MOONEY PIES? SHAKA SMARTFOOD?

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Ewoks love BBQ.

Ewoks love BBQ.

On April 17 at 6 p.m., Shaka Smart and Chris Mooney will start their ovens and square off in what can only be billed as the most important basketball-themed culinary showdown in Richmond this spring, the 2014 Coaches’ Cook-Off, which will be held at the Science Museum of Richmond.

So as not to bury the lede, the competition will benefit Max’s Positive Vibe Cafe, a terrific organization which trains people with disabilities to work in the food service industry. So if you have an opportunity to attend this great event, please consider it. Find out more, including how to purchase tickets, here.

I’ve got to give Mooney credit. Shaka Smart already owns three wins over the Richmond coach this year, but he’s back for more. Despite his track record, don’t expect Smart to take this match-up lightly. I know for a fact he’s been dissecting film of “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen” this entire week.

VCU Video Coordinator Dwight Perry says Smart has been working around the clock to prepare for the kitchen showdown.

“I spent all of last night cutting risotto clips. Today, it’s chutney. I didn’t even know what chutney was until yesterday,” said Perry, clutching a 64-ounce espresso. “Two days ago, he kept screaming ‘Havoc!’ throughout an entire episode of ‘Barefoot Contessa’. He’s totally dialed in right now.”

As of press time, rumors that Guy Fieri interviewed this week for the open position on Smart’s staff, vacated when Mike Rhoades accepted the job at Rice (coincidence? I think not), remain unconfirmed.

In the competition, Smart and Mooney will each team with a chef to create dishes that will be rated by a panel of judges. Mooney edged Smart last year in this competition, but I love Shaka’s squad this time around. He’s teaming up with Buz Grossberg of Buz and Ned’s BBQ. Seriously. Just call it off now. Shaka is nearly unbeatable when paired with BBQ. I checked with men’s basketball SID Scott Day for Smart’s record when barbequing.

“What is wrong with you,” Day replied via a tersely worded text message.

It should be fun. I’m expecting laughter, tears, joy, exasperation, triumph and cole slaw. I hope you can make it.

2013 COACHES’ COOK-OFF

COMMON THREADS; UNIFORM UNITES TWO FAMILIES, EASES ONE’S PAIN

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Mike Schlegel, pictured during the 1984-85 season, scored 1,173 points as a Ram. He died in 2009.

Mike Schlegel, pictured during the 1984-85 season, scored 1,173 points as a Ram. He died in 2009.

While the wound still ached, Leslie Schlegel-Danowski was accommodating when a reporter called recently to talk about her late brother, Mike Schlegel. She dusted off memories of tagging along with her big brother to neighborhood sandlot games and of the family’s basketball hoop at the end of the driveway that her dad built. She was happy to reminisce, but afterwards, Leslie had a request.

She’d been alerted to an online post by a man claiming to own a game-worn Mike Schlegel uniform. She wanted to find out if the post was legitimate, and she wanted to talk to him. The family didn’t own many reminders of Mike’s playing career, and Leslie wanted to know what it would take for the man to part with the uniform.

***

The son of a construction worker, Bay Shore, N.Y. native Mike Schlegel was a quiet, blue-collar presence on three VCU NCAA Tournament teams at VCU from 1981-85.

A rugged rebounder with a soft shooter’s touch, Schlegel scored 1,173 points and grabbed 743 boards in four seasons. He averaged 12.9 points and 8.1 rebounds on VCU’s 1984-85 team that finished the year ranked 11th nationally and was MVP of the Sun Belt Championship. In the Sun Belt semifinals that year, Schlegel tied a school record by connecting on all 10 of his field goal attempts in a win over Jacksonville.

“Mike wasn’t scared of nobody,” said former teammate Calvin Duncan.” Mike set picks to get you open. Mike would hit the 15-footer, the jump hook. Mike was awesome.”

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VCU BASKETBALL: TOP PLAYS

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Briante Weber’s sliding steal? Got that. Melvin Johnson’s 3-point barrage? That too. Treveon Graham’s Cavalier-crushing 3-point bomb? Yeah, it’s in there. Dunks, steals, threes, plenty of fun in this highlight video.

EVEN IN DISTRESS, WE MUST MOVE FORWARD. WE MUST RESOLVE…

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Junior Treveon Graham scored a team-high 19 points in Friday's NCAA Tournament loss to Stephen F. Austin.

Junior Treveon Graham scored a team-high 19 points in Friday’s NCAA Tournament loss to Stephen F. Austin.

By Mike Litos

Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it. –Descartes

Firmness in enduring and exertion is a character I always wish to possess. I have always despised the whining yelp of complaint and cowardly resolve. –Robert Burns

When time and space and change converge, we find place. We arrive in Place when we resolve things. Place is peace of mind and understanding. Place is knowledge of self. Place is resolution. –Abdullah Ibrahim

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At some point, this moment had to come. I would have to open the laptop and relive Friday’s painful loss to SFA in the NCAA Tournament’s first round. (I will not abide by the NCAAs foolish round nomenclature. It isn’t my problem they cannot count.) Even in distress, we must move forward. We must resolve.

You see, the way this normally works is that I pop open the laptop on the plane ride home and write out thoughts and notes from the game VCU just played. I match those thoughts to stats and the boxscore, and turn them into sentences the next day. I do this even after losses.

