HERE’S DARIUS THEUS DUNKING (REALLY)

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Hey, remember during Eric Maynor’s senior year, when he got a steal and actually dunked a ball against Hofstra? I bet you were wondering if he could actually do it up until that point. Evidence below:

This happened.

This happened.

How about last season against George Washington, when Troy Daniels got a steal and a sort of (lefty, no less!) dunk? You never saw it coming. Feel free to watch (3:12 of the video below):

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As entertaining as those dunks were, you’d probably trade them in to see Darius Theus dunk in a game, right? Well, here you go. Thanks to Scott Day for unearthing this gem from Holland, where Theus is playing professionally. Check out the look at the end. My man is getting his money’s worth out of the moment.

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theusdunk

Torey Burston is officially on the dunk clock.

EDIT: I felt compelled to include this photo, since this probably as close as Joey Rodriguez ever got to actually dunking in a college game. Toby Veal with the big assist.

rodriguez-dunk-ff

SOLVING FOR BRI

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Briante Weber averaged 5.4 points and 2.7 assists per game as a sophomore last season.

Briante Weber averaged 5.4 points and 2.7 assists per game as a sophomore last season.

One of the strongest corollaries with VCU’s decade of recent success has been its string of terrific point guards. Behind the heady play of guys like Dom Jones, Eric Maynor, Joey Rodriguez and Darius Theus, the Rams have piled up the wins.

As time passes, we remember the conference championships and NCAA appearances and forget that people once questioned whether or not these floor generals were up to the task. Although Maynor showed flashes as a freshman in 2005-06, people worried about his awkward jumper. Joey Rodriguez’s biggest problem when he took over as starting point guard in 2009-10 was that he wasn’t Maynor.  Similarly, Theus grabbed the controls after Rodriguez led the Rams to the Final Four. Try following that.

Although each torch passing felt like a crossroads to some, by the time each player graduated, they had forged an unforgettable legacy. With Theus gone, there’ll be another torch-passing in 2013-14. Logic and VCU Coach Shaka Smart have each suggested that the man to carry it – at least initially – will be junior Briante Weber. Last month, Smart praised Weber’s work ethic this summer and said the springy 6-foot-3 guard was the frontrunner at the point. “It’s certainly not set in stone, but it’s certainly his to lose,” he said. “If we played a game today, he’d get the lion’s share of the minutes.”

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BRANDENBERG, GUEST HOPE EUROPE TRIP IS A PASSPORT TO SUCCESS

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Rising senior Rob Brandenberg averaged 10.4 points per game and sank 49 three-pointers last season.

Rising senior Rob Brandenberg averaged 10.4 points per game and sank 49 three-pointers last season.

RICHMOND, Va. – The passports of Rob Brandenberg and Jarred Guest will pick up a couple more stamps this summer, but they hope that’s not all they bring home with them.

The VCU duo is set to participate in a nine-day exhibition tour of Germany and the Czech Republic Aug. 11-19 with the Global Sports Academy (GSA). The team will be coached by Bill Brown of California (Pa.), a mentor of VCU’s Shaka Smart. For Brandenberg and Guest, it’ll be their second straight summer abroad. Both players were members of the Rams’ exhibition tour of Italy last August.

While there will be plenty of sights along the way, Brandenberg and Guest won’t exactly be singing “Holiday Road”. They say their primary focus is the same as every offseason, to become better players.

“Jarred and I have been working real hard, extremely hard for the season, so I think it’s going to be a chance for us to assert ourselves and show what we’ve been practicing and work on it in game form,” Brandenberg said.

Each player will have his own goals, his own checklist things to work on during the tour. For Brandenberg, who started 28 of 35 games last year and averaged 10.4 points, it means a focus on the intangibles. A rising senior, he’s aware that his teammates will look to him during the 2013-14 season for more than just his blazing speed or scoring punch.

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YOUR DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO VCU BASKETBALL FIRST PITCHES

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Over the years, as VCU Basketball has gained steam, so too have requests to have Rams throw out first pitches at baseball games. I’m still waiting on first puck drop calls. I know a spike is coming soon. Anyway, here we examine each Rams’ performance on the diamond.

