VCU TAKES NEW YORK (DAY ONE)

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On Wednesday, we left Richmond and headed up to The Big Apple for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Mike Voyack and I spent the day trying to capture some of the sights and sounds. Included: Cameo by one VCU player’s parents, The Peppas and a sleeping doctor.

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Here’s a good shot of The Peppas, Gold Rush Dancers and cheerleaders striking a serious pose…ah whatever.

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DROVES OF FANS FUEL RAMS IN BROOKLYN

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VCU fans packed Barclays Center last season as the Rams earned a berth into the Championship Game.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – After a few phone calls and some Internet research, I’ve been able to confirm that there is not, in fact, a VCU satellite campus in the New York metropolitan area.

But you’d have a hard time selling that to impartial observers at Barclays Center during last season’s Atlantic 10 Championship. It seemed as if there were Rams fans everywhere. Official numbers are not available, but anybody with a pulse and a ticket last season could’ve told you that VCU fans outnumbered other schools at the tournament by a wide margin.

They were boisterous, backed by VCU’s dynamic pep band, The Peppas, and they were impressive. VCU fans seemed to embrace the experience more fully than perhaps any other league school.

And it wasn’t just at Barclays Center. VCU fans flocked to Brooklyn in droves, flooding the city with black and gold. Die Koelner Bierhall, a German beer hall practically in the shadow of the arena, became the de facto headquarters for Rams fans. The pep band gallivanted around town in a bus wrapped in VCU graphics and the marketing slogan “Havoc Lives Here”. Normally, that means Richmond, but in March, Havoc was highly mobile. The Peppas also shoehorned their way onto the “Today Show”, blaring their eclectic mix of bombastic tunes from atop the bus. And of course, there was Spike Lee.

The extracurricular events were nice, but the real benefit to VCU fans’ willingness to follow the Rams to the Big Apple was on the court. Players may have been focused on playing the game, but they weren’t wearing blinders and earplugs. They saw the sea of humanity. They heard the brass-based rallying cries. And they say it made a difference.

“We can take a deep breath because we’re not just here by ourselves,” says junior guard Briante Weber. “[It’s] a sign of relief when we see people that come out from Richmond to all the way from wherever we are. It just shows how much our fan base follows us and how much they really love to watch us play and we appreciate it.”

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2014 ATLANTIC 10 TOURNAMENT BRACKET

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2014_MBB_Bracket.xlsx

VIDEO: RAMS DOWN ST. BONAVENTURE 86-67

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JUVONTE REDDIC AND ROB BRANDENBERG

SHAKA SMART

EMOTIONS RUN HIGH IN SENIOR NIGHT VICTORY OVER BONNIES

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Seniors Juvonte Reddic (middle) and Rob Brandenberg (right) combined for 31 points Saturday in their final home games.

Seniors Juvonte Reddic (middle) and Rob Brandenberg (right) combined for 31 points Saturday in their final home games.

RICHMOND, Va. – Most VCU fans know Juvonte Reddic as an oft stone-faced giant. Outward expressions of emotion have been rare, although not unheard of in recent years.

But Saturday’s 86-67 Senior Night win over St. Bonaventure was bursting at the seams with emotion. Finally, as victory was assured, Coach Shaka Smart pulled Reddic and fellow senior Rob Brandenberg from the game with a little more than a minute to go, a thunderous ovation from 7,700 showered the players on their way to the bench. Finally, Reddic let go.

“Once coach took me out for the last time, that’s when it really hit me. As soon I sat down on the end of the bench I started crying, just tears of joy,” said Reddic.

Reddic finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds, while Brandenberg poured in 18 points, including an exclamation point dunk in the waning moments. At some point, every player will suit up for one final time at the Siegel Center, and this will be the example they’ll strive toward.

As they exited the floor for the last time, Brandenberg and Reddic were surrounded by the product of the program they helped build. The crowd was VCU’s 50th straight sellout, a mark that would have been considered absurd back in November of 2010, when Brandenberg and Reddic began their careers as Rams.

“There’s so many memories, it’s hard to choose one,” Brandenberg said. “But if I had to choose one, I’d say the fans. When I saw them come out to a game when it was a snowstorm, no school, roads were terrible, and they still packed the house, that’s when I took a chance to really appreciate that. It’s not like that at a lot of schools. I’m very fortunate.”

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ROB BRANDENBERG & JUVONTE REDDIC SENIOR TRIBUTE VIDEO

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VIDEO: TROY DANIELS SCORES HIS FIRST NBA POINTS

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Awesome moment for Troy Daniels. Here are his first two buckets as a Houston Rocket. Naturally, his first NBA bucket was a three. The first of many, we hope.

THE LONG WAVE GOODBYE

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It’s Senior Night, which is another great opportunity to use this video, which I think was my high school class song. That makes me some kind of super duper senior at this point. Let’s move on:

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On Saturday, seniors Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic will play their final home game as Rams. Mike Litos stepped in to pen this great tribute for the game program. If you can’t make it to the game and pick up a program, make sure you put your Internet to good use and read it online.

A sample:

In every big moment over the past four years for VCU basketball, these two young men have been right there in the mix.

And while it’s important to note that the big moments in the careers of Reddic and Brandenberg came in the NCAA tournament, they both represent so much more than moments on a grand stage. Both have impressive career statistics, crossing the 1,000-points plateau, but numbers don’t represent their impact on the VCU program.

They represent the rise of VCU basketball in the national conscience. Because as much as you point to the Final Four run as a watershed two weeks–and it certainly was–the ability of the players to serve as the backbones for at least two more NCAA Tournament-winning teams cannot be underestimated.

Make sure you read. Also, Shaka Smart gave his comments on his seniors Tuesday during his radio show.

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It’s appropriate that these seniors have another opportunity to do something historic tonight. VCU will be attempting to complete an undefeated season at home since the 1970-71 season. VCU is 14-0 at the Verizon Wireless Arena this season.

VIDEO: RAMS EDGE RICHMOND 56-50

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IS ‘STATE CHAMPS’ A REAL THING, AND WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM IT?

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Rob Brandenbeerg (left) scored 11 points as VCU beat Richmond 56-50 Thursday to complete a 6-0 sweep of Virginia schools this season.

Rob Brandenbeerg (left) scored 11 points as VCU beat Richmond 56-50 Thursday to complete a 6-0 sweep of Virginia schools this season.

RICHMOND, Va. –  State Champs.

It’s a bit of a running joke among VCU fans that the Rams were going for a state championship this year, with Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, George Mason and Richmond –  i.e. the five best Division I programs in Virginia not named VCU – on the schedule. But now, with Thursday’s 56-50 triumph over Richmond, the Rams have actually “swept the state”, finishing 6-0 against those schools (barring any postseason meetings). Perhaps it’s important to recognize that and understand what it means, if anything.

First and foremost, VCU will receive nothing tangible for winning those six games (beating Richmond twice). This isn’t Philadelphia’s Big Five. There’s no trophy, no special recognition, not even a Chuck E Cheese pizza party for winning this thing we made up on the fly. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It matters to the fans, who have stroked the fires of these intrastate rivalries. It also matters because going 6-0 against that group means you probably won some quality games.

It also mattered to Shaka Smart and the players. If you listened to Smart’s press conference Thursday night, you could gauge the importance.

According to VCU Sports Information Director Scott Day, this has never happened before. No school from these six programs (including VCU), has swept the group in the same season. You don’t think that’s a great recruiting tool? “Hey, (insert player name), you know those other Virginia schools that are recruiting you? Yeah, we beat them. All of them.”

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