BEHIND THE CURTAIN: SHAKA SMART AT A-10 MEDIA DAY

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Videographer Mike Voyack followed Shaka Smart around at Atlantic 10 Media Day in Brooklyn this week. He offers this behind the scenes report.

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Also, Shaka Smart’s knowledge of the 1986 World Series Champion New York Mets is pretty impressive.

BROOKLYN & BACK: A-10 MEDIA DAY

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Atlantic 10 Conference Men’s Basketball Media Day has come and gone. Here’s a sampling of the day that was at Barclays Center.

SHAKA SMART REALLY LOVES PANCAKES

THE RAMS ARE THE UNANIMOUS PRESEASON FAVORITES

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TITLE GAME LOSS NOT THE ARBITER OF VCU SEASON’S WORTHINESS

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VCU fell to Saint Joseph's Sunday in the A-10 Championship Game, but the Rams are dancing anyway.

VCU fell to Saint Joseph’s Sunday in the A-10 Championship Game, but the Rams are dancing anyway.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Two years ago, this column would have been a eulogy. Today, it’s merely a reminder of how far the VCU program has come and where it’s headed.

VCU suffered a cruel blow Sunday at Barclays Center with a 65-61 loss to Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 Championship Game. It was a near repeat of 12 months ago, when Saint Louis dealt the Rams a similarly close championship game loss on the same floor.

Emotion caught up to the weight of those two losses Sunday. At the final horn, which cut short VCU’s furious attempt at a comeback, senior Juvonte Reddic crouched down near the VCU basket and buried his head in his shirt. It wasn’t until teammate Jarred Guest and Assistant Coach Mike Rhoades came over to comfort Reddic that he finally left the floor.

It’s understandable that Reddic would be crestfallen. For a second straight year, VCU came within a couple of bounces of a championship. That’s hard to handle, for sure.

But the tonic for what ails Reddic and VCU fans right now should be this: In the two years since the Rams last won a conference championship, the 2012 CAA title, the program has blossomed into a consistent national force. That doesn’t blunt the pain of a championship loss on Sunday, but it does make for a better Monday. That’s because by then, VCU will be making travel arrangements for a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament trip.

In 2011, VCU had to sweat out the NCAA Selection Show after losing to Old Dominion in the CAA Championship Game. Actually, many of the players didn’t bother to watch the show at all. Today, all they had to worry about was whether or not they needed to pack shorts or fleece. The answer is shorts, by the way, as VCU drew a 5-seed and will play Stephen F. Austin in San Diego Friday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

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RAMS TAKE DIE KOELNER BIERHALLE

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park-slope-beer-hall-openBROOKLYN, N.Y. – Last year, local pub Die Koelner Bierhalle became the headquarters of Ram Nation North. VCU fans flocked to the neighborhood bar and restaurant to hang out with other VCU fans, watch games and prep for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. KBH, as it is known, became the pregame and postgame spot for Rams fans, and that is expected to continue this year.

On Thursday, we dropped by to see what makes the place so special. If you’re in the neighborhood Friday before (or after) VCU’s game with Richmond, drop by KBH.

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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VCU AND A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

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Barclays-Center

Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is also home to the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament in March.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – When is a game more than a game? For VCU, it’s usually when the game is in New York.

On Saturday, another opportunity for the game within the game presented itself. VCU beat back ACC foe Boston College 69-50 at Barclays Center with an outstanding defensive performance. That’s an effort worthy of its own discussion, but that’s not what’s being discussed here. What was significant about VCU’s appearance at the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival is how the Rams, and the program as a whole, benefit from even playing that game to begin with.

If you’re a casual fan, or just someone that wants to focus on the happenings on the court, there was plenty to enjoy in VCU’s win. But if you’re interested in all facets of the program, then it’s a worthwhile venture to consider the value of events like this one.

Let’s deal with the obvious first. Saturday’s game was a chance for VCU to play a neutral site game against an ACC opponent. The Rams have experienced difficulty scheduling home-and-home series with schools from conferences like the ACC, Big Ten, SEC and the like. Rather than accept an inequitable 2-for-1 split – or worse – the next best thing has been to play teams on neutral floors. This is fast becoming a staple of the Rams’ non-conference schedule.

Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart said VCU learned of the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival through organizer Chris Spencer of Basketball Tournaments, Inc., who is one of the men behind the Las Vegas Invitational and other similar college basketball events. Assistant Coach Mike Morrell is in charge of scheduling for VCU, and looks for opportunities just like this one to give the Rams both balance and NCAA-resume building opportunities.

But there’s more to consider; everything from recruiting to media exposure to the Atlantic 10 Championship in March.

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HAVOC HUMMING AT NEAR-HISTORIC LEVEL

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VCU has limited ACC opponents Virginia Tech and Boston College to 52 and 50 points, respectively, in back-to-back games.

