead the Seahawks on Wednesday.
All signs point to a VCU victory, but that’s what the Rams thought last year before UNC Wilmington landed a haymaker.
“We’re going to be bringing it up all week,” Junior Joey Rodriguez said. “We went down there last year with a poor attitude and we got it handed to us.” READ MORE....
DETERMINED VCU EYES SECOND ACT
Message to the opposition: You shouldn’t make VCU angry. You wouldn’t like them when their angry.
Still stinging from their loss to Northeastern, VCU rolled into the Siegel Center Wednesday night with a chip on its shoulder and laid a historic beating on an undermanned Towson squad, 112-53.
It was never close. VCU dominated every aspect of the game, knocking down a school and conference-record 20 3-pointers, out rebounding the Tigers, 46-21 and shooting 63 percent from the floor.
When asked if this was his team’s best performance of the 2009-10 season, Rams’ Head Coach Shaka Smart paused and smiled.
“It was certainly indicated by the score,” Smart said. “I thought in some ways the game reminded me of the UNC Wilmington game because our guys shared the ball so well and we really looking for each other. “ READ MORE...
MOSS SAVES HER BEST FOR LAST
If you burned the first 39 minutes and 54 seconds of Thursday’s game tape, D’Andra Moss probably wouldn’t stop you. She might even fetch the gas can. But those last six seconds? Those are keepers.
Despite a miserable shooting night, Moss hit the one bucket that counted the most, bombing a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left to give VCU a 60-59 victory over Delaware and phenom Elena Delle Donne. The win allowed the Rams to maintain their foothold on first place in the Colonial Athletic Association and will no doubt help Moss forget what had been nearly 40 minutes of frustration.
“I just didn’t want to let my team down,” Moss, who finished with 19 points, said. “The fact that my coach trusts me enough, regardless of how poor I’ve been shooting all game long, she still trusts me enough to win the game. All those tough games we had early in the season, we just know how to win when it’s close.”
Just seconds earlier, Delle Donne drew a double team and found a cutting Jocelyn Bailey under the hoop for a layup and a 59-57 Blue Hen lead. The Rams inbounded and raced up to midcourt to call timeout. Up until that point, Moss, VCU’s leading scorer (18.5 ppg), had hit just 6-of-24 from the floor. On 3-pointers, she was an abysmal 1-of-7. READ MORE...
HEAVY ON HAVOC, RAMS EXACT REVENGE FROM TRIBE
Athletes are supposed to have short memories, at least that’s what we’re led to believe. You couldn’t have convinced anyone of that Wednesday night, when an inspired VCU team thumped first-place William & Mary, 81-59, before a sellout crowd at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
The victory was the first of what the Rams hope will be two redemptive wins this week. William & Mary defeated VCU, 75-74, Dec. 5 in Williamsburg. The Rams will face Northeastern, which dealt the Black and Gold a 62-57 loss on Jan. 4, Saturday in Boston, Mass.
“We always say that our next game is our most important game, but I think with this one, there was a little payback in our blood this time,” said VCU’s Larry Sanders, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. “We had the fire, so we just went to work.”
It was a win that changed nothing and everything all at once. Tomorrow, the Rams will still be tied for fifth place with Drexel, but they’ll do so riding a four-game winning streak with a boatload of confidence. Not only did the victory exact a measure of revenge from the upstart Tribe, but it allowed VCU to keep pace with CAA leaders George Mason, Northeastern and Old Dominion, who all won midweek games. READ MORE....
SHARK IN THE WATER
VCU forward Courtney Hurt has been a Ram for a couple of years now, but this season, she’s learning to become a shark.
Rams’ Coach Beth Cunningham and her staff have selected the shark as the unofficial mascot of sorts for this year’s VCU squad. Every week, a player is honored for going above and beyond and giving the extra mile on the court. Cunningham sees it as a way to instill a predator’s instinct in her team and to avoid complacency after back-to-back 26-win seasons.
Last week, Hurt, a 6-0 sophomore, earned her very first “shark” award.
The honor served as a nod to Hurt’s rapid maturation this year and renewed commitment to hard work. It’s been a tough transition for the personable, but easygoing Hurt.
“The biggest thing I’m on her about all the time is playing hard,” Cunningham said. “When she plays hard, she gets results.”
Lately, that message has been coming through loud and clear. In her last five games, Hurt is averaging 16.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game and has registered three double-doubles. She’s averaging 11.7 points and a team-best 7.6 rebounds for the season. Those are drastic progressions from her freshman year, when she provided 4.4 points and 4.5 rebounds. READ MORE...
THE TEN MOST SIGNIFICANT VCU ATHLETIC MOMENTS OF 2009
Here at VCU, we’re working under an aggressive, five-year strategic plan designed to enhance the athletic department in every conceivable way. From donor dollars, to honor students, to championship trophies, everybody has a role in making VCU Athletics a success. Over the past year, there have been plenty of success on which to draw. Here are the 10 most significant VCU Athletic events of 2009. These were selected based on a number of criteria, which will remain secret as a matter of national security.
10. Women’s Tennis reaches NCAA Tournament for fourth straight year
You can pretty much count on the success of Paul Kostin’s VCU Tennis programs like you can count on the Simpsons. Although the VCU men’s squad saw its run of 16 consecutive NCAA bids come to an end, the Rams’ women’s team kept rolling to record its eighth tourney appearance of the decade. Despite the loss of All-American Tatsiana Uvarova to graduation, VCU reloaded behind rising stars Kateryna Yergina, Olena Leonchuk and Laura Burns. READ MORE....
CATCHING UP WITH KRYSTAL VAUGHN
Often overshadowed on her own team by VCU wunderkind Quanitra Hollingsworth, Krystal Vaughn stepped out on her own those final days of the 2007-08 season. With Hollingsworth sidelined with a torn Achillies tendon, Vaughn played the best ball of her career to lead the Rams to their first CAA Championship game. In the semifinal against James Madison, Vaughn poured in a game-high 19 points to stun the Dukes, 69-60. She scored 16 and grabbed 10 rebounds the following day as VCU raced to an eight-point halftime lead before falling to Old Dominion, 71-64. That Rams team earned a berth to the WNIT, VCU’s first postseason bid since 1995.
She finished her career with 1,298 points, seventh-most in school history. In 2008 Vaughn became the first VCU Women’s Basketball player to be drafted into the WNBA when the Washington Mystics selected her in the third round. Vaughn played in 15 games and averaged 0.8 points and 1.0 rebounds that year. However, prior to the 2009 season, WNBA rosters were reduced from 13 players to 11, and Vaughn was cut. Since, she’s taken her game to Greece, Israel and Spain. We recently caught up with her. READ MORE...
NO SANDERS, NO PROBLEM; VCU REBOUND COMES ON THE BOARDS
A fidgety Larry Sanders sat on the VCU bench in his neatly-pressed black pants, black shirt and contrasting red tie. Directly across sat four empty press row seats, reserved for NBA scouts who hadn’t bothered to show.
Had they decided to take in VCU’s 77-64 victory over Delaware Saturday, those scouts would’ve seen the Rams hammer the boards and lock up a win they absolutely had to have. They would have noticed VCU playing in a way that would make people believe that the menacing, 6-foot-11 Sanders had been swooping in for rebounds and denying entrance to the paint.
