RICHMOND, THE PLACE TO BE

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It’s no secret that Richmond has been a summer workout hotbed for former Rams like Eric Maynor, Jamal Shuler, Jesse Pellot-Rosa, Jamie Skeen, Brandon Rozzell, B.A. Walker and others. Wednesday, Smart said he’s glad players, even ones he didn’t coach at VCU, still come back.

POST ‘DAGGER’ ERA MOLDED IN SAN JUAN

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Kirill Pishchalnikov defends Arkansas' Charles Thomas during the 2007 Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Kirill Pishchalnikov defends Arkansas’ Charles Thomas during the 2007 Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

2013 PUERTO RICO TIP-OFF (pdf)

The post-Dagger days began in Puerto Rico.

It was in San Juan in 2007, at the first Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where we tried to find out if VCU, as a Goliath exterminator, had staying power. Nearly a week after rolling designated milk jug Maryland-Eastern Shore in the 2007-08 season-opener, VCU headed to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Anthony Grant, was, as Shaka Smart is today, THE rising star among college coaches. Eric Maynor, whose “Dagger” with 1.8 seconds left gave VCU its unforgettable, 79-77 upset of Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament the previous March, was a certified star. You could have sold his image on commemorative plates on QVC alongside those bearing Dale Earnhardt’s, if the NCAA allowed that sort of kitsch.

But while Grant and Maynor were known quantities, magnetic drawing cards with the goods to back it up, the rest was up in the air. People love NCAA Tournament upsets, they embrace the Princetons and the Bryce Drews, the Eric Maynors, the Cleveland States and the La Salles for weeks each March. But when the lights go out, most of them fade from the national consciousness. We rode high on the hog for months, but secretly, we wondered if Maynor’s “Dagger” was VCU’s 15 minutes; If the illogical food chain of college hoops would gobble us up and cast us back from whence we came, back to the obscurity of mid-majordom.

The tournament began in earnest. Grant’s recruiting class that year included Larry Sanders, Joey Rodriguez, Lance Kearse, Ed Nixon, Brandon Rozzell and Myk Brown, and transfer Kirill Pishchalnikov was also on board. Much of the publicity, and for a VCU recruiting class up to that point, it was significant, focused on Kearse and Rodriguez. Sanders was intriguing, but very much an unknown.

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TROY DANIELS IS A TRIPLE THREAT

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Troy Daniels ranks seventh nationally in 3-pointers per game (3.67) this season.

Troy Daniels ranks seventh nationally in 3-pointers per game (3.67) this season.

Shaka Smart once joked that he had given Troy Daniels a “neon green” light to fire away from beyond the 3-point arc. Smart’s confidence in his sharpshooter has paid off, and now Daniels has VCU opponents seeing red.

Daniels, a senior from Roanoke, has taken his neon-green endorsement to heart this season, knocking down 3-pointers at an arresting, not to mention historic, rate. Through VCU’s first 21 games, Daniels ranks fifth nationally with 77 three-pointers (77-of-188), and seventh in treys per game (3.7). If you thought Daniels couldn’t top his performance from last season, when he set a school record with 94 threes, boy, were you off the mark.

On Jan. 2, during a 109-58 rout of East Tennessee State, Daniels connected on a staggering 11-of-20 from beyond the arc and finished with a career-high 33 points. With each successful shot, Daniels’ confidence seemed to grow. By the end of the game, Daniels was taking, and hitting, 3-pointers from nearly 30 feet.

Daniels was just five days removed from a Dec. 29 contest against Fairleigh Dickinson, when he set a school record with nine 3-pointers. Prior to this season, a VCU player had knocked down eight 3-pointers in a game once ever. Daniels has done so three times already this season.

During one six-game stretch this season, Daniels buried 41-of-80 (.513) from 3-point range. Daniels rate of 3.67 triples per game this season is on pace to break Kenny Harris’ VCU mark of 3.33, set in 1993-94.