VCU has limited ACC opponents Virginia Tech and Boston College to 52 and 50 points, respectively, in back-to-back games.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Watch out, folks. Havoc is humming. VCU’s signature full court pressure is starting to squeeze opponents with the strength of a boa constrictor, and the results are getting more impressive with each passing game.

Saturday night, Boston College felt the Rams tighten their grip until all the life had been choked out of the Eagles’ previously notable offense. VCU beat Boston College 69-50 Saturday at Barclays Center, but it wasn’t even that close. If not for a handful of meaningless buckets in the waning moments, it would have looked much worse. Even so, it was BC’s lowest offensive output in nearly a year. For a while, it looked like the Eagles might not reach 40 points, let alone 50.

When the wreckage was cleared away, all Boston College Coach Steve Donohue could do was shake his head at a season-high 23 turnovers, a season-low three 3-pointers and 39 percent (17-of-44) shooting overall. Boston College scored just 17 points in the first half and finished the game 25 points under its season average. During one particular stretch, BC recorded one field goal in 14 minutes. The Eagles entered the game ranked 63rd nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rating – better than nearly 300 other Division I teams – and left with a duffel bag full of questions.

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‘THAT ANIMAL’ WAS LOOSE IN NYC

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We did it again. We let “That Animal” loose in New York. The VCU Basketball team was playing Boston College Saturday night at Barclays Center, and that’s all well and good – the Rams won 69-50, by the way – but when you get the Rams, you get the whole experience. You get the VCU fan base, a lovable battalion of college basketball rapscallions that want nothing more than to take over the arena. You get The Peppas, VCU’s unstoppable Pep Band, one which can change an elevator music atmosphere into an AC/DC concert in the time it takes you to fire up your iPod. You get, “That Animal.”

If recent history is any judge, it seems That Animal – outside of turning the Stuart C. Siegel Center into a garbage disposal, blades of sound and pressure spinning everywhere, bearing down on the opposition – there’s nowhere they’d rather be than in New York, assuming control of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Don’t think people don’t notice this stuff.

ICYMI: A-10 MEDIA DAY – ‘VCU IS THE PLACE TO BE’

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The Atlantic 10 Conference held its annual media day Tuesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. As we all know, media day is all about getting hard-hitting stories and really getting to the heart and soul of college basketball. Observe:

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See? Your understanding of Shaka Smart, the man, has grown exponentially through that video. You’re welcome. There were plenty of other rumblings from Barclays. He’s some of the best stuff.

VCU fans will no doubt enjoy this interview. Here, Shaka Smart says he wants to “spread the word” about VCU.

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But there’s more…

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ADDITIONAL NBA WORKOUTS, SUMMER LEAGUE ON TAP FOR DANIELS

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Troy Daniels says he has workouts scheduled with three NBA teams.

Troy Daniels says he has workouts scheduled with three NBA teams.

RICHMOND, Va. – Troy Daniels’ NBA workout at Barclays Center May 22-23 has come and gone, but the VCU graduate’s time in Brooklyn will have ripple effects in the coming weeks.

Daniels, the second-leading 3-point shooter in VCU history, says he has additional upcoming workouts scheduled with three NBA teams, Boston, Houston and Indiana, in the coming weeks. He did not disclose dates. The Roanoke, Va. native says he’s received interested from other teams as well, and hopes to set up more workouts over the next few weeks.

In addition, Daniels says he has agreements to play in both the Orlando (July 7-12) and Las Vegas (July 12-22) Summer Leagues, but is not at liberty to reveal which teams at this time. It is not uncommon for prospects to play for different franchises at each summer league site.

Daniels is currently not expected to be selected in the June 27 NBA Draft, but could draw interest as an undrafted free agent if he impresses in workouts. A number of notable NBA players have started their careers via free agency, including guards John Starks, Gary Neal, Jose Juan Barea and Jeremy Lin.

And that’s really all the 6-foot-4 sharpshooter could’ve asked for. Daniels’ Barclays Center workout among a group of 40-plus NBA hopefuls for representatives of all 30 of the league’s teams wasn’t about scoring an immediate job, it was about starting the process. It was about getting his name out there, catching the attention of a few NBA executives. Daniels has exceptional shooting ability, and now he’ll be able to continue to showcase that talent in hopes that some team decides his from-the-bleachers range is worthy of a roster spot.

In 125 career games, Daniels shot .386 (251-of-650) from 3-point range for the Rams. He trails only B.A. Walker’s 269 treys on VCU’s career list. Daniels set a school single-season records for 3-pointers with 94 and 124 threes during his junior and senior seasons, respectively. The shooting guard averaged 7.3 points per game during his career, including 12.3 as a senior.

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