THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

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Briante Weber has been a catalyst of a VCU defense averaging 10.5 steals per game.

RICHMOND, Va. – There were eight NBA scouts at the Verizon Wireless Arena Tuesday night. Although their stated purpose was likely to see UAB forward Cameron Moore, by halftime Juvonte Reddic and the Rams had people wondering, “Who was the pro prospect again?”

Reddic, VCU’s 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, torched Moore and the Blazers in the first half and played ringleader of the Rams’ stable of outstanding youngsters in VCU’s 68-49 rout before more than 7,600.

It was underclassmen leading the way from the outset. Reddic finished with 16 points, while freshman Treveon Graham pumped in a game-high 18 and classmate Briante Weber added a multifaceted performance for the Rams, winners of five straight. Yeah, these kids are alright.

They were supposed to be too young to be this good. The Rams were one of the most inexperienced teams in the country prior to the season, considering the 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. Don’t tell them that. For the last three weeks, Weber, Reddic, sophomore Rob Brandenberg and Graham, not to mention an occasional bright spot from guys like sophomore D.J. Haley and or rookie Teddy Okereafor, has helped spur the white-hot Rams (8-3).

“They’re very good,” said senior Bradford Burgess said of VCU’s underclassmen. “The coaching staff, they know how to recruit. Those guys, their learning curve had to be increased because of what we lost and they’ve handled it greatly. Tre, Juvonte, Briante, it’s incredible how these guys have played at an early stage and they haven’t hit their ceiling yet. ”

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VIDEO OF THE DAY: SHOPPING WITH THE RAMS

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KNOW YOUR ENEMY: UAB BLAZERS

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UAB BLAZERS (2-6)
2010-11 Record:
22-9 (12-4 Conference USA)
2010-11 RPI: 37
Guy you’ll want to heckle:
Cameron Moore, Sr., F (14.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 4.1 bpg)
The skinny: Just think, VCU could’ve been UAB last March (or visa versa). The Blazers were similarly criticized by the talking heads at ESPN for their inclusion in the NCAA field. But while VCU was able to prove itself with a run to the Final Four, UAB was promptly rolled by Clemson in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.

When coaches in future years want to emphasize the importance of playing 40 minutes of basketball and closing out teams, they’ll show their teams the tape from VCU’s 68-65 loss to UAB last year in Birmingham. The Rams led by 19 points with 13 minutes to go, and essentially dominated the game for 38 minutes, only to implode down the stretch. It was also the angriest I’ve ever been after a VCU Basketball game. I spent the next hour pacing around a Wal-Mart in Netcong, N.J. I’m not entirely sure why.

Forward Cameron Moore, a 6-10 senior, is a legitimate inside-outside threat, knocking down 24 3-pointers last year while blocking more than a shot per game. He’s currently averaging a double-double and has blocked 33 shots this season.

This year’s UAB squad is probably better than its 2-6 record indicates. The Blazers have lost to quality teams Creighton, Murray State, Wichita State and Kent State. That being said, UAB has also lost (at home) to UT-Martin.

The Blazers have been dreadful offensively, averaging 55.9 points while shooting .390 from the floor. UAB has hit just 26 percent (33-of-127) of its 3-point attempts. Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive ratings rank UAB 258th nationally in offense. The Blazers are averaging a VCU-friendly 15.3 turnovers a game. However, they have been decent on the defensive end, limiting opponents to less than 61 points per game.

About UAB: Although UAB has existed as an autonomous institution since 1969, the school did not have an intercollegiate athletics program until 1978. In just their second year, Coach Gene Bartow led the Blazers men’s basketball team to the NIT. Seven straight NCAA bids followed.
Fast fact:
UAB leads the all-time series between these two former Sun Belt rivals, 22-16. The Blazers’ last trip to the Siegel Center came on March 13, 2008, when UAB topped the Rams, 80-77, in the first round of the NIT.
Super Special Note: VCU will be seeking its ninth straight sellout Tuesday, which would tie a Colonial Athletic Association record, set by UNC Wilmington.

WBB: COPPIN STATE EFFICIENCY RATINGS

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RATE THIS MASON JINGLE BELL VIDEO

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Use the stars below to rate this George Mason Athletics Happy Holidays video. Vote 5 stars for, “It’s a Wonderful Life” or 1 star for it’s worse than “The Santa Clause 3″.

UNC WILMINGTON EFFICIENCY RATINGS

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Formula: (Pts + Reb + Ast + Blk + Stl) – ((FGA-FGM) + (FTA-FTM) + TO)

Bradford Burgess continues his steady climb. His last three games have been 26, 20 and 21, respectively, to raise his season efficiency rating to 15.2. Darius Theus and Treveon Graham also posted some of their highest ratings all season against the Seahawks.