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QUICKLY: CLIPS AND NOTES

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PITTSBURGH – More to follow on VCU’s 90-63 win at Duquesne later, but a few pieces of housekeeping:

  • With the win, Shaka Smart improves to 100-31 all-time. He is the third VCU coach, joining J.D. Barnett and Sonny Smith, to reach that plateau. Smart reaches 100 wins in the 30th fewest games in NCAA history and is just the 12th coach to top the century mark in his first four seasons.
  • VCU’s victory was its 13th straight, the third longest in school history. The Rams won 16 in a row Jan. 18-March 13, 1981 and 15 straight Jan. 15-March 4, 1983.
  • Sophomore Treveon Graham scored 20 points in 21 minutes of play. It’s his fifth 20-point game of the season and his third in five games. Graham is averaging 20.5 points per game in his last six contests.
  • VCU knocked down 12-of-29 three-pointers Saturday, its most in five games.
  • Senior Troy Daniels buried two 3-pointers to become the fourth VCU player to hit 200 in his career. He joins B.A. Walker, Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess on that exclusive list.

A FEW HIGHLIGHTS:

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RAMS IN THE PROS: SANDERS SURGES

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Former Ram Larry Sanders (center) is averaging 8.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game this season.

Former Ram Larry Sanders (center) is averaging 8.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game this season.

It looks like Larry Sanders is starting to figure out this NBA thing.

The 24-year-old former VCU star and current Milwaukee Buck is enjoying a breakout season. Selected 15th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft, Sanders is beginning to deliver on the promise Milwaukee saw on film and in workouts.

Through a quarter of the season, the 6-foot-11, 235-pound center was averaging career-highs of 8.0 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Sanders is shooting 54 percent from the floor, and as of this writing, his 3.0 blocks per game average was tied for the league lead.

Last season, Sanders averaged just 3.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. But a strong preseason and training camp earned him increased playing time from Bucks’ Coach Scott Skiles. Sanders responded with 10 points and seven rebounds in an opening-night victory over the Boston Celtics.

On Nov. 30, Sanders recorded his first career triple-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in a loss at Minnesota. His 10 blocks tied the franchise record, set by Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar later took to Twitter to congratulate Sanders.

Sanders followed with 18 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks against the Celtics the next night.

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DANIELS, HAVOC GO ‘FAIRLEIGH RIDICULOUS’ IN WIN

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Senior Troy Daniels (pictured right, shooting) set a VCU single-game record with nine 3-pointers Saturday.

Senior Troy Daniels (pictured right, shooting) set a VCU single-game record with nine 3-pointers Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – In a few days, we’ll close the book on 2012 and turn the page to a new year with new hopes, new goals and new dreams. But they might have to drag Troy Daniels into 2013 kicking and screaming.

Daniels capped his torrid December by stroking a school-record nine 3-pointers and scoring a career-high 27 points in Saturday’s 96-67 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. After a pedestrian 4-of-10 start from beyond the arc, Daniels kicked into high gear, hitting five of his last six, including four straight in the final three minutes, to break Bo Jones’ 13-year-old VCU single-game mark. Daniels originally tied the record with eight triples Dec. 7 at Old Dominion.

This month has been, by far, the best of Daniels’ career. In his last five games, Daniels has averaged 19.9 points and shot .500 (30-of-60) from 3-point range. Daniels has scored at least 24 points in three of those contests.

It hasn’t been so much the flipping of a switch that has turned Daniels into a “must-watch” shooter the last five games as it has been the result of a cumulative effort. It’s been hours at Franklin Street Gym late at night with Assistant Coach Jeremy Ballard, loads of film study, and pep talks with Coach Shaka Smart. Sooner or later, the dam was going to break and allow the river that is Daniels’ sweet shooting stroke to flow freely. It appears we’ve reached that point.

“I’m happy for Troy,” Smart said Saturday. “He’s a guy that’s put a lot of extra work in, a lot of extra hours where it was just him and a manager in the gym and it’s paying off for him.”

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Q&A WITH RAM RADIO ANALYST MIKE LITOS

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Mike Litos joins Ram Radio as color analyst for the 2012-13.

VCU alumnus, CAAHoops.com founder and bocce enthusiast Mike Litos (@VCULitos) will join the VCU Ram Radio broadcast team for the 2012-13 season as color analyst. He’ll join play-by-play voice (and former child acting star) Robby Robinson to bring VCU Men’s Basketball into your living room (and car, and mobile device, etc.).

