Michael Doles helped lead the Rams to back-to-back postseason appearances in 2004 and 2005, kicking off a new “golden age” of VCU hoops.

Michael Doles believes he’s found a suitable replacement for the cheering crowds and adoring fans that showered him with affection during his basketball career.

Just as people used to celebrate his arrival on court before games, they celebrate his arrival on the job site. That’s because he’s the guy that can save their house from burning to the ground.

A former VCU star and professional in Europe, Doles, 30, will celebrate his one-year anniversary as an active firefighter for Prince William County on July 1. It’s been a rewarding experience for the one-time VCU fan favorite.

“When I was in college I wanted to be in the FBI or a police officer. But people want to see a fireman,” Doles said. “A policeman is not as good of a sight. I wanted people to be happy to see me and know the situation is going to get better.”

VCU fans can relate. For three seasons from 2002-05 after transferring from Wright State, the Meadowbrook High School graduate had a habit for lifting the spirits of Rams’ fans. A 6-foot-6, 210-pound forward, Doles averaged 11.2 points and 4.4 rebounds as a junior to help lift the Rams to the 2004 CAA Championship and NCAA Tournament, VCU’s first since 1996.

As a senior in 2004-05, Doles scored 14.8 points with 3.9 rebounds per game for a 19-13 VCU squad that reached the NIT. But its Doles’ performance during a Feb. 26, 2005 game with UNC Wilmington that has immortalized him in the hearts of VCU fans.

Playing before friends and family and a supercharged Senior Day crowd of 7,283, Doles led an improbable VCU rally from 19 points down with 5:25 remaining to force overtime. Doles scored the final five points in regulation, including a steal and game-tying 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. The Rams went on to win 72-71 in overtime as Doles finished with 22 points. To this day, many VCU fans still refer to that night as “The Michael Doles Game”.

Doles averaged 11.2 points per game as a junior in 2004 as a member of VCU’s first NCAA Tournament squad in eight years.

Doles graduated from VCU in 2005 with a degree in criminal justice and embarked on a five-year professional basketball career in Europe that included stops in Ireland, Switzerland and France before calling it quits after the 2009-10 season. Despite averaging 13.1 points and 3.7 rebounds for ALM Evreux his final season, Doles was ready to move on with his life.

“I think I still had a few good years left in me,” Doles said. “I just had an urge to learn something different. I knew the basketball was eventually going to stop bouncing for me. When you’re young, you think you can play forever. When the opportunity presented itself, I went ahead and took advantage of it.”

Doles graduated from a comprehensive 24-week training program and began working for Prince William County full-time last year.

Although Doles lives in Manassas, Va. now, he still finds time to attend a couple of VCU games a year. He also participated in Alumni Day festivities Feb. 4 at the Verizon Wireless Arena. When he’s around, people are quick to remind him that he helped kick off a new “golden age” of VCU hoops during his time as a Ram.

“When we were playing, we weren’t looking at it like that,” Doles said. “But it’s a blessing to be able to have started that and have the younger guys come in and continue that winning tradition.”

There are times when Doles says he misses the hardwood, but he doesn’t regret his decision. For him, firefighting and basketball have a lot in common.

“I enjoy it. Being a fireman is about the only job I think I could do outside of basketball that fulfills that adrenaline rush,” he said. “I do [miss basketball] at times. There’s nothing like competing at that level. That’s a feeling I’ll never be able to replace. But as a fireman you’re still part of a group of individuals working for one main purpose.”

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