UNC WILMINGTON HIGHLIGHTS

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KNOW YOUR ENEMY: UNC WILMINGTON

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UNC WILMINGTON SEAHAWKS
2011-12 Record: 2-5 (0-0 CAA)
2010-11 Record:
13-18 (7-11 CAA)
2010-11 RPI: 218
Guy you’ll want to heckle:
Keith Rendleman, Jr., F (11.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg in 2010-11)
The skinny: It wasn’t long ago that this was one of the hottest rivalries in the CAA. Between 2000 and 2006, the Seahawks won four league championships. At about the same time, VCU was building its program under Jeff Capel.

However, the VCU program continued its ascent following the 2005-06 season, while the bottom dropped out at UNCW. The Seahawks have just one winning record the last five years. In the meantime, the Rams have won nine of 10 in the series, including victories of 34, 29 and 18 points.

Veteran Coach Buzz Peterson took over in 2010-11 with hopes of resurrecting the wayward ‘Hawks. He signed a talented recruiting class of eight freshmen, including high-scoring guard Adam Smith, an early favorite for CAA Rookie of the Year. The Seahawks also boast one of the league’s best big men in 6-foot-8 Keith Rendleman. There are 12 freshmen and sophomores on this year’s team, so if Peterson looks more tired than usual, you know why.

About UNCW: Here are my favorite things about UNC Wilmington. First, it’s on the beach. I shouldn’t have to explain that. Secondly, Dawson’s Creek was filmed in town. Finally, the best player in school history was named Brett Blizzard. Not only is that a great name for a guy who plays hoops at the beach, but it also sounds like the alter ego of a comic book character. Considering his 2,000-plus career points, he might be a superhero.  
Fast fact: John Calipari is a UNCW alum. The school has spent the last 30 years wondering “what if”.

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TURNING POINT: THE MICHAEL DOLES GAME

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VCU averaged a Verizon Wireless Arena-record 6,645 fans per home game in 2010-11.

Mike Litos relays a fond, albeit embarrassing memory from his freshman year at VCU. It was 1986, J.D. Barnett had already packed up and left for Tulsa. Although they did not know it at the time, the Rams were sliding into an extended period of mediocrity. Like Haley’s Comet, the program would emerge to win a conference title in 1996 before heading back into another orbit of so-so basketball around the sun, or something like that.

Litos grew up on Tobacco Road, where basketball is religion and your affiliation with Duke or North Carolina (no offense, N.C. State) is akin to being a Hatfield or a McCoy. Schools always packed the house and you had to get to the game at least an hour ahead of time to get a seat in the student section.

Those experiences are what caused Litos to convince his roommate and a couple of other guys to catch the first bus down to the Richmond Coliseum for the Rams’ home-opener that season. After much prodding, they relented.

“When we got there,” he says sheepishly. “We joined the other four students in the building in the student section.”

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CROSS-COUNTRY TRIP AIMS TO EASE FAMILY’S FINANCIAL BURDEN

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Ricky Chang was injured in a 2008 BMX accident. He was paralyzed from the neck down. (photo via Facebook)

This is the second post in a two-part series on Tyler Simmons’ effort to help a paralyzed friend. For the first part, click HERE.

Maria Heavener huffs into the on the other end of the phone line as she tries to catch her breath. The motorized ramp that lifts her paralyzed son, Ricky Chang, into the family’s conversion van is broken, again. She’s not sure how much it’ll cost to fix the ramp, but she knows it won’t be cheap.

It’s one of the many financial hurdles Heavener and her husband, John, have had to face since Ricky broke his neck during a BMX biking accident in 2008. When Maria speaks, you can feel the stress in her trembling voice.

“The financial part is overwhelming,” she admits. “It’s appeal after appeal with the insurance companies. We’re really maxed out and can’t afford to take out any more loans.”

This summer, VCU cross country runner Tyler Simmons, as well as friends Andrew Kenny and Kevin White, hope to ease some of the Heavener’s financial strain. The trio is organizing a bike trip across the United States to raise funds for Chang and his family. Through “Bike America: Ricky Rides Again” they hope to raise at least $20,000. Ten percent of that will fund the trip itself.

Simmons, Kenny and White are currently in the fundraising process for the 3,745-mile journey. In addition to individual donations, they’re seeking corporate sponsors as well.

The Heaveners have been juggling finances since Chang’s injury. While the trip would not solve all of the family’s money problems, Maria says it would make a significant difference.

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