Shaka Smart (Chicago Cubs, 2011)

Shaka Smart isn’t a large man by any means, but that didn’t stop guys like Billy Wagner from bringing the heat. Unfortunately for Smart, it kind of did. No matter, Smart has pretty good form here as he paints the inside corner. Good snap on the arm. I think he’s falling away to the left a bit, but that’s something the coaching staff can correct during side sessions.
Bonus/demerits: Bonuses for throwing from the rubber, throwing to a VCU guy (Sean Marshall), being at Wrigley Field, the custom jersey (is he wearing No. 91? Channeling Dennis Rodman?), and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

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FIFTH-SEEDED RAMS AIM TO MAINTAIN UNDERDOG SPIRIT

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Once a popular NCAA Tournament pick as an underdog, VCU will enter its Round of 64 game as a favorite.

Once a popular NCAA Tournament pick as an underdog, VCU will enter its Round of 64 game as a favorite.

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – What happens to the hunted when it becomes the hunter? Does it lose its killer instinct, its razor’s edge, the sharpness of which has been the difference between survival and irrelevance? Does it watch too much reality TV instead of going to the gym?

When VCU takes the court in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 Thursday against Akron at the Palace of Auburn Hills, it will do so in a world that has shifted its perspective of the Rams. VCU, once America’s Sweetheart, the loveable underdog, is a legitimate brand name. This year, the Rams (26-8) earned a No. 5 seed, the school’s highest in 28 years.

Some of the most memorable moments in VCU history have come with the Rams as a double-digit seed. When Eric Maynor and the Rams toppled Duke in Buffalo in 2007, they were seeded 11th. VCU was also an 11-seed in 2011, when it stormed all the way through the Southwest Regional to the Final Four. Last year, as a 12-seed, VCU upset Wichita State in the Round of 64 in Portland, Ore.

VCU, especially under Shaka Smart, has adopted the underdog philosophy better than anyone. In 2011, half the anchors employed by ESPN, including Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale, dogged the NCAA committee’s selection of VCU. The Rams used it as bulletin board material on the way to five straight upset wins. So prominent was the chip on the Rams’ shoulder, that when VCU beat USC in the First Four in Dayton that year, Smart’s first words at his postgame press conference that night were: “You think Jay Bilas watched that game?”

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RAMS STAND TALL ON A-10 SUCCESS, NCAA FUTURE

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Shaka Smart said Sunday he's proud of VCU's performance in the A-10 this season.

Shaka Smart said Sunday he’s proud of VCU’s performance in the A-10 this season.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – As Shaka Smart spoke, his voice betrayed him. After three emotional Atlantic 10 Tournament games, it cracked and wheezed. Much like his team, Smart left everything, including his voice, on the Barclays Center floor.

The Rams stellar inaugural A-10 season came to a close Sunday in an emotional 62-56 loss to Saint Louis in the league’s championship game. VCU, which had been overrun by a poised Billikens team in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, battled until the final horn. The Rams refused to let Saint Louis walk to a title with a repeat performance.

But an A-10 title was not in the cards for the Rams this year. That honor goes to a tough Saint Louis team that overcame the death of its coach, Rick Majerus, earlier this year and banded together. The Billikens came into the game ranked 16th nationally, and they’re at least that good, if not better. The Rams can keep the chins high.

“We came at them, they took a punch from us. They responded, and that’s why they’re the champions,” said Smart afterwards.

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RAMS’ YOUTH, BENCH HELP DELIVER A-10 QUARTERFINAL WIN

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Freshman Melvin Johnson (12 points) was one of several of VCU's young reserves who were key Thursday.

Freshman Melvin Johnson (12 points) was one of several of VCU’s young reserves who were key Thursday.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – There was freshman Justin Tuoyo, all alone on the right wing. He’d barely played the last month and had missed 12 of his previous 14 three-pointers this season. From behind my position, a Saint Joseph’s fan, who had apparently done some advance scouting, shouted, “He can’t shoot a three, let him shoot it.”

Tuoyo promptly sized up the three and canned it.

Instead of hesitating or letting nerves overcome him on a big stage, the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals, Tuoyo stuck to the aggressive, attacking principles that Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart preaches.

At the time the bucket didn’t seem terribly significant. It gave the Rams a 64-47 lead with 8:11 remaining. But Saint Joseph’s, namely Carl Jones (29 points) and Langston Galloway (25 points), wouldn’t quit and managed to whittle the final margin to 82-79.

After the game, Smart was quick to remind Tuoyo of that bucket.