I recently caught up with Litos to get some answers to the questions that are burning up Ram Nation right now, such as, “Would you be supportive of a Wham! reunion?”
CK: A select few get to come back to their alma mater and put in a position like this. How exciting is this opportunity for you, as a long-time fan?

ML: I’m rarely at a loss for words, lots of them, but I’m still having a difficult time articulating how exciting this opportunity is for me. I will say it’s extremely humbling to even be considered…we’ve got incredible momentum as an athletics department and a university, so to become a bigger part of that is thrilling. I very much look forward to digging in and contributing where I can.

CK: Your predecessor, Mike Ellis, was known for his knowledge of Xs and Ox, his stories and his undying devotion to officiating. What can fans expect when they turn the dial to listen to the game this year?
ML: It’s possible I’ve given aid to an official who, shall we say, may have erred in his interpretation of the rules. I’ll continue to help out the zebras. But really what people can expect is an answer to the question why. My goal is to be invisible. What I mean is that the radio audience gets a mental picture of what’s occurring on the court. Robby does a great job explaining what’s happening; my job is to depict what’s happening that impacts what Robby is describing.

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TURNING POINT: THE MICHAEL DOLES GAME

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VCU averaged a Verizon Wireless Arena-record 6,645 fans per home game in 2010-11.

Mike Litos relays a fond, albeit embarrassing memory from his freshman year at VCU. It was 1986, J.D. Barnett had already packed up and left for Tulsa. Although they did not know it at the time, the Rams were sliding into an extended period of mediocrity. Like Haley’s Comet, the program would emerge to win a conference title in 1996 before heading back into another orbit of so-so basketball around the sun, or something like that.

Litos grew up on Tobacco Road, where basketball is religion and your affiliation with Duke or North Carolina (no offense, N.C. State) is akin to being a Hatfield or a McCoy. Schools always packed the house and you had to get to the game at least an hour ahead of time to get a seat in the student section.

Those experiences are what caused Litos to convince his roommate and a couple of other guys to catch the first bus down to the Richmond Coliseum for the Rams’ home-opener that season. After much prodding, they relented.

“When we got there,” he says sheepishly. “We joined the other four students in the building in the student section.”

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WE WERE MERELY FRESHMEN

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Larry Sanders averaged 4.9 points and 5.2 rebounds as a freshman in 2007-08

They say youth is wasted on the young. I just think those of us in the post-30 crowd hate that The Jersey Shore has taken over MTV. When I was a college freshman, I could run a sub-5:00 mile, sleep three hours a night and had great hair (true story). Of course, I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, and I didn’t care.  The experience, one painful lesson at a time, was all worth it. It made me better personally and professionally (at least, that’s what I’m going with).

There are six freshmen on this year’s VCU Men’s Basketball team. Statistically speaking, the Rams are the 10th-youngest team in the country. They’re all great basketball players. They wouldn’t be here otherwise. But there are going to be mistakes, plenty of youthful mistakes. Enough to cause Shaka Smart to lose some of his hair…wait…let’s move on.

The point here is that these guys are all great talents, it’s just a matter of getting the best out of them. It’s going to take time. You’ll see it some nights and others you might shake your head. It’s rare to find a guy ahead of the curve, who can come in and dominate right away. Just like I didn’t come in and just dominate the blogging game. It took years of experience to be this awesome.

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A MATTER OF TIME

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How cool is this? Cristin Granados with the buzzer-beater? Not much rarer than a buzzer-beater in soccer futbol. This is my seventh year at VCU and I’d say this is one of the cooler singular plays of that time. If I had to put together a list of my favorite true buzzer-beaters since the 2005-06 season, it would look something like this:

1-Jamie Skeen vs. Drexel in CAA Semifinals, 2011 (MBB – 1:20 mark of video).
2-D’Andra Moss vs. Delaware, 2010 (WBB).
3-Cristin Granados vs. Georgia State, 2011 (WSOC).
4-B.A. Walker vs. Drexel, 2006 (MBB – :20 mark of video).

Actually, those are the only four buzzer-beaters since 2005-06 that I could think of. I initially included Joe Van Meter’s homer to win the CAA Tournament in 2010, but that was just a go-ahead homer, not a walk-off, so it doesn’t count for these purposes.

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