Without Sanders, who was suspended for throwing a flagrant elbow during Wednesday’s game at Drexel, the Rams still managed to outrebound the Blue Hens Saturday, 42-36. They outscored UD, 36-26 in the paint, and had 14 second-chance points compared to the ‘Hens’ 12.
“We talked about how we weren’t going to use Larry’s absence as an excuse, about how we’re going to have to step up,” VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart said. “I told our guys, our best rebounder is in street clothes right now. That’s a fact. Now, what are we going to do about it. Brad and some of our other players made a determination that they were going to do something about it.” READ MORE...
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVE GIFFARD
We recently caught up with new VCU Men's Soccer Coach Dave Giffard to get his thoughts on what lies ahead for the Rams.
THE QUIET RAM
It seems like everybody’s talking about Jamie Skeen these days. Just the mention of his name on the VCUBasketball forums is enough to crash servers.
“Reports from practice are that he is the best offensive player on our team, and it's not even close.”
“I talked to a couple of players who said that Skeen is the best offensive player on our team as far as being a scorer. For all intents and purposes, Skeen is going to be an impact player.”
“I can't wait to see this kid play. He's going to bring a completely different dynamic to the floor.”
“He has the skill to play anywhere on the floor. You don’t start in the ACC unless you have game...I see the second coming of Michael Doles, only a bigger, stronger version.”
“Jamie will immediately be our leading scorer if everything we've heard and seen is any indication. Can you imagine what that means for Larry, not having to be the focal point of a defense?”
“Jamie Skeen set a world record in the 100-meter dash with a caribou strapped to his back.”
Okay, I made that last one up, but the message is clear. Skeen is the talk of the VCU Basketball world, and people can’t wait to see the Wake Forest transfer play in a Rams’ uniform. In fact, the only person not talking about Jamie Skeen is Jamie Skeen. READ MORE...
NORTHEASTERN WINS BATTLE IN THE TRENCHES, DEALS GUTSHOT TO VCU
By Chris Kowalczyk
It’s not just football games that are won in the trenches. VCU’s 62-57 loss to Northeastern before 5,741 at the Verizon Wireless Arena was exhibit ‘A’ that basketball contests can be decided in much the same way.
Plodding and methodical on offense, while gritty and physical on defense, the Huskies were able to exploit one of the Rams’ greatest strengths, post play, on the way to a victory on VCU’s home floor for a second straight year.
Rams’ junior Larry Sanders entered the game on a dominant seven-game stretch in which he averaged 16.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and shot .518 (43.-of-80) from the field. On Monday he struggled with the Huskies’ tough, physical defenders and finished with 12 points on 6-of-16 shooting.
VCU’s troubles down low were not limited to Sanders. The Rams’ post players, Sanders, T.J. Gwynn, Terrance Saintil, Kirill Pishchalnikov and Jamie Skeen combined to shoot 10-of-31 from the floor. READ MORE...
RAMBLINGS FROM EAST CAROLINA
For the second time this season, a former VCU coach visited the Verizon Wireless Arena Tuesday night, as East Carolina and Mack McCarthy paid the Rams a visit.
It wasn’t met with the same fanfare as Jeff Capel’s return on Nov. 21, when VCU beat Oklahoma, but it was every bit as significant.
McCarthy, who joined VCU as its associate head coach in 1997-98 under Sonny Smith, directed the Rams to a 66-55 record over four seasons. VCU was 37-25 in his final two seasons, including a 21-11 campaign in 2001-02. McCarthy stepped down prior to the 2002-03 season and was replaced by Capel.
Capel and Anthony Grant are often credited with VCU’s return to prominence, as they should. However, McCarthy took over a 9-19 squad in 1998 and forged the Rams into a winner. McCarthy was on the sidelines when VCU opened the Siegel Center with a thrilling, 79-74 victory over Louisville on Nov. 19, 1999. READ MORE...
EARLY VICTORIES COULD PAY LATE DIVIDENDS FOR VCU
Like most 21-year-old men, Joey Rodriguez has an array of media at his disposal, ESPN, a plethora of websites, Twitter, you name it. Ignoring VCU’s 8-1 non-conference record, and what it could mean for the Rams in March, is a near impossibility.
“I look at that stuff. I’m not going to lie to you,” Rodriguez admits. “I look at that stuff all the time. The past two years I’ve been here, we haven’t had the opportunity. Usually our non-conference schedule has messed us up. It’s good to know that this year we have a good resume right now. We could come in and do some things in conference play and boost that up even more.”
With Tuesday night’s 82-74 victory over East Carolina, the Rams improved to 8-2 overall and added to a potential NCAA resume that includes quality wins over Richmond, Rhode Island, Nevada and Oklahoma.
Wait a second. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s get something out of the way. It’s Dec. 29, light years away from March on the basketball calendar. The CAA is a potential minefield with preseason favorite Old Dominion, George Mason, Northeastern and others waiting to knock off the Rams, the defending champions. A mediocre CAA finish would kill any NCAA talk faster than you can say, “Is this the dagger?!” Pretty much the last thing coaches want to talk about in December is the NCAA Tournament. READ MORE...
A fifth-year senior, VCU forward T.J. Gwynn admits it takes him longer to get loose for practices and games than it used to. It’s an observation not lost on his teammates.
“I remember watching him play when I was in high school,” Brandon Rozzell joked. “Sometimes he moves around like he’s old, so we talk a lot of trash, because he’s like 25, 26-years old, and he graduated twice.”
“We call him Issiah [Grayson’s] daddy, because Issiah’s 17, and T.J. is like, 30-something,” Larry Sanders says with a chuckle. “He’s the vet, man. He gets treatments before practice, after practice. He’s got different sleeves and different pads that he wears. He’s got an old body.”
Gwynn is so old, he’s playing for his third head coach, has rubbed elbows with two athletic directors, and has shaken hands with a pair of school presidents. He’s so old, he’s had 33 VCU teammates. He’s the last link to the Jeff Capel era, and is the only player remaining from the Rams’ upset of Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
While he may be long in the tooth as a collegian, Gwynn is actually 22-years young. Hold the social security payments. Cancel the AARP card. READ MORE...
MEN’S BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK
BIG MAN IN THE BIG EASY
Wake Forest junior transfer Jamie Skeen will make his first appearance in a VCU uniform during Saturday’s game at Tulane in New Orleans. How much Skeen will we see? That’s still up in the air, according to VCU Coach Shaka Smart.
“I can’t tell you for sure how many minutes he’s going to play,” Smart said. “We just got Terrance [Saintil] back Saturday. Larry [Sanders] is playing well, T.J. (Gwynn) is playing well. Jamie’s definitely going to see some time, how much is to be determined.”
Skeen will be a welcome addition to VCU’s front line. For the first part of the season, the Rams were missing the 6-8, 240-pound Saintil and the 6-9, 245-pound Skeen. Without those two, VCU was often undersized. Six-foot-eleven Larry Sanders is the only Ram taller than 6-5 averaging at least 10 minutes per game. READ MORE
SAINTIL PLAYS SECOND-HALF SAINT IN VCU COMEBACK
After weeks of waiting, VCU finally received the post depth it sorely needed. You know, a dynamic big man who can score, rebound and block shots. A guy who was so impressive, his play elicited this response from Richmond Coach Chris Mooney.