“I told him in the locker room after the game, I know it’s just one shot, but I don’t know if you noticed, but we won by three, and you hit a three,” Smart said. “So we needed every basket, and I think overall, just the contribution that he made in 14 minutes says a lot about his future.”

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A-10 NOTES: NCAA’S NOT A FACTOR, MELVIN! THRIVES

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Shaka Smart says an NCAA bid is "nice", but the Rams are in Brooklyn to win a championship.

Shaka Smart says an NCAA bid is “nice”, but the Rams are in Brooklyn to win a championship.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – For VCU, the conference tournament has long functioned as a de facto play-in round for the NCAA Tournament as much as it was a chase for a championship. Not since 1985 have Rams fans been able to truly compartmentalize the two experiences.

Although there’s no such thing as an “automatic” at-large berth, not officially anyway, the Rams will be dancing this year. Every “bracketologist” under the sun – from Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm, to Joe Schmoe crunching brackets in his mom’s basement – has VCU safely seeded anywhere from a No. 6 to a No. 9. While the Rams’ results this weekend will greatly impact where VCU will be seeded, who it’ll play and where it will go, it won’t be a do-or-die scenario. This NCAA Tournament is one thing. That’s next week. This weekend in Brooklyn is all about chasing a title.

VCU’s move to the Atlantic 10 is actually one of the main reasons the Rams don’t have to grit their teeth through CBS’ tournament selection show this year. The A-10 has the seventh-highest RPI in the country and will likely receive anywhere from three to six bids. The Rams racked up six top-100 wins in league play. In all, VCU has built a NCAA resume on 10 top-100 wins, including three top 50 triumphs, and no “bad” losses.

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BARCLAYS GIVES A-10 CURB APPEAL

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The new Barclays Center in Brooklyn will serve as host to the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time. The building has given the tournament a previously unseen buzz.

The new Barclays Center in Brooklyn will serve as host to the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time. The building has given the tournament a previously unseen buzz.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s about a mile-and-a-half from the door of Shaka Smart’s office to the floor of the Richmond Coliseum. An absurdly fit man, it’s not silly to think he can run there in about 10 minutes (probably less). But Barclays Center in Brooklyn? It would take a Forrest Gump-like effort and a couple pairs of Nikes to make that jog.

But that’s what Smart would be facing if he wanted to leg it to the conference tournament this year, VCU’s first in the Atlantic 10. While the Rams traded the Colonial Athletic Association for the more highly regarded A-10 this year, they also traded the familiar confines of the nearby Richmond Coliseum for Barclays Center, some six hours away, depending on traffic, of course.

Although the Rams have parted company with the convenience, VCU-friendly crowds and homespun appeal of the Coliseum in March, Smart isn’t losing any sleep over it.

“A lot has been made of the fact that we’re not playing here in home at Richmond,” he said Tuesday. “But I’ve coached at a lot of schools. This is the only school I’ve coached where we’ve played a conference tournament in our home city. That’s more the exception than the norm. We’re like everyone else. We have to travel to New York to play.”

For the first time since it joined the CAA in 1995-96, VCU will play in a conference tournament outside the city of Richmond. The Rams joined the A-10 this summer, in part because the league will host its championship at Barclays. The arena, located in America’s hoops haven, New York, provides the A-10 Tournament with a curb appeal the CAA just couldn’t match.

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FEAR NOT, COLLEGE HOOPS COLUMNISTS, HAVOC CAN SAVE US ALL

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If you can't have fun watching Havoc, check your pulse.

If you can’t have fun watching Havoc, check your pulse.

RICHMOND, Va. – College basketball is broken? Scoring is down? The game is boring? Soft bubble? Too many upsets? I think some of these stodgy columnists need some Havoc therapy.

This year, more than any in recent memory, college basketball has faced parroted calls for a fix.

“Make this game more fun! Entertain us! Too many upsets. Too many guys leaving college early.”

Maybe I’m not qualified to assess the state of Division I basketball. I drive a Pontiac – a car brand which no longer exists – and own a total of two suit jackets, so, probably not. Maybe hoops is “broken”, maybe it’s not. I’m just wondering if these guys are watching what I’m watching. Have you seen VCU? Have you sampled the fruit of the breakneck, devil-may-care style of play that is only churning out turnovers and entertainment value at a faster rate than it is producing victories?

From where I’m sitting, college hoops looks better than ever.

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