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END OF THE INNOCENCE…

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I can't really argue, this Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack mascot is pretty cool.

I can’t really argue, this Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack mascot is pretty cool.

By Mike Litos

SAN DIEGO – I’m going to be honest with you: I like this matchup for VCU. I really do. Now we can hedge and hem and haw all we want about The Fates, karma, and not overlooking our opponent. We can imbue our discussion with tales of upperclassmen and team basketball and 28-game winning streaks. Fine.

But I’m here to tell you that I’ve spent hours on angles and talked to coaches who don’t wear VCU on their chests and the simple fact is that this is a good draw for VCU. The Rams have a physical advantage at every position, in both height and thickness. VCU is a stout team in comparison to its axe-wielding opponents.

VCU can run a lineup onto the floor in which four Rams are bigger than the Lumberjacks biggest notable player. Think about the devastation of a lineup of Reddic, Alie-Cox, Graham, Burgess, and Weber.

That’s why if I’m Shaka Smart–and we can all thank the heavens I am not–I’m playing a constant loop of the running of the bulls in Pamplona in the locker room. That’s what VCU has to do–play aggressive, downhill basketball.

What’s more, SFA is small and scrappy and tough and crash the boards hard, but that diminuitive size crashing the boards leaves breakouts wide open.

Yes SFA turns teams over at a rate of 24.4%, third nationally. But the Southland Conference is 27th overall, with a turnover rate of 19.3% for all teams. Everybody turns it over. SFA is known to be aggressive and gamble, which leads to open lanes when exploited by bigger, longer players. It’s worth noting that teams shoot 45% against SFA.

Do you see what I’m getting at here?

And so we are clear, I am not being overconfident nor taking them lightly. Not at all. VCU will have to go out and win a basketball game against a team that has not lost since November 23, 2013. That matters. What’s more, this VCU team is prone to shooting droughts.

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BATTLE OF THE BANDS…SAN DIEGO

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I’m not going to lie, I enjoy that The Peppas just cruise around town in their Partridge Family bus, looking to get a game, seeking about bands to battle. Who wants to barnstorm across America with me, Rodney and The Peppas?

THE LAST WORTHLESS EVENING…

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I had to furrow my brow a bit when VCU came out of the locker room for its public shootaround yesterday. Normally the Rams charge onto the floor with its trademark spirit and ebullience, but this was different. It was more of a mosey.

It was atypical and a bit concerning, to be honest, but once the whistle blew and called the meeting to order, somebody turned on the wattage. It was a bouncy, loose, fun shootaround. I had someone from another university comment to me that “my God you guys are loose” and he wondered if we were always this loose.

Yes, we are. And our coach participates:

IMG_0519

The practice ended, somewhat perfectly, with Juvonte Reddic giving Torrey Burston a bit of help in his leap to dunk the ball.

Yeah, I”d say the team is loose.

Last night the team went to dinner but was back early to watch more basketball and take it easy. (Side note: how much fun was that?) Our hotel had a faux fire alarm while they were out that stirred up the place, but it turned out to be nothing. All in all, it was a pretty standard pregame evening. That’s exactly as we want it.

But that was yesterday.

Today, it’s a different kind of meeting, and Shaka Smart will be in suit and tie, although he won’t be wearing his jacket for very long. The guys will sleep in and then begin the gameday routine they’ve gone through 34 times already this year.

They will approach the SFA game with great seriousness but simply go play basketball, which is more fun for them than anything else.

Gameday.

ALL SHE WANTS TO DO IS DANCE…

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VCU Coach Shaka Smart and the Rams spent Thursday prepping for their NCAA Tournament First Round game against Stephen F. Austin.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart and the Rams spent Thursday prepping for their NCAA Tournament First Round game against Stephen F. Austin.

By Mike Litos

SAN DIEGO – Today was the beauty pageant portion of the NCAA tournament. Players and coaches from each team in San Diego went to the podium for high level, softball questions from the media. Each team also has a 40-minute practice that is really nothing more than basic drills, shooting, and some running to get used to the floor. It’s all open to the public, so it isn’t like a coach is going to run his offensive sets.

I actually like it, because it gets the smell of basketball into your system.

After sleeping in and a meal, VCU had it’s actual practice in an undisclosed location, then took it’s turn. Basketball is the talent competiton, and forutnately there is no swimsuit competition.

The best quote came froma random guy from another school who was on-hand to take in the VCU practice. I love fans who attend these shootarounds–if you’re doing this you are my kind of fan. Anyway, the guy looked to the floor, then looked at me, and remarked:

“My God you guys are loose. Do you always have this much fun?”

Yes my friend, we do.

That said, instead of creating some faraway storyline, here is a dump of the better quotes from VCU today:

Juvonte Reddic, on being without Melvin Johnson tomorrow: “…we’ve been without players in the past and some of the guys have stepped up and did a good job so I think, you know, we’re going to be all right.”

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MORE VIDEO: PEPPAS IN SAN DIEGO

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This band does not sleep. By the end of the season, people will be (hopefully) humming the “War” song all the way from Brooklyn, to Omaha to Salt Lake and San Diego.

VIDEO: VCU PRESSERS & OPEN PRACTICE

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OPEN PRACTICE

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SHAKA SMART

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VCU PLAYERS

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STEPHEN F. AUSTIN COACH BRAD UNDERWOOD

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STEPHEN F. AUSTIN

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