“I thought he was great,” Mooney said. “He’s certainly a nice addition to their team. He’s very athletic, physical. He’s a very impressive guy to look at, and I think some of the things, his touch around the basket, his free throws and his pass, that really jumped out at me, that he’s even better than I thought.”
Jamie who? Heck no. He’s a game away. We’re talking about Terrance Saintil.
Playing in his first game of the season, Saintil energized VCU with 10 game-changing minutes, including seven in the second half, as VCU erased a nine-point deficit on the way to a 65-57 win over Richmond Saturday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena. READ MORE...
SOLO’S SUMMER OF HARD KNOX
While most college students were enjoying their summer getaways on beaches and other sleepy destinations, VCU Women’s Basketball senior Stephanie Solomon waking up at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of a grumpy drill instructor.
Solomon, a member of VCU’s Army ROTC program, spent a month this summer at Fort Knox, Ky. participating the organization’s Leadership Training Course, LTC for the military types.
Despite the fancy name, LTC is essentially a four-week boot camp. In addition to the early wake up calls, Solomon had to endure four weeks of physical training, leadership classes and culture shock. It won’t be soon forgotten.
“Mentally, it was harder than I expected,” Solomon said. “If you have a cup in your right hand and you’re supposed to have it in your left, you’re getting chewed out. For meals, there’s always a sense of urgency in the Army. You never know when you’re going to get attacked. We always had to eat in like, two minutes.”
Solomon has been interested in the military for some time. Part of her interest stems from familiarity. Her brother is currently a sergeant in the Air Force, while her father served in the Navy. However, the other part is more philanthropic. READ MORE...
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK
PLENTY OF ‘O’ FROM ‘D’
Despite the losses of its leading scorers from last season, Quanitra Hollingsworth and Radoslava Bachvarova, VCU has seen its points-per-game average increase this year, from 66.7 to 71.2.
At the center of the Rams’ offensive output is senior D’Andra Moss (left). Through five games, Moss is averaging 19.8 points per game and shooting .535. Entering this season, the 6-0 forward was a career 7.3 point scorer. Last year, Moss was VCU’s fourth-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game.
“She’s a real mismatch problem from her ability to score, her physical presence and just her leadership ability,” said VCU Head Coach Beth Cunningham. “There are just so many different things she brings to the team. She’s proven to be a handful for teams up to this point, and I think she’s going to continue to be.“
Moss has already posted games of 33 and 27 points this season. She was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s Co-Player of the Week on Nov. 23. Her play this year has been especially impressive, considering she missed the final 11 games of last season with a torn ACL. Moss has torn the ACL’s in both of her knees. READ MORE...
MEN’S BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK
VISIONS OF VALPO
VCU got exactly what it wanted on the final play of Saturday’s 75-74 loss to William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Except the basket, that is. Those who watched the play might have recognized it as identical to the one Valparaiso used to upset Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
The Tribe’s David Schneider connected on a free throw with 3.1 seconds remaining to snap a 74-74 tie. T.J. Gwynn inbounded for the Rams and found Larry Sanders near midcourt with a high, looping baseball pass. The 6-11 Sanders corralled the ball and found Ed Nixon streaking up the right sideline. Nixon had a look at a wide-open 3-pointer, but couldn’t get it to fall as time expired.
Although Nixon was visibly disappointed after the game, VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart wouldn’t hesitate to call on the junior guard again.
“That final play, T.J. made a great pass. Larry made a great catch and a great pass and I’ll take that shot from Ed Nixon, in that situation, 100 out of 100 times,” Smart said. READ MORE...
ONE THE HARD WAY: VCU OUTRUNS MISTAKES TO BEAT RHODE ISLAND
It was sloppy, disjointed and exasperating - and it was a win. If he actually bothered to grow hair on his head, Shaka Smart might have a few more visible grays after VCU’s 82-80 win over Rhode Island Wednesday night.
Smart will gladly accept a win in an ugly nail-biter over the alternative, but he’d rather not make it a habit.
When Smart and Company break down Wednesday’s tape, they’ll try to solve VCU’s 21 turnovers, the Rams’ defensive shortcomings and Rhode Island’s 36-22 rebounding advantage. Then again, VCU had many of those same problems, especially the turnovers, in last year’s 92-86 loss at Rhode Island. At least this time, VCU can search for answers with a victory in its pocket.
VCU appeared to have a win in the bag when Brandon Rozzell’s jumper with 1:36 remaining gave the Black and Gold an 82-76 advantage. However, VCU committed two turnovers and missed the front end of three straight one-and-ones in the final minute-plus. The Rams escaped with the victory only after a half-court 3-pointer by URI’s Marquis Jones clanged off the rim at the buzzer. READ MORE...
A POSITION OF STRENGTH
It seems like the only person that can wear out Daniel Roose is his two-year-old son Devin.
“I call him Mr. Perseverance,” Roose said. “We have a little batting tee in the back yard and he’ll stay out there and take cut after cut after cut. My neighbors think I make him do it. I’ll tell him it’s time to come inside and he’s like, ‘more cuts, more cuts.’”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Roose household. Devin appears to have inherited his father’s hard-charging persona.
Whatever his son can throw at him in the evening, it hasn’t slowed down the high-energy Roose during the day, when he’s serving as the strength and conditioning coach for the VCU men’s basketball team. It’s a good thing, because this year, the Rams may need him more than ever.
Roose was hired this season by Head Coach Shaka Smart to fuel VCU’s explosive, up-tempo attack. Smart’s system is marked by its full court press and high-octane offense. The Rams are a picture of constant motion and often practice with a 14-second shot clock. Players are implored to push through fatigue and pain. READ MORE...
CATCHING UP WITH CALVIN ROLAND
When VCU fans look back on the 2007 CAA Championship game, most remember the heroics of Eric Maynor down the stretch in a 65-59 victory. However, with Michael Anderson in foul trouble, 6-10 center Calvin Roland came off the bench and gave the Rams one of the defining performances of his college career with 12 big points in 21 minutes.
Roland was also an inspirational figure for that VCU team. A native of Hephzibah, Ga. Roland played two years at Aiken Technical College before then-Rams’ coach Jeff Capel spotted him. Roland spent some of that time sleeping on the floor of the locker room.
As a junior, Roland averaged 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds. His expectations were high heading into his senior year, but a back injury forced him to miss the entire 2005-06 season.
The following season, Roland’s father passed away from congestive heart failure. All the while, Roland kept working on his game and his grades. He eventually earned his master’s from the VCU Center for Sport Leadership in 2008. Since, he has played professionally in Germany and Iceland. This year he is suiting up in for CSU Sibiu in Romania, where he is averaging 7.9 points and 3.9 rebounds. Around The Horns recently caught up with Calvin Roland. READ MORE...
LARGE AND IN CHARGE; VCU CROWD WOWS IN RAMS’ UPSET
Eat your heart out Cameron Crazies. Back off Boomer Sooner. Keep your Rock Chalk, Jayhawks. We’re doing just fine here at the corner of Harrison and Broad, thanks.
