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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SHAKA SMART MEDIA MINUTES (MARCH 3)

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RAMS COUNTER-PUNCH IN BUDDING A-10 RIVALRY

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Briante Weber provided 13 points and four steals in VCU's win Saturday.

Briante Weber provided 13 points and four steals in VCU’s win Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – They call him the Freight Train, and that’s what Treveon Graham resembled as his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame rumbled down the sideline midway through the second half Saturday night.

Graham was chasing down a rebound, and despite his heft, the junior guard slipped past two Saint Louis players, grabbed the ball at midcourt and drew a hip-check foul. His momentum carried him into the path of 5-foot-9 VCU Coach Shaka Smart, who corralled him with an enthusiastic bear hug. The normally stoic Graham broke character and flashed a healthy smile.

It turns out, Smart was about the only person who could catch a Ram Saturday night. Saint Louis, ranked 10th in the country, certainly could not, as VCU staged a wire-to-wire 67-56 victory behind an opportunistic defense and a 49th straight sellout crowd at the Verizon Wireless Arena that lurched towards frenzy at every opportunity.

The victory was meaningful on a number of levels, for history – it was the highest-ranked team VCU had ever defeated at home – for the Rams’ NCAA Tournament resume, for its Atlantic 10 seeding, but it may have mattered most for pride. Since the Rams joined the A-10 last season, the Billikens were the only remaining member of the league VCU hadn’t cracked. Saint Louis defeated the Rams twice last season, once in St. Louis and once for the A-10 crown in Brooklyn, and then again at the Billikens’ Chaifetz arena on Feb. 15.

“It was definitely important. We had a mindset of payback from last year when they beat us in the championship game. Of course that’s always on our mind,” admitted junior guard Briante Weber, who provided 13 points and four of VCU’s 12 steals. “They had yet to come to VCU, and we wanted to give them the impression of what VCU’s like when you come in here.”

VCU upset 10th-ranked Saint Louis Saturday night before the 49th-straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center,

VCU upset 10th-ranked Saint Louis Saturday night before the 49th-straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center,

Amid a pulsating sea of gold – the product of an advertised “Gold Out” – VCU (22-7, 10-4 A-10) whipped itself into an aggressive, defiant state.

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VIDEO: VCU UPENDS NO. 10 SAINT LOUIS

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HIGHLIGHTS

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SHAKA SMART

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JIM CREWS

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VCU PLAYERS

JOHNSON’S STYLISH GAME EVOLVES TO ONE OF SUBSTANCE

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Sophomore Melvin Johnson is averaging 10.4 points this season, up from 6.9 last year.

Sophomore Melvin Johnson is averaging 10.4 points this season, up from 6.9 last year.

RICHMOND, Va. – James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891 as a way of entertaining a rowdy gym class during the cold New England winters in Springfield, Mass. But there’s no way, watching his students hoisting a soccer ball into peach baskets, that he could have envisioned someone having as much fun playing the game as Melvin Johnson.

There’s nothing boring about the way Johnson, a VCU sophomore guard, plays Naismith’s game. Johnson’s style is loquacious, exuberant and ostentatious. Even against the backdrop of VCU’s breakneck style, “Havoc”, and despite the wide shadow cast by electric guard and NCAA steals leader Briante Weber, Johnson still manages to stand out.

A Bronx-native, Johnson’s game is replete with New York flair, complete with pirouettes, fakes, double-clutches and shimmies. The show does not end at the final horn. An emerging press conference darling, he nicknamed his trademark floater “The Melvin” last year. Earlier this season, he told reporters that one particular acrobatic shot attempt was called “The Boogiedown”.

Johnson’s panache has been obvious from day one, and there were moments of greatness during his freshman season, when he averaged 6.9 points per game for the Rams. But he also shot 28 percent (23-of-81) from beyond the 3-point arc and struggled on defense at times.

