Shaka Smart believes VCU's recent five-game road trip was good for the Rams.
RICHMOND, Va. – During their recent five-game road swing, the VCU basketball team spent roughly four nights at home over a two-week period. When you consider the schedule included games with Seton Hall, Georgia Tech and at 13th-ranked Alabama, it’s no surprise Coach Shaka Smart and his players are happy to be home, prepping for Wednesday’s game with South Florida at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
Bradford Burgess says the road has its advantages, however.
“It’s actually kind of fun being on the road, you know, no school, seeing various cities,” Burgess said.
Burgess was joking, of course. Maybe he wasn’t. Honestly, if you substitute the word “school” for “work/office”, those are precisely the same reasons I like being on the road too.
In all seriousness, the schedule may have been daunting, but an extended road trip may have been just what this VCU team needed. Burgess is the lone senior for the Rams, the the 10th-youngest team in the country this season. An early challenge could be seen as a chance to bring this group, which includes six freshmen and four sophomores, closer together. There are few environments the Rams will see this season more difficult to play in than Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum.
“It’s good,” VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart said of the Rams’ recent road trip. “Anytime you’re taken out of your comfort zone and you’re forced to grow and learn about yourselves.”
VCU emerged from the trip with a 2-3 record (3-3 overall), and while that’s about three more losses than Smart would prefer, there are signs of progress. The Rams have played their best ball of the season in their last two contests, a 68-45 win at Western Kentucky on Nov. 23 and a 72-64 loss at No. 13 Alabama Sunday night.
Progress is rarely, if ever, linear. Positive growth is often offset by the occasional setback. But that doesn’t make the emergence of freshman Briante Weber, the progress of forwards Juvonte Reddic and D.J. Haley or the comfort level of sophomore Rob Brandenberg any less real.
There are still problems to fix. VCU is shooting 37 percent for the season and the Rams have been outrebounded in four of their six games. But, are the Rams a better team now than they were in a 63-57 win over Saint Francis (Pa.) on opening night?
“Definitely,” Burgess says. “We’re together probably 22 hours out of the day, just having the opportunity to build character with each other, just hanging out together. Being on the court it’s the same thing, knowing each other and what we like to do. It helps us be successful.”
The Rams will play four out of their next five games at home over the next three weeks. It’s their hope that the lessons they learned the last two weeks will serve them well when they meet teams like South Florida, Richmond and UAB, schools that beat the Rams a year ago, all before Christmas.
“It’s great to be home,” Smart said. “We’re excited to be playing in the Siegel Center tomorrow night. We learned a lot about ourselves over the last five games away from home.”