In what is fast becoming one of college basketball’s worst kept secrets, the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center is just plain misery for VCU opponents. Saturday night wasn’t just proof, it was the smoking gun. It was Matlock-good.
A rabid throng of 7,547 shoehorned its way into the Siegel Center and celebrated all the way through the Rams’ stunning, 82-69, upset of No. 17 Oklahoma.
Hours prior to tip-off, students lined the street outside the arena gates. The line stretched around the block. The student sections, serving as gold-painted bookends, were louder and more raucous than any group in my five years at VCU. Louder than four Old Dominion games. Crazier than two tilts with Richmond. More bonkers than two BracketBusters. READ MORE...
MOSS HAS UNFINISHED BUSINESS FOR RAMS
D'Andra Moss isn't finished. She averaged 9.9 points and 5.9 rebounds last year, but an injury cut her season short. Now a senior, Moss is looking to lead the Rams back to the promised land.
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN, CAPEL EYES RETURN TO VCU
There will be no brunches at Karen’s City Diner, no jaunts to Short Pump, no fun in the Fan. Jeff Capel is coming back to VCU to play a basketball game, and until it’s over he’s all business.
“I pretty much hole up in the hotel and try to focus,” Capel said. “Everything else can happen when the game is over.”
As much as he’d like to convince himself otherwise, Capel knows that when he brings his Oklahoma team to the Verizon Wireless Arena on Nov. 21, it’s not just another game. It’ll be Capel’s first time back at VCU since his departure to Oklahoma in 2006.
“It’s going to be weird,” Capel said. “It’ll be very different coming back the place where I got started, where the unconventional wisdom of Dr. [Richard} Sander and Dr. [Eugene] Trani started my career.” READ MORE...
FRESH FACES GIVE RAMS HOPE FOR LIFE AFTER HOLLINGSWORTH
Dedication is one thing, but Beth Cunningham had to draw the line somewhere. As she headed to her pregame workout Monday afternoon, she got quite a shock.
“I walked into the weight room, said hello and did a double take. [Stephanie Solomon] is standing over there with dumbbells in her hands, and I about had a conniption… I virtually had to throw Solo out of the weight room.”
You’ll have to forgive Solomon (pictured, left). She played just 107 minutes last season while in the shadow of future WNBA Draft pick Quanitra Hollingsworth. But on Monday, Solomon was set to start the 2009-2010 season-opener for VCU, and she couldn’t help herself.
“I was just so excited,” Solomon said. “I had to put that energy somewhere.”
Luckily for the Rams, she saved enough energy for an 11-point, 10-rebound performance, her first career double-double, in a 72-58 VCU victory over Virginia Tech at the Verizon Wireless Arena. READ MORE...
CENTER OF ATTENTION
It’s hard to imagine a sinewy, 6-foot-3 guard casting an eclipse-like shadow on a 6-foot-11 guy with the wingspan of a C-130, but that’s the kind of presence Eric Maynor had at VCU.
He was a phenomenon. In many ways, he was VCU’s first rock star. Maynor was literally THE story everywhere the Rams went the last two seasons. All the interviews, the autographs, the adulation, the vitriol of opposing student sections, it was all directed at Maynor. That will change this season.
Mr. Sanders, are you ready for your close up?
Whether he likes it or not, VCU junior Larry Sanders is now the Rams’ big man on campus (quite literally). It’s not completely unexpected. Somebody had to step under the bright lights, but the quantity and quality of attention thrown Sanders’ way recently has been surprising.
Maynor had “The Dagger”, his Duke-killing shot in the 2007 NCAA Tournament that thrust him into the nation’s consciousness. For Sanders, his introduction came in two parts. First, he absolutely demolished George Mason in the 2009 Colonial Athletic Association Championship game in front of a national-television audience. As in, 18 points, 20 rebounds, seven blocks, demolished.READ MORE...
A LONG TIME COMING
One year and eight months. It’s about 600 days, and you’d better believe that Jay Gavin has been counting.
That’s how long Gavin’s been waiting to get back on the basketball floor since he transferred from Marist following the 2007-08 season. Friday night, playing with a kid’s enthusiasm, Gavin started and scored 12 points in VCU’s season-opening, 77-51, victory over Bethune-Cookman at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gavin said of his return. “It’s been a year and eight months since I played a game that really matters or counts on our record, so it really, really feels good.”
Gone were the struggles that plagued him during the Rams’ exhibition contest with Virginia Union on Nov. 5, in which he finished 2-of-9 from the field and couldn’t buy a jumper. Instead, Gavin showed the sweet shooting stroke that the Rams covet, knocking down 3-of-5 3-pointers. READ MORE...
VCU IS OFF TO THE RACES
The Siegel Center has always been a comfy spot for Brandon Rozzell, who played many a game at the arena during outstanding high school career at nearby Highland Springs. But Thursday night, it wasn’t just the location that felt familiar. Instead, it was Virginia Commonwealth University’s breakneck press and jet-fuel powered, fastbreak offense.
“I love it,” Rozzell, who had 14 points said of the new, up-tempo Rams. “It reminds me of back in my Highland Springs days. It’s lovely.”
Much like his high school career, Rozzell ended up on the winning end too, as the Rams harassed, blitzed and bolted past Virginia Union, 85-55, in VCU’s season-opening exhibition.
It was a successful debut for the first-year Head Coach Shaka Smart’s version of VCU Basketball, which looks like former coach Anthony Grant’s system on steroids. READ MORE...
February 5, 2004. Kate Hudson will never forget the date. The VCU senior goalkeeper nods with a certain affirmation when she says it, silently acknowledging that it was the day her life changed forever. You see, that was the day Kate Hudson learned she had cancer.
Midway through her final year at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Md., Hudson was looking forward to spring soccer and a lifetime of senior year memories. It came to a screeching halt that February day. Weeks earlier, Hudson found a lump on her neck during indoor track practice. Hudson had been feeling fatigued lately, but chalked it up to the rigors of school and sports. Now she knew something was wrong.
A biopsy revealed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the tissue found in lymph nodes. Unchecked, it can spread to the spleen, liver, bone marrow and other organs. When Hudson received the diagnosis, she was stunned.
“I know the date really well, but a lot of the rest I’ve blocked out,” Hudson said. “I really only remember about a two-minute period of that day. I have no idea what else happened.” READ MORE...
FREY EMERGES AS A THREAT FOR VCU ON AND OFF THE FLOOR
The coaches and staffers who work in the VCU Sports Medicine Building are familiar with the grating, metal-on-blacktop sound of the weight sled. Year ‘round, Rams’ athletes can be found dragging the primitive, yet highly effective, apparatus back and forth across the Sports Med parking lot. Despite the basic premise, the exercise builds powerful athletes, and is a stable of the Rams’ strength and conditioning programs.
So VCU Head Volleyball Coach James Finley wasn’t surprised to see an impressive, albeit unfamiliar athlete pulling the contraption when he returned to his office in mid-July.
“I had been at nationals and doing camps and recruiting and I hadn’t been around campus much,” Finley said. “Coach [Nathan] Baker and I were walking out the back of Sports Med and there was this girl pulling the weight sled, and it was just the ‘V’ shape and everything else, and we wondered, ‘when did track get a kid like that?’”
