WITH TOUTED FRESHMEN ON BOARD, SMART PREACHES PATIENCE

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Shaka Smart is set to open his sixth season as VCU coach.

Shaka Smart is set to open his sixth season as VCU coach.

RICHMOND, Va. – Shaka Smart understands the hype around his freshman class. He did recruit Justin Tillman, Jonathan Williams, Michael Gilmore and Terry Larrier, after all. But he’s also seen enough freshmen struggle to know that caution is often the best path.

“We have four freshmen who have done a really nice job since they got here in June,” Smart said Wednesday. “Right now they’re going through the typical freshman fall ups and downs and transitioning to getting physically ready for real college practice and the competition that comes with that every day.”

Smart will get a closer look at his freshman class’ transition soon. The Rams kick off full team practices Friday, six weeks prior to their season-opener on Nov. 14 against Tennessee in Annapolis.

No VCU recruiting class has garnered as much attention as this far-reaching quartet, which Smart and his staff tapped from Detroit (Tillman), New York (Larrier), Jacksonville (Gilmore) and Richmond (Williams). ESPN rated the class No. 14 in the country last year. Larrier, Gilmore and Tillman were all ranked in ESPN’s Top 100 players.

Larrier has received the bulk of the preseason hype. A consensus four-star and top-50 recruit, Larrier’s choice of VCU over UConn was seen by many as a coup for the Rams. A 6-foot-8 guard, Larrier possesses an advanced offensive game, as well as the length Smart covets in his high-energy, full court press.

“He’s going to help us a lot this year,” Smart said. “I think he’s going to have a big role. I would say similar to a Treveon Graham, a Melvin Johnson did as freshmen. Maybe a little bit more if he can put it together. It’s always interesting to see how freshmen are able to deal with everything that goes into being a freshman, and he’s just getting started with that.”

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VIDEO: VCU PRESSERS & OPEN PRACTICE

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OPEN PRACTICE

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SHAKA SMART

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VCU PLAYERS

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STEPHEN F. AUSTIN COACH BRAD UNDERWOOD

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STEPHEN F. AUSTIN

THE BLAMMO EFFECT…

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Is Briante Weber the leader of the "Blammo" movement?

Is Briante Weber the leader of the “Blammo” movement?

By Mike Litos

VCU has a distinct advantage this weekend that is not being discussed, at least not enough for my taste. I call it The Blammo Effect.

You see, teams who have little knowledge of VCU or have not actually played against the Rams are prone to being horse-whipped at a certain point during games. We’ve seen it in both halves, but primarily in the second half. It’s the big run that is havoc at its finest, deflections and steals and layups and threes, an open court basketball bacchanalia.

It’s worth noting that in 14 of VCUs 26 wins, the Rams either trailed at the half or were leading by four or fewer points.

Here’s the thing: you can practice with six or seven guys. You can practice with five guys and perfect reads. You can watch tape from sunup to sunup. You can rent Inspector Gadget and his gogoarms to try to replicate the Turbocharged Octopus and his nation’s leading steals total.

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VIDEO: VCU DEFEATS GEORGE WASHINGTON IN A-10 SEMIFINALS

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HIGHLIGHTS

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PRESSER

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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WINDMILL, SON

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thaxted-windmill_440w

No, not that windmill. This windmill:

VCU

STEALS ON STEALS ON STEALS

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FL2xYmq

In honor of Briante Weber setting VCU’s all-time steals mark Saturday against Richmond, here’s an awesome compilation of him relentlessly picking the pocket of every ball-handler within a five-mile radius. Weber now has 260 career steals. He’s a JUNIOR. VCU hosts Rhode Island Thursday. Go see Briante make more history.

RANDOM NOTES: FORDHAM

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RICHMOND, Va. – It wasn’t a work of art, but it was a win. VCU turned Fordham over 18 times and held the Bronx-based Rams to 37 percent shooting on the way to a 76-60 win. It was VCU’s fourth straight victory and eighth in the last nine games. Here are some tidbits from the victory.

INJURY UPDATES
VCU junior and leading scorer left the game early in the second half with an apparent injury and did not return. He retreated to the training room for a period of time, but reappeared midway through the period and sat on VCU’s bench for the remainder of the game. He scored nine points in 15 minutes and was limping noticeably on his left leg.

Coach Shaka Smart says he believes Graham has a sprained toe, but stopped short of offering a timeline for his return.

“He’ll be getting as much treatment as possible, and I can’t tell you exactly when he’ll be back, but I’d guess it will be soon.”

Graham is averaging 15.7 points per game this season.  VCU returns to action on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Siegel Center against Richmond.

Meanwhile, senior forward Terrance Shannon (sprained knee) did not play for a third straight game, although he was in uniform.

“He’s good,” Smart said. “His knee’s not all the way back yet, but he’s making progress. He’s done some things in practice. He’s not been 100 percent full-go in practice yet, but I anticipate hopefully he’ll be back, full-go soon.”

Shannon is averaging 3.9 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this season.

TIDBITS
VCU shot .338 in the win (22-of-65). It’s the Rams lowest shooting percentage in a victory since shooting .328 (21-of-64) in a 63-57 win over St. Francis (Pa.) on Nov. 11, 2011. VCU is 4-4 when shooting less than 40 percent this season… Briante Weber grabbed four steals to move within two of tying Rolando Lamb’s school record of 257, established in 1985…The game marked VCU’s 45th straight sellout at the Siegel Center… VCU’s 17-4 start is the best of Shaka Smart’s five-year tenure and the Rams’ best since 2007… After opening the season 1-of-14 from 3-point range, Weber is 6-of-16 (38 percent) in VCU’s last five games.

VIDEO: VCU DEFEATS FORDHAM 76-60

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HIGHLIGHTS

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SHAKA SMART

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MELVIN JOHNSON, JORDAN BURGESS, BRIANTE WEBER

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FORDHAM COACH TOM PECORA

MARK NEAR, ‘BRIFENSE’ KEEPS HUMMING

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As of Jan. 28, Briante Weber needs seven steals to become VCU's all-time leader.

As of Jan. 28, Briante Weber needs seven steals to become VCU’s all-time leader.

RICHMOND, Va. – There are so many types of Briante Weber steals that it’s hard to pick a favorite.

There are the garden-variety, poke-the-ball-away steals, and the Havoc-induced free safety interception steals. From there, they progress to, things like the blind side, who-was-that-guy steal and the cruise-missile, fast-break-thwarting steal.

“Coach, since my freshman year, he emphasized a no layup rule,” Weber says. “Me having the quickness and the long arms, I just kind of reach in there. Sometimes I’m lucky. Sometimes I get a foul. But most of the time it works out for me. I’ve got a good knack for the ball. It helps me.”

Steals from those subsets have become relatively common, but if you’re lucky, you’ll catch something truly special at a VCU game.

For instance, Weber ripping the ball away from Butler’s Roosevelt Jones last year before administering a thunderous tomahawk dunk that set the tone for a blowout VCU victory. For the past year, that play has served as Weber’s seminal steal moment. But his diving theft of a George Mason roll-in pass on Jan. 9 may have been his magnum opus. It had all the markers of greatness: a disregard for personal welfare, a jolt of otherworldly adrenaline, and a pedestrian moment rendered disastrous for the opposition. It was furious art; like a Monet painted with a chainsaw.

weberslide

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