RICHMOND, Va. – Players and coaches tend to differ in a lot of ways, but none more than when it comes to practice. Coaches, they’ll practice all day and night. For players, well…practice is something to do between games.
The week and a half will be player-friendly in that regard. VCU will play four games in seven days – and five games in 10 days overall – starting with Thursday’s matchup with William & Mary at the Verizon Wireless Arena at 8 p.m. (ESPNU).
It’s a stretch that will cut heavily into preparation time. After Thursday’s game, the Rams will have one day to get ready for rival Old Dominion before hosting the Monarchs Saturday at 8 p.m. On Monday, VCU will welcome Hofstra to Richmond. Games at Towson Jan. 25 and Georgia State Jan. 28 follow. VCU’s Shaka Smart, a coach, and therefore by definition someone who loves practice, accepts that he’ll have to pull back on the reins for a little while.
“We probably won’t practice quite as long,” Smart said. “I love practice. I would practice for three hours every day, but it just doesn’t make sense for the next 10 days.”
The scheduling crunch is the result of two factors. First, the Colonial Athletic Association Championship (March 2-5 this season) is played early, relative to most leagues. The CAA usually crowns a champion a week before the NCAA Selection Show. Second, BracketBusters is played on a weekend previously reserved for conference play (Feb. 17-19). To compensate, there are two weeks during the CAA season with three games instead of two. That leaves VCU with no more than two days of preparation for any game over the next 10 days.
“I was talking to [Boston Celtics Assistant] Kevin Eastman about this stretch and he said, ‘Welcome to the NBA,’” Smart said. “In a lot of way it will be similar in regard in terms of short turnaround.
“The biggest thing we’ve got to do is take each day and own it. Do a great job with whatever we’re doing in the present moment.”
The Rams won’t play any back-to-back games like the NBA, but it’ll be rigorous nonetheless. In some ways, it’ll be almost like postseason play, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
To prepare for its busy upcoming schedule, the Rams held two light shooting sessions earlier this week on days they’d normally be practicing at 100 percent. Smart will also try to keep his hand on the pulse of the team during the next two weeks to make sure they stay sharp and healthy.
“We’ll have to go by feel,” Smart said. “[Strength and Conditioning Coach] Daniel Roose will help me with that. I tend to sometimes go too long in practice. I’ve got to be careful with that the next week and a half. The most important thing is that the guys are in the right frame of mind come game time, and then No. 2 they’re at their best physically as much as possible.”
It’s important to note that while Rams will play a significant number of games in a short period of time, it’s not like they can claim hardship to their CAA peers. Every school is facing a similar situation. This stretch also means the CAA race will take shape very quickly in the next two weeks. VCU is currently 4-2 in the CAA and tied for fourth with Drexel and Northeastern. Georgia State, George Mason and Old Dominion are all 5-1. But the race is sure to look much different by the beginning of February.
“Coach said with this bunch of games coming up, if we take care of our end, anything is possible,” said senior Bradford Burgess. “We could end up in first place by the end of it. As long as we handle our end, we’ll see what happens.”
No matter what happens, the coaching staff probably won’t sleep much and life will get a little hectic for everyone involved. But, while Smart has his concerns about playing games after a quick turnaround, players tend not to stress over it much.
“It’s a big deal, but at the end of the day it’s just basketball,” Burgess said. “It’s what we love to do. We do it every day. When we get a chance to play a game, home or away, it’s exciting.”
“I’m definitely excited to play,” said sophomore D.J. Haley. “It’s going to be a lot of basketball. That’s what we all came here to do. I’m definitely ready to start playing.”