But it wasn’t a hot shot track and field recruit, it was Finley’s own player, rising junior Mariel Frey. READ MORE...
AROUND THE HORNS GOES TO WASHINGTON
Tuesday, Oct. 20 was CAA Basketball Media Day in Washington, D.C. It's the league's kickoff to all things hoops. Naturally, we were there, so it seemed like a perfectly good time to catch up with VCU Head Coaches Beth Cunningham and Shaka Smart.
WE TALKIN’ ‘BOUT PRACTICE
In the unforgettable words of Allen Iverson, “We talkin’ ‘bout practice.”
Another season of VCU Basketball kicks off on Friday, Oct. 16, the first date allowed by NCAA regulations. Over the course of the next four weeks, both Men’s Basketball Coach Shaka Smart and Women’s Coach Beth Cunningham will attempt to teach offensive and defensive philosophies, hone fundamentals, construct a playing rotation and approximately 1,000 other things before the first games begin.
Much is unsettled and needs to be sorted out, but one thing is for certain, they’re ready to get down to business.
“My excitement level couldn’t be any higher,” Smart said. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time, and now it’s finally here. I prefer action over talk anyway. It’s time to put the ball down on the floor and go to work.” READ MORE...
JONES TURNS OUT TO BE A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Ariana Jones’ first foray into cross country wasn’t exactly love at first sight. Actually, it wasn’t even like at first sight. Instead, it played out like a bad blind date.
Perhaps that’s what has made Jones’ ascension to the front of Virginia Commonwealth University’s pack so stunning. A freshman from Sterling, Va., Jones has been the Rams’ top harrier in two of the school’s three meets, despite a grand total of three weeks of high school cross country experience.
Her early returns have VCU believing it may have found a diamond in the rough – a rare, untapped talent.
As a freshman at Potomac Hills High School, Jones joined the cross country program after she failed to make the volleyball team. Although she played basketball, the fitness level required for distance running proved to be a completely different animal.
The intense mileage was a heavy burden for Jones. Three weeks into training, she fell down a hill and into a hole during a run, an ordeal that left Jones with a hyperextended knee. That was the end Jones’ high school cross country career. READ MORE...
I SURVIVED A VCU MEN'S BASKETBALL WORKOUT AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS T-SHIRT
On Oct. 2, I was invited to work out with the VCU Men's Basketball team during one of their Friday conditioning sessions. Due mostly to the fact that these guys are incredible athletes, and partially because of too many Qdoba burritos, it was extremely difficult.
Thanks to Mike Voyack to compressing over an hour's worth of footage into one five-minute bundle of shame. Enjoy (and now, your feature presentation).
DIMINUTIVE SCHERRER SCORES BIG FOR VCU
Kelsey Scherrer jogs towards midfield when she notices something out of the corner of her eye. It’s a steal, which means it’s officially ‘go’ time.
In a blink, she’s gone, reversing course in an instant. Legs churning, she barrels towards the goal like a heat-seeking missile. When the keeper races to intercept a pass to Scherrer on the left post, the Rams’ compact dynamo lunges towards the ball. Beating the keeper by a fraction of a second, she flips a shot over the helpless, prone defender and into the net, crashing to the turf in the process. Goal, VCU.
Scenes like this are becoming commonplace for Scherrer, VCU Field Hockey’s diminutive scoring machine. Just five-foot-one, Scherrer is turning the program, and the Colonial Athletic Association, on its ear with her afterburner-fueled, highlight-reel-quality goals. Through eight matches, Scherrer, a freshman from Chesapeake, Va., leads the Rams with eight goals and 18 points.
“She’s dynamic,” VCU Head Coach Kelly McQuade said. “She absolutely has the ability to change the momentum of games. She can basically take a game into her hands with one play.” READ MORE...
COMMON GOALS: MEN’S SOCCER LIKES ITS OPTIONS IN NET
The job description of a goalkeeper could fill a page, but in the simplest terms, he (or she) is the last line of defense. When the bad guys are knocking on the door, it’s the keeper’s job to go get the ball. Clearly, it’s not for everyone.
“Our position is so different,” says VCU Goalkeepers Coach Saul Montero. “Many field players think a goalkeeper is someone that is crazy. When it’s a one-on-one situation and it’s just the ball between his cleats and your face…you’ve got to be crazy to do that.”
Guys with that type of disposition aren’t a dime a dozen. They don’t come in handy family packs at Target. But this season, VCU believes it’s found not just one outstanding player to guard the net, but three.
“It’s the deepest we’ve ever been at the position,” says Rams’ Head Coach Tim O’Sullivan. READ MORE...
VCU’S GOT A BASKETBALL JONES
The son of former Washington Bullet Jimmy Jones, you’d think Mike Jones would’ve taken in some classic 1970s-era NBA basketball. Not so much.
“Danny Ferry’s dad [Bob Ferry] was the general manager of the Bullets at the time,” Mike Jones said. “During the game we’d be in the bowels of the building. They had a family room, and it was stocked with food. They had a pool table, ping pong tables. We’d be there the whole game. I had no idea what kind of player my dad was until I talked to people. We’d be down there having a ball!”
The good news for VCU basketball fans is that Jones has done a good job making up for lost time. These days, the 44-year-old is the veteran on Shaka Smart’s staff.
“He brings a wealth of experience both in terms of on-floor coaching and recruiting,” Smart said. “His character is second to none and he has a tremendous ability to develop strong relationships with student-athletes, coaches, fans, high school coaches and the like.” READ MORE...
IOWA WIN AN UPSET THREE YEARS IN THE MAKING
The answers that followed couldn’t possibly illustrate the point better than the expression on their faces.
Their eyes widened, their backs arched, their faces turned towards the ceiling, as if to look to some divine intervention. A pained grin crept across their mouths. Is it possible to compress years of frustration into a few short sentences? Can some internet columnist properly convey the feeling that results when abundant passion and hard work are met with defeat?
Kelly McQuade and Marle van Dessel have seen the worst. So, when pressed with the question, ‘what was the state of the VCU Field Hockey program three or four years ago,’ they both squirmed in their seats and searched for metaphors, most of which they knew would fall woefully short.
“It was very tough,” McQuade, in her third season as head coach, said. READ MORE...
UNCLE’S BRAVERY ON 9-11 INSPIRES VCU’S HARTMAN
Glenn Wilkinson never hesitated when the time came to run into a burning building, but amusement park rides? They were serious business.
On his final trip to Virginia in the summer of 2001, Wilkinson was spending the day at Busch Gardens with his sister and her daughter, June, when he reluctantly agreed to ride the Battering Ram, a ship that swings end-to-end on a pendulum. Wilkinson sat in the middle of the boat with June, then a nervous 13-year-old.
“I thought that he was nice by volunteering to sit with me, but I soon realized he was screaming just as loud as I was,” Hartman recalled. “When he saw I was looking at him, he changed his voice to a deeper, more masculine tone. When I called him out about it, we both just laughed.”
It’s one of the final lasting memories Hartman, now a senior on VCU’s women’s soccer team, has of her Uncle Glenn. READ MORE...
