MEETING MASON…HISTORY FIRST

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VCU and George Mason will meet for the 50th time Thursday. The Rams lead the all-time series 31-18.

VCU and George Mason will meet for the 50th time Thursday. The Rams lead the all-time series 31-18.

For all that VCU gained in its move to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2012, the Rams did forfeit a couple of compelling in-state rivalries. Sure, the Rams still play Old Dominion, but without a conference race at stake – not to mention the Monarchs’ recent struggles – the series has lost momentum. The other realignment casualty was VCU’s series with George Mason. When VCU packed up for the A-10, I didn’t lose any sleep over the possible end to games with James Madison and William & Mary, but the Mason rivalry has had some incredible moments. When the Patriots made the jump to the A-10 this summer, I was happy that the Rams would have another in-state rival playing for similar stakes.

Until 2012-13, the last season in which VCU and George Mason did not meet was 1983-84. So there’s some history, here. VCU leads the all-time series 31-18, and in the last 8-10 years, the rivalry really hit its stride. Both were CAA contenders essentially every year, they were two hours apart (depending on that NOVA traffic) and each enjoyed postseason success, including a Final Four.

But the Rams were also 6-0 against the Patriots in the CAA Tournament. VCU actually ended the Patriots’ conference title hopes the last four years they were in the CAA together and five of the last six. It’s at this moment that I wonder if George Mason actually suggested that the Rams join the A-10. They may have helped pack VCU’s bags.

While Mason isn’t likely to shake off those stinging losses, which include two CAA Championship games (we’ll get to that), the Patriots have earned some notable wins over the Rams in recent years. At the top of the list is Sherrod Wright’s 30-foot buzzer-beater that spoiled Valentine’s Day in 2012, and the 71-51 hammer the Patriots dropped on VCU at the Siegel Center in 2011, just prior to the Rams morphing into the Lakers (well, the old Lakers).

All-in-all, it’s been a fun rivalry, one fans should welcome back on both sides. Here’s a quick look at some recent memorable contests between George Mason and VCU.

THE (VCU) GOOD

Tournament MVP Eric Maynor celebrates VCU 2007 CAA Championship over George Mason.

Tournament MVP Eric Maynor celebrates VCU 2007 CAA Championship over George Mason.

March 5, 2007 – VCU 65, George Mason 59 – CAA Championship GameBox Score
Before there was “The Dagger”, there was this. Eric Maynor may have made his name by crushing Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, but it wouldn’t have been possible without his incredible performance – highlighted by back-to-back steals – to stun George Mason.

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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

THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS EVER THIS WEEK (OCT. 1)

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Happy Shak-tober, VCU fans. This month is good for many things, among them (in no particular order): foliage, NBA training camps, candy corn, postseason baseball, marzen, candy corn, Atlantic 10 Conference races and, finally, candy corn. How does VCU Athletics fit into all of this? I’m glad you asked, even if you didn’t.

RAMS IN CAMP
NBA training camps are underway, which means three former Rams are in action, each with a different task in front of them.

Troy Daniels is in Asheville, N.C. with the Charlotte “soon to be Hornets” Bobcats. Troy earned a camp invite after playing on the Bobcats’ summer league squad in Las Vegas. Now would be a good time to remind Michael Jordan that Charlotte was 27th in the NBA in 3-point shooting last year, and Troy Daniels (feel free to use the Around The Horns-approved #TreyD3 hashtag) hits threes in his sleep. If he was a dinosaur, Daniels would be a triceratops. If he was a TV station, he’d be ESPN3. If he was a stadium, he’d be Three Rivers.

Trust us, Daniels was born for this. We recently slowed down some film of Daniels shooting at training camp and captured his expression right at the moment he’s about to catch and shoot. Check it out:

Three, coming right up.

Three, coming right up.

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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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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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MAYNOR TO JOIN WASHINGTON WIZARDS

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I was able to track Eric Maynor down today, but he says he’s not at liberty to discuss his agreement with the Washington Wizards at this time. I’m sure there’s probably still a physical to pass and a dotted line on which to sign. He did say he’d be able to talk more about it next week, so I’ll get you more on that after the Fourth of July Weekend.

As far as the fit and the deal itself go, Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver has a terrific, thorough writeup HERE, which includes:

The strength of Maynor’s game lies in his ability to run a halfcourt offense in a controlled fashion. A pass-first point guard, Maynor is adept at moving the ball, operating in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations, finding shooters after breaking down a defense, and generally keeping his wits about him. Not known as a scorer or a true long-ball threat, Maynor played both guard positions for the Blazers, backing up Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard and playing alongside him in a dual point guard lineup.

Golliver writes that Maynor’s deal is for two years.

Meanwhile, if you can’t wait to see what Eric will look like in a Wizards uni, here’s where 15 minutes of Photoshop got me.

maynor-wizards-shop

maynor-careerstats

ROUNDUP: GRAHAM, BUSY ALUMS & CANADA

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In case you missed it, Treveon Graham is going to be playing for the United States at the World University Games July 7-16 in Kazan, Russia. Only 12 players in the country can say that. It’s a big deal. The last Ram wear USA Basketball red, white and blue was Eric Maynor, who did so in 2007 at the Pan Am Games, after “The Dagger” and before his junior season. Graham will be the youngest player on this year’s squad.

VCU rising junior Treveon Graham, bottom right, wearing jersey No. 10.

VCU rising junior Treveon Graham, bottom right, wearing jersey No. 10.

Meanwhile, VCU Coach Shaka Smart has been serving as an assistant for the USA Basketball U19 squad in Prague.

More on that HERE.

ALUMNI NEWS
The NBA free agency period began Monday at midnight. It sounds like Eric Maynor will be looking for a new team.

But don’t worry, he should have suitors.

Edit, more Maynor:

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IN THE GYM: MAYNOR, SHULER, ROZZELL, BURGESS

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Mike Voyack caught up with former VCU stars Eric Maynor, Brandon Rozzell, Jamal Shuler and Brad Burgess (showing off a new Golden State Warriors t-shirt) Wednesday. The quartet is just part of a large group of former VCU Basketball standouts that return to campus during the summer for offseason workouts. In the summer months, Franklin Street Gym and the VCU weight room can feature a who’s who of program greats, from Maynor and Larry Sanders, to Jesse Pellot-Rosa and B.A. Walker.

DANIELS AIMS TO OPEN NBA EYES

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VCU senior Troy Daniels will work out for NBA scouts May 22-23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

VCU senior Troy Daniels will work out for NBA scouts May 22-23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

RICHMOND, Va. – Troy Daniels made a career out of connecting on long shots. So what’s one more?

Daniels has been invited to an NBA workout May 22-23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Representatives from all 30 NBA teams are expected to attend.

“It’s time to get a job now. This is a lot different than college,” Daniels said Thursday. “It’s a great feeling. “It’s something that you dream about when you’re younger and it’s finally coming true now.”

Despite his sharpshooting credentials – Daniels ranks second in school history in 3-pointers (251) and owns the top two single season marks – the senior from Roanoke, Va. likely faces an uphill battle. He’s currently not expected to be drafted and is not listed among the top 100 NBA prospects by NBADraftExpress.com, NBADraft.net or CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman.

But Daniels, who will graduate from VCU Saturday with a degree in criminal justice, says that won’t be a deterrent. He’s says he’s been working out twice a day, fine-tuning his skills and hopes to grab the attention of scouts and executives in Brooklyn. He’s also recently worked out with former Ram Eric Maynor of the Portland Trail Blazers, who typically spends much of his offseason in Richmond.

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