February 19, 2014
Melvin Johnson, Shaka Smart
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.
February 14, 2014
Chris Crowley, Saint Louis Billikens, Valentine's Day, Will Weaver Photography
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.
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.
February 13, 2014
Men's Basketball, VCU Athletics, Women's Basketball
Anna Bingham, Bing, Ellis Bingham, The Peppas, VCU Athletic Band
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.”
February 13, 2014
George Washington Colonials, Melvin Johnson, Rob Brandenberg, Shaka Smart, Treveon Graham, Troy Daniels.
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.
February 10, 2014
Isis Thorpe, Marlene Stollings, Quanitra Hollingsworth, Rochelle Luckett
Isis Thorpe is VCU’s highest-scoring freshman since Quanitra Hollingsworth in 2005-06.
VCU freshman guard Isis Thorpe has always been a bit of an independent spirit. In high school, she loved the piano sections of the K-Ci & JoJo hit “All My Life” so much she decided to take up piano. So she asked her mother for a keyboard and looked up tutorials on YouTube.
“I wanted to play the piano because I just wanted something new,” the Reading, Pa. native says. “I never wanted to be just a basketball player. I always wanted to do other things so I can say I’ve done something else.”
Thorpe later took a piano class as a high school senior, and while she still calls herself a beginner, she can play Christmas songs and some Beethoven, as well as some R&B standards.
Her basketball career has followed a similar plot line. A late-starter, the 5-foot-8 guard learned the game in her own independent way, but has proven to be a quick study. This season, she’s burst onto the scene to become the second-leading scorer for Coach Marlene Stollings’ upstart VCU Women’s Basketball team. Even among Stollings’ ready-made initial VCU recruiting class, Thorpe has managed to stand out.
Thorpe’s outstanding debut campaign isn’t just a nice surprise for the 18-6 Rams, it’s bordering on historic. Thorpe is averaging 12.9 points per game, the most by a VCU freshman since future WNBA pro Quanitra Hollingsworth averaged 14.7 during the 2005-06 season, and the most by a true VCU freshman since Rochelle Luckett (12.8) in 1998-99. Hollingsworth eventually scored 1,604 points in a VCU uniform, which ranks third in school history. Luckett is fifth with 1,483. Thorpe also ranks fourth in the A-10 in 3-pointers per game (2.5). Her 60 triples are already the sixth-most in school single-season history.
February 7, 2014
A-10, Juvonte Reddic, Mo Alie-Cox, Rhode Island Rams, Shaka Smart
VCU has won sixth straight games and 11 of its last 12.
RICHMOND, Va. – It’s not enough to just be talented or skilled or, in the simplest sense, good. The key to being good is replicating that performance. It’s consistency.
I mean, Bruce Willis isn’t Bruce Willis because he makes one Die Hard movie where he levels entire office buildings, airports and the East Coast in 120 minutes of one-liner-muttering splendor. Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis because he can do that five times.
Forgive my affection for bloated, Willisian action cinema. The point is, consistency is a skill in and of itself. High-end potential is great, but it can be a maddening pursuit when you’re only teased the best on occasion. There are plenty of basketball teams out there that haven’t mastered the skill of consistency. Speaking strictly on a macro level, Kentucky is a good example. There are probably 7-8 future NBA players on that team. Sometimes, they look like a terrific, cohesive unit, others a storm of wasted motion and discombobulation. Consistency is a skill as valuable as any other.
February 7, 2014
Danny Hurley, JeQuan Lewis, Jordan Burgess, Juvonte Reddic, Rhode Island Rams, Shaka Smart
RHODE ISLAND COACH DANNY HURLEY
JORDAN BURGESS, JEQUAN LEWIS, JUVONTE REDDIC