NEW PERSPECTIVE HELPS SHACKLETTE STEER RAMS
When Kelly McQuade says Lindsay Shacklette ‘is like having another coach on the field,’ she isn’t recycling a tired cliche, she really means it. That’s because Shacklette, a senior on VCU’s Field Hockey squad, spends her offseason on the sidelines as a field hockey camp counselor and assistant coach with the High Voltage U19 squad in Northern Virginia.
Shacklette, a Fredericksburg, Va. native, didn’t necessarily get into coaching for strategic advantage, but it’s certainly paying off for the Rams.
“[Shacklette] has probably the single most improved skills of anybody on the team,” McQuade said. “I attribute that to coaching. Once you have to start telling other people where to go, it helps you a lot too. It’s really helped her field awareness.”
Shacklette, who shares captain duties with fellow senior Rachel Krumm, also believes her time on the bench is translating when she steps onto the Cary Street turf. READ MORE...
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR MEREDITH
Tomorrow, he’ll be under the bright lights of Camden Yards, where he could be facing a stacked Texas Rangers lineup in some MacGyver-worthy, pressure-cooked, bases-loaded jam. But today, Cla Meredith wants to face nothing scarier than his newborn daughter’s diapers.
While his team, the Baltimore Orioles, enjoys a day off, Meredith has retreated to his Richmond, Va. home for some much-needed quality time with his wife, Natalie, and their five-month-old daughter, Adellyn. It’s a rare treat for a guy who spent the last 3 ½ years playing with the San Diego Padres, 3,000 miles away from his friends and family. A Richmond native and VCU alum, Meredith is happy to be back on the East Coast.
“It’s all I know,” Meredith said. “It’s all I want to know. Even when I went away for the summer, even to San Diego to play, It’s a beautiful city, but mentally, it always felt temporary. It never felt like home. This is home.“ READ MORE...
AROUND THE HORNS: IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
This is going to be like that scene in Major League, where Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) is announcing a Cleveland Indians talk-radio show and says, “If you hadn’t noticed, and judging from the attendance, you haven’t, the Indians have managed to win a few games.”
For many Ram fans, once the school year ends in May, VCU Athletics hibernates in some woodland cave. If there was any summer where that wasn’t true, this would be the one. In fact, there was so much stuff VCU-related stuff going on in the sports world, I wrote a column about it. Here’s the Around The Horns version of “In Case You Missed It.”
DRAFTING, VCU STYLE
Not one, but two Rams were drafted into professional basketball this summer. Quanitra Hollingsworth, who wowed us as a 16-year-old freshman in 2005 and later led VCU to its first NCAA appearance, was the ninth overall pick of the WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx. In 27 games with the Lynx, ‘Q’ is averaging 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds. READ MORE...
SEAN MARSHALL THRIVES AS CUBS’ UTILITY ARM
In these days of specialization on Major League rosters, Sean Marshall is an oddity of sorts. He’s like baseball’s version of the ShamWow.
“It’s like a chamois, a towel, a sponge! ShamWow!“
Marshall, a VCU product and Richmond, Va. native, has been a ubiquitous presence on Chicago Cubs’ roster this season, as Manager Lou Pinella has cast the 6-7 left-hander in a variety of roles. Need a starter? Sean’s on it. Looking for a situational lefty? Marshall will do. Searching for a long man to save the ‘pen? Not a problem.
“If the phone rings and it’s my name, I’m going to go up there and try to get them out,” Marshall said. “I’m fortunate to wear a big league uniform.”
A starter most of his life, Marshall has made 76 appearances for the Cubs the last two seasons, including 16 starts. This year, Marshall is 3-7 with a 4.35 ERA in 42 appearances. Marshall made eight starts in the first two months of the season, but after injuries ravaged Chicago’s pitching staff, he moved to the bullpen. READ MORE...
CATCHING UP WITH… B.A. WALKER 8-13-09
If you want to teach your kids how to shoot a jump shot, show them video of B.A. Walker. From the dead-on footwork, to the seemingly effortless release, he’s a walking shooting clinic. Every shot looks like the last, and looks like the next one. It’s that jumper that helped Walker drain a school-record 269 3-pointers during his VCU basketball career from 2003-07. No other Ram has more than 182.
Walker was a senior and the leading scorer on the VCU’s record-setting 2006-07 squad that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He also ranks 11th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,480 points.
Since his graduation, the 25-year-old Walker has played professionally in Iceland, Holland and Belgium. This past season, he averaged 18.8 points and 3.0 assists per game for the Rotterdam Challengers of the Dutch Eredivisie League.
Around The Horns caught up to the former Ram and Onancock, Va. native, recently. ATH: How has the offseason been treating you?
BW: The offseason has been treating me real good. My time is split between training for next season, and spending time with my family, girlfriend, and catching up with friends I haven't seen in a long time. READ MORE...
STRIKING IT RICH
Ivana Rich can’t hold back laughter when she talks about those first weeks of her freshman year. It’s clear she didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Blow up a few drills, yes. Set the world aflame, no.
“When I first got here I felt like I was in way over my head, because everybody was so good,” the Rams’ senior said. “They used to call me the Drill Killer. Every drill, as soon as I got in there, I’d mess up the whole drill and they’d have to stop it. I was bad. I was very bad.”
A 5-11 middle blocker, Rich was lightly recruited out of Cumberland High School and was admittedly raw as a freshman in 2006. At that point, she’d only been playing volleyball for two years and chose to walk on at VCU, rather than accept offers from a handful of Division III schools and historically black colleges. READ MORE...
AROUND THE HORNS BREAKS DOWN VCU’S NON-CONFERENCE FOES 7-31-09
As I browse the VCU Basketball internet forums, one thing is perfectly clear, there are some hungry fans out there.
The summers can be long and brutal to the biggest Rams’ fans. Some recent threads started at vcuramnation.com included a recent sighting of Michael Doles, an all-time VCU fantasy draft, season ticket renewals and a discussion as to whether games VCU almost won were worth remembering. I feel like we need to throw these guys a bone. These are some of our most passionate fans, and they’re starving. It’s like you had to skip lunch, and when you meet your spouse/significant other/friend/mortal enemy/the Pope for dinner, you order the biggest deep-fried appetizer you see, because you know it takes only four minutes to blaze up those jalapeno poppers. Well, here at VCUAthletics.com, we would love to be your Bloomin’ Onion.
Shaka Smart released the Rams’ 2009-2010 non-conference schedule Friday, and to be honest, it’s probably VCU’s best in recent memory. Games with Oklahoma, Richmond, Rhode Island and Nevada, as well as the ESPNU BracketBusters are included. READ MORE...
AROUND THE HORNS TACKLES MOUNT VCU
In a bit of shameless self-promotion (we just can’t help ourselves) I thought it would be fun to give my own take on our “Mount VCU” discussion here on the interwebs. FYI, to cast your own vote, click here.
The purpose of Mount Rushmore was essentially to celebrate the first 150 years or so of American history and depicts the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, figures who shaped the country. So, I want to look at “Mount VCU” from a similar point of view. I wanted to look at the players and coaches that shaped the school in the 41 years since the merger of RPI and MCV.
