(From left to right): Troy Daniels, Darius Theus, Juvonte Reddic and D.J. Haley all return for VCU in 2012-13.

RICHMOND, Va. – The expectations swirling around the 2012-13 VCU Basketball season are higher than probably any point during the last 25 years. This week alone, The Sporting News, CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated all tabbed the Rams a preseason top 25 team. Although none of those entities are responsible for either of the “official” polls, it’s notable because VCU hasn’t been ranked during the regular season since 1985.

Despite the potential for unwanted scrutiny, senior Darius Theus says the Rams aren’t running from the attention.

“I think that the same expectations they have, we have for ourselves,” said Theus, who averaged 8.5 points and 4.7 assists per game last season. “We’re going to try our best to meet them all. But Coach [Shaka Smart] wants us to stay humble, stay level-headed. Whatever we can control on the court is what we can control. But we’re setting high expectations for ourselves.”

Theus may be a biased observer, but he also has as much information to reference as anybody. One of three returning seniors and the most experienced player on the squad, Theus is in a position to assess VCU’s potential.

The 6-foot-3 point guard got a good look at this year’s team over the summer, when the Rams participated in a nine-day, four-game exhibition tour of Italy. VCU won all four games by an average of 55 points. Although it wasn’t world-class competition, VCU did rout a BC Atletas team that beat Georgia and challenged Tennessee.

Theus’ conclusion? The sky is the limit.

Senior Darius Theus averaged 8.5 points and 4.7 assists per game last season.

“We can be real good if everybody is bought into the plan that Coach Smart is trying to get us to do,” Theus said. “We can do some great things this season. It’s about everybody just being 100 percent about VCU Basketball. If we can have that, then however many goals we set, we can reach them.”

Theus says the time VCU spent in Italy was critical for building team chemistry, especially with newcomers Justin Tuoyo and Melvin Johnson.

“It was just a chance for the freshmen to get a feel for us, and for us to get a feel for the freshmen,” he said.

Johnson and Tuoyo impressed in different ways, Theus says. The senior praised Tuoyo’s willingness to listen and his rapid improvement from the beginning of the summer. Johnson, meanwhile, showed he can fill up the basket.

“He’s a shooter. He’s got a lot of range and was showing it over in Europe that he can shoot the ball very well,” Theus said. “I think he’ll open up the lane for our drivers, and if he’s knocking down that shot consistently, he’s get a lot of playing time.”

Theus believes Johnson and Tuoyo can integrate with an already experienced VCU roster that returns starters Troy Daniels (10.0 ppg), D.J. Haley (3.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and Juvonte Reddic (10.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg), as well as notable bench contributors Rob Brandenberg (9.0 ppg), Treveon Graham (7.0 ppg) and Briante Weber (4.9 ppg, 2.1 spg).

“We’ve got some real good guys on the team,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons. I just feel like our depth this year is very, very good. We could have maybe a nine-man rotation.”

Practice for the 2012-13 season officially begins on Friday, Oct. 12.

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