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SHAKA SMART MEDIA MINUTES (FEB. 17)

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A PREVIEW AND A HAPPY VALENTINE’S

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First and foremost, the task at hand. Saint Louis looms Saturday at 2 p.m. It’s a huge game on a huge network (regular ESPN), with huge announcers (Bob Knight – who doesn’t really know who VCU is, but whatever), with huge implications. (INSERTING CLICHE…) This is what college basketball is all about. I’m on the road with women’s hoops on a D.C. to Rhode Island jaunt interrupted by snowstorm Skippy, or whatever they’re calling this one. Anyway, Seth Greenberg took a minute to preview Saturday’s tilt, and District Baller took a few minutes to YouTube it, so you should take a few minutes and watch.

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It’s also Valentine’s Day, and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the love-fest that is VCU. That was probably never more apparent Wednesday, when you guys mushed and snowshoed your way to pack The Stu tighter than the ski lodge right after the final run of the day.

So let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day, VCU style. The good thing is we have great fans here who love photography and love Photoshop. So, here are some VCU-themed Valentine’s brought to you by Chris “Pavarotti” Crowley, who might as well work for this blog with how much content he generates, and a few great photos by Will Weaver.

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THE TAMBOURINE MAN

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Anna Bing with son Ellis earlier this season. Ellis Bingham joined the VCU Athletic Band "The Peppas" this season.

Anna Bingham with son Ellis earlier this season. Ellis Bingham, who has cerebral palsy, joined the VCU Athletic Band, “The Peppas”, this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – The VCU Pep Band’s new tambourine player has no musical background, but he’s quickly become one of the most inspiring members of “The Peppas” a boisterous troupe that churns out inspired songs. His name is Ellis Bingham, and although he can barely talk, outside of a handful of words, he’s never spoken with a louder voice – the sound of his spirited, rattling tambourine – than now.

You can find Bingham at Rams games seated in his motorized wheelchair – decorated with a VCU flag and bumper sticker – at floor level, left arm jutting skyward, gleefully shaking his tambourine as The Peppas gyrate their way through another raucous performance.

Known to his bandmates as just “Bing”, Ellis has cerebral palsy, a disorder caused by damage to the cerebellum in developing brains. People with cerebral palsy can face a wide range of motor control disabilities. For Bing, that means a number of physical and speech impairments, including the inability to walk. He can’t sit up without assistance and speaks mostly through a voice computer.

While he’s been faced with those obstacles throughout his life, the 22-year-old Richmond native and his mother, Anna Bingham, have rarely accepted those limitations at face value.

Anna calls Bing her “miracle”. Born 16 weeks premature, Bing weighed just 1-pound, 7.5 ounces at birth and could nearly fit in the palm of Anna’s hand. He spent the next four months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MCV. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which occurs more frequently in premature births, when he was about a year old.

“You go day by day,” Anna says of those challenging early years. “If I knew everything at the beginning that I knew at the end, it would have been too much. You take it day by day. I think your attitude is really important, as well as educating yourself and honestly believing in your child and believing he can do anything.”

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TRIPLE PLAY; RAMS RIDE ARC OVER GW

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VCU hit 13-of-25 from beyond the 3-point arc in a 92-75 win over George Washington.

RICHMOND, Va. – Troy Daniels hit the first 3-pointers before the game even started, and the arc exhibition didn’t end until more than two hours later.

Whether or not the VCU grad inspired his former team is a matter of conjecture, but the Rams certainly followed his lead, riding a season-high 13 three-pointers (on 25 attempts) to a crucial 92-75 win over George Washington Wednesday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Daniels, who set a school single-season record with 124 three-pointers for VCU last season, was in Richmond while the NBA D-League, where he plays with the Houston Rockets-affiliated Rio Grande Valley Vipers, is on its all-star break. Daniels was called on for a pregame promotion which challenges participants to hit shots to win pizza. After a successful layup and free throw, Daniels swished his 3-point attempt. Then, from halfcourt, he banked home his second attempt to win free pizza for the entire arena.

The fans weren’t the only ones feeding off of 3-pointers, however. Once the game started, VCU feasted by hitting 8-of-14 in the first half alone to roll to a stunning 45-28 advantage. In the second half, the Rams were less prolific and more opportunistic, beating back a George Washington comeback with timely treys. Meanwhile, the Colonials were 0-of-8 from three in the first half and 6-of-18 for the game.

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