Before I get started, let me just say that Google is a drug. Here are some cool things I learned about Mount Rushmore in the last couple of days:
1. Mount Rushmore took 14 years to complete (1927-1941).
2. Each president’s nose is 20 feet long, except for Washington’s, which is 21 feet long.
3. It cost $989,992.32 to build. I’m so glad they were able to do it for less than $1 million. Cue the Dr. Evil clip.
Picking just four student-athletes for something like this will no doubt leave people wondering why player X didn’t get picked, etc. Feel free to debate the merits of one player or another, that’s part of the fun. Throwing fruits and vegetables at me is the less preferred route. For what it’s worth, Teddy Roosevelt was a controversial choice for Mount Rushmore. READ MORE...
HOW LARRY SANDERS SPENT HIS SUMMER VACATION
I imagine Larry Sanders’ first day of class this fall will go something like this:
It’s a full classroom today in junior English. Surely the coming weeks will yield Chaucer, Longfellow and Hemingway, but today is the dreaded essay, ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation.’
One-by-one, students recite a steady drivel of family getaways to Virginia Beach, a trip to crazy Uncle Ralph’s barbecue, so-and-so’s killer pool party, etc. The snooze-o-meter reaches DEFCON 4.
Sanders strolls to the front of the class, paper clenched in his gigantic right mitt, and the professor asks simply, ‘So Larry, how did you spend your summer vacation?’ Matter-of-factly, Sanders says that he hung with Amar’e Stoudemire in Phoenix, defended LeBron James in Akron and balled with Ben Wallace in Richmond. Oh, did he mention he has his own billboard? Yeah, there’s that too.
The classroom falls silent until one student breaks the calm with “the slow clap.” The other students follow suit. A LAR-RY SAN-DERS chant breaks out before the crowd rushes to hoist the 6-10 Sanders on their shoulders and carry him out to the Student Commons, cheering all the way. Kenny Loggins plays as the credits roll. READ MORE....
AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS; VCU COACH RECALLS 1999 WORLD CUP 7-9-09
For a month in the summer of 1999, the FIFA Women’s World Cup captivated America. Previously an afterthought in the United States, women’s soccer was thrust to the forefront, as the powerhouse American squad zigzagged the country before record crowds.
On July 10, 1999, the U.S. met China in the championship match before a crowd of 90,185 at the Rose Bowl in Pasedena, Calif., the largest to ever witness a women’s sporting event. Scoreless through regulation, the game was decided in a shootout on a Brandi Chastain penalty kick. Chastain’s kick and subsequent shirtless celebration became iconic moments in American lore, right up there with Babe Ruth, the 1980 Miracle On Ice and the Ice Bowl.
VCU Co-Women’s Soccer Coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak played on that squad and recently spoke to Around The Horns about those unforgettable moments from 10 years ago.
ATH: What was initially went through your mind when Brandi Chastain connected on that final penalty kick to give the U.S. the championship?
TRS: I had a combination of feelings because it was such a hard fought match and we had trained for that moment for long time. It was a grueling game. I felt relief, joy, excitement... it all just felt amazing! READ MORE....
INGE AN ALL STAR? HE SHOULD BE
Be honest, you didn’t think we’d be having this conversation anytime soon, maybe ever. Not after last season. However, in a couple of days, we could be – and should be - calling VCU-alum Brandon Inge an All-Star. Real-Deal-Holyfield.
Don’t get me wrong here, Inge is a fine major league third baseman, but up until this season, the closest the Lynchburg, Va. native came to an All-Star Game was MTV’s Rock ‘N Jock Softball Jam.
Through Thursday, July 2, Inge was hitting .275 with 18 home runs, ninth in the American League, and 52 RBI, 10th on the Junior Circuit. Inge leads AL third basemen in homers and is second in runs batted in. Oh, and did we mention he’s playing a Gold Glove-worthy third base?
If Inge is named to his first All-Star squad when the teams are revealed on Sunday, July 5, he’ll be the first former VCU player to earn that distinction.
Inge won’t win the fan vote. He might not even finish in the top five. Tampa Bay’s Evan “Don’t Call Me Eva” Longoria has that nearly hemmed up. In addition, sexier picks Alex Rodriguez and Mike Lowell, also read: New York and Boston, will probably garner more votes than Inge as well. Heck, Roger Dorn might have more votes than Inge right now. READ MORE...
Shaka Smart said he wanted to play up-tempo, but this could be pushing it.
On June 25, Smart, VCU’s Men’s Basketball Coach, geared up for the ride of a lifetime at Richmond International Raceway.
With the IndyCar Series in town for the SunTrust Indy Challenge, Smart strapped in for a ride in a specially designed two-seater, which is an IndyCar that has been stretched to fit a passenger behind the driver.
Smart’s first visit to a motorsports facility proved to be an exciting one.
“I felt a lot of the G Forces,” said Smart, who was named head coach at VCU in April. “It’s like being on a roller coaster, except times a thousand. I’d like to come back here and be in one of those cars during the race.”
“I had never been to a race track before,” continued Smart. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for what these guys do, but now that I’m here, I have about 10 times the respect for them. I can’t imagine being out there with 15 or 20 other cars.”
Click on the links above for photos and video of Smart’s IndyCar ride.
MAYNOR TO LEARN NBA DESTINATION THURSDAY 6-24-09
Some 98 days since the curtain fell on his collegiate career, Eric Maynor will learn where his life as a professional basketball player will begin Thursday during the NBA Draft (ESPN, 7 p.m.).
The last three months have been a whirlwind for Maynor, VCU’s all-time leader in points and assists, who only recently had an opportunity to think about what lies ahead.
“It’s just now starting to hit me,” Mayor said last week. “I’m just a few days away from getting my name called by [NBA Commissioner] David Stern.
In a draft stocked with point guards, it’s anybody’s guess where Maynor could wind up. However, most mock drafts have the Raeford, N.C. native going somewhere in the middle of the first round.
“I just want to end up in the right situation,” Maynor said. “Whether it’s No. 10 or No. 19, I don’t want to sit behind a bunch of people. I want to go somewhere where I can play and contribute.” READ MORE...
As we exited the floor of Buffalo’s HSBC Arena, you could feel the collective range of emotions from the sellout crowd of nearly 19,000. Shock. Awe. Excitement. Despair. Validation.
Literally moments earlier, some wiry point guard nobody had ever heard of named Eric Maynor sent shockwaves through college basketball, when his jumper with 1.8 seconds left felled Duke, a presumably insurmountable Goliath.
It was my job that evening to escort Maynor, CBS’ new poster boy for their “One Shining Moment” slogan, from his courtside TV and radio interviews, back to the jubilant VCU lockerroom. As we retracted under the stands and into the guts of the arena, we slipped past a group of men, led by a tall, balding gentleman, likely in his mid-forties.
“Nice shot,” The man said, as we passed in the hall.
Maynor, his eyes darting about, adrenaline coursing through his veins, looked like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” after unwrapping his Little Red Rider B.B. Gun. The 6-3 guard barely noticed the man, but managed to reply, “appreciate it.”
As we walked, I gave a look back.
“Was that Jim Kelly?” I said, referring to the former rocket-armed Buffalo Bills quarterback. READ MORE...
VCU ASSISTANT ROBINSON IS A QUICK STUDY
The early parts of Tarrell Robinson’s basketball career were a lot more style than substance.
“For some reason, from watching T.V., I would always try to do Michael Jordan moves, go baseline, double-pump, and go to the other side of the rim. If I got that move, I was good,” Robinson recalls with a laugh.
Although the flash subsided, Robinson did manage to get better. In fact, although he got a late start in basketball, Robinson proved to be such a quick study, that the game took the 31-year-old farther than he ever imagined.
“Basketball kind of saved me,” said Robinson, recently named an assistant coach on the VCU Women’s Basketball staff. READ MORE...
CATCHING UP WITH... JAMAL SHULER
Whether he was draining long-range 3-pointers or flashing his signature megawatt smile, Jamal Shuler was one of the most likeable VCU players in recent memory. In 2007-08, the 6-3 guard averaged 15.5 points and 4.7 rebounds and was named to the Colonial Athletic Association’s First Team, as well as the league’s All-Defensive Team. “Shu” recently completed his first professional season with Trier of Germany’s First Division, averaging 9.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals. Around The Horns recently caught up with the former Ram star.
ATH: Jamal, you just completed your first season in Germany, how’d it go? JS: My first season was a great experience. I started every game as a rookie and averaged nine points, four rebounds and two assists. I played a lot of minutes on a team full of veterans. All-in-all it was a good season. We won 16 games, and that’s nine more than the team won the previous year. READ MORE...
THE YEAR IN VCU ATHLETICS, FROM ‘A’ TO ‘Z’
A is for Around The Horns. It’s best to get these shameless plugs out of the way early.
B is for B-Squared, Double ‘B’, ‘Big Shot’ Bradford Burgess. A freshman out of nearby Benedictine, Burgess started all 34 men’s basketball games this season and averaged 7.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and hit 43 percent (Big Shot Brad, hello…) of his 3-point attempts. His teammates call him ‘Juice’. Now you can too.
C is for CAA Championships. VCU hoisted championship trophies in Men’s Basketball and Men’s Golf. You know who the sports information director both of those sports this year was? Yours truly. I’m just saying, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
D is for Dykstra, as in Andrew Dykstra (right). A native of Woodbridge, Va., Dykstra passed on a football scholarship at Virginia Tech to play goalie for the VCU men’s soccer team. The 6-4, 205-pound keeper recorded 17 shutouts in four years, before signing a contract with Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire. Who needs football? Er, American Football, that is. READ MORE...
TOTAL COMMITMENT: WILL WADE
Distance from Boston to Richmond: 555 miles.
Approximate cost of one-way flight on Jet Blue: $200.
Time to pack: Five hours.
Chance to work with Shaka Smart at VCU: Priceless.
On April 1, the day before his introductory press conference, Shaka Smart gave Will Wade, an assistant coach at Harvard, the opportunity to join his staff at VCU. Wade didn’t need long to think it over.
“He called me around noon and said, ‘It’s done’, and I was on an 8:40 flight that evening,” Wade said. “I think I landed about 11 p.m., and then we met until 3 a.m.” READ MORE...
Q&A WITH ‘Q’
At 15, she was a college freshman. When she was 16, she was the youngest college basketball player in the country, with the weight of the VCU women’s basketball program on her shoulders. Now 20 years old, Quanitra Hollingsworth is getting ready to embark on a career in the WNBA after the Minnesota Linx selected her with the ninth overall pick in the league’s April 9 draft. With WNBA training camp set to begin May 17, Around The Horns recently sat down with ‘Q’.
ATH: Quanitra, you’ve been finishing up your master’s degree, and at the same time preparing for your first WNBA training camp. How busy have the last few weeks been?
QH: I think the last few weeks have been busy, yet manageable. There was definitely enough to do in the 24 hours given in a day, but I never found myself overwhelmed. Once I got to Minneapolis, my professors sent me my final exams via email, so, that was simple. I think everyone around me tried to help and make things as comfortable as possible.READ MORE...
Mike Rhoades is a basketball man. Just ask him.
“I don’t have hobbies. It’s basketball. It’s my family in basketball, that’s it,” says the father of three, matter-of-factly. “I know sometimes I have to golf. I don’t want to golf. I’ll go play with my kids or play pickup basketball now before I do anything else.”
He’s serious too. For years, date night with his wife Jodie, a former All-American field hockey player, was often dinner, followed by a VCU basketball game.
It’s a mindset that was carved out on the playgrounds of his Pennsylvania hometown as boy, but has followed him throughout an impressive career. Rhoades gave himself to the game, and the game rewarded him. He’s been All-State, an All-American, a National Champion and a Coach of the Year. He was a college head coach at 25. Now, 36, Mike Rhoades has already accomplished more than some do in a lifetime.
However, after 10 successful years as the head coach at nearby Randolph-Macon College, Rhoades decided he was ready for the next step, and jumped at the chance to work as an assistant on Shaka Smart’s staff at VCU. READ MORE...
ROLLIN’ WITH VCU GOLF
Last week I got to do two things. Numero uno was I got my first up-close look at the VCU Golf team’s new travel van/mini-bus. It’s an incredible luxury for the team, which coincidentally is headed to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2002. No. 2, I attempted to do an on-camera interview for the first time in about nine years. Thankfully, Matt does most of the talking. Either way, Rams’ golf coach Matt Ball was a gracious host as he took Around the Horns for a spin around campus.
Truth be told, the “van” is awfully impressive. I want to do a VCU Road Rules-type show with it in the worst way. I’m thinking a lineup featuring Rodney Ram and Eric Maynor, plus alums Patch Adams and “Flounder” from Animal House would be epic. I’m not sure the administration will share my enthusiasm.
Either way, Matt Ball and Co. are streaking up I-95 for Galloway National Golf Club in Galloway, N.J. for the NCAA Regionals May 14-16. Keep those web browsers locked to vcuathletics.com for the action.
BILL COURTNEY: HOLDING COURT
Just as his career was getting off the ground, Bill Courtney missed an opportunity to be a part of a prominent team. Something in the ACC or Big East, you ask? Nope, closer to the Big Feast, actually.
In 1995, two weeks into his first college coaching gig - a $2,000-a-year stint as an assistant at Lafayette College - Courtney was set to join the team at his local Chili’s Restaurant.
“I went out and bought tennis shoes and everything,” Courtney said jokingly.
Surely the affable Courtney would have done well waiting tables. It’s a people business, and Bill Courtney loves people. However, before he could start slinging baby back ribs, then-American Coach Chris Knocke threw Courtney a lifeline.
“Chris had a spot open at American. Fran O’Hanlon, who I worked for at Lafayette at the time said, ‘nah, you have to go.’ That was for $16,000. It wasn’t that much money, but it was a jump,” Courtney said with a chuckle...READ MORE
AROUND THE HORNS
Welcome to Around the Horns, where we provide you an in-depth look at the world of VCU Athletics.
In the coming weeks we’ll be bringing you exciting features, videos, blogs and more in an effort to bring you closer to the action than ever before. You’ll get an up close look at your favorite VCU teams, players, coaches, and who knows, even mascots.
So please, make yourself comfortable and enjoy a fresh look at your VCU Rams.