MEDIA DAY NOTES: KIKI CAN, O’BOYLE BUILDS TRUST, ROYSTER IMPRESSES

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Beth O'Boyle kicks off her first season as VCU head coach on Nov. 14.

Beth O’Boyle kicks off her first season as VCU head coach on Nov. 14.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU fans saw an array of skills last season from then-freshman point guard Keira Robinson. New Rams’ Head Coach Beth O’Boyle believes that’s just the beginning for the Columbia, South Carolina native.

In her first season with the Rams, Robinson averaged 11.4 points per game and handed out more than six assists per game. Her 200 assists were the most ever by a VCU freshman and the third most in program history. She also led VCU with 71 steals.

On Tuesday, Robinson, an Atlantic 10 Conference All-Rookie Team selection last season, was named to the league’s Preseason Third Team. As a freshman, she displayed impressive playmaking skills – arguably the best by a Ram since Rochelle Luckett from 1998-2002 – in the Rams’ wide-open offense. While O’Boyle says her style of play will differ from former Coach Marlene Stollings’, the Rams will still play up-tempo. She also believes a switch to man-to-man (VCU was almost exclusively a 2-3 zone team under Stollings) and some additional full-court press looks will lead to more steals and more transition basketball.

All of that is good news for Robinson, whose length and vision allow her to see the floor and find teammates in transition. Robinson’s guidance of O’Boyle’s motion offense will be essential. The Rams will look to replace A-10 scoring leader Robyn Parks, who averaged 21.6 points per game last season.

“I think they did an excellent job of getting the ball to Robyn with a variety of quick-hitters, but with her graduation, we’re going to look at different ways to score, and I think one of the ways is through our motion. I think it’s tough to scout. I think Keira and Chadarryl Clay will be able to create scoring opportunities for their teammates,” O’Boyle said Tuesday at A-10 Media Day.

It was clear last season that Robinson had the physical tools to play the point at a high level, so O’Boyle is turning her attention to the intangibles. She’s expecting Robinson to lead the Rams with her play.

“Keira got a ton of experience on the floor last year, and her next step is taking that experience and becoming a team leader,” O’Boyle added. “When you can take that and help your teammates play better. I think Kiki is going to continue to do a lot of great things this year.”

RAMS PICKED 10TH
VCU was picked 10th in the A-10 Preseason Poll, released Tuesday. The Rams finished 22-10 overall last season and reached the first round of the WNIT, but O’Boyle says the poll won’t impact the way she operates.

“[Our players will] look and see the rankings, and I’m sure it’ll motivate them, but for us it’s not where we begin, it’s where we finish,” she said. “I hope it does motivate our players and it motivates them to work hard. But we’re just focused on the day-to-day and building our team identity.”

NEW KID IN TOWN
O’Boyle is cognizant of the fact that just one player on the Rams’ roster, junior college transfer Ashley Pegram, was signed on her watch. It’s one of the reasons she and her staff have been working overtime to build a rapport with the team.

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VIDEO: WBB STAGES STUNNING COMEBACK

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The VCU Women’s Basketball team trailed St. Bonaventure by as many as 17 points in the first half Wednesday night and was still chasing 14 points at halftime. What did they end up doing? Winning by 17, naturally. VCU shot 46 percent (15-of-33) and hit six threes in the second half and turned the Bonnies – a 20-win squad – over 24 times in a 74-57 win. With that victory, the Rams improved to 20-6 overall, the sixth 20-win season in program history and the first since 2009-10. VCU is already nine wins better than last season. VCU (8-6) is also still very much alive for a top-4 seed in the upcoming Atlantic 10 Tournament.

LATE-BLOOMER: FRESHMAN THORPE A FINE SURPRISE FOR VCU

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Isis Thorpe is VCU's highest-scoring freshman since Quanitra Hollingsworth in 2005-06.

Isis Thorpe is VCU’s highest-scoring freshman since Quanitra Hollingsworth in 2005-06.

VCU freshman guard Isis Thorpe has always been a bit of an independent spirit. In high school, she loved the piano sections of the K-Ci & JoJo hit “All My Life” so much she decided to take up piano. So she asked her mother for a keyboard and looked up tutorials on YouTube.

“I wanted to play the piano because I just wanted something new,” the Reading, Pa. native says. “I never wanted to be just a basketball player. I always wanted to do other things so I can say I’ve done something else.”

Thorpe later took a piano class as a high school senior, and while she still calls herself a beginner, she can play Christmas songs and some Beethoven, as well as some R&B standards.

Her basketball career has followed a similar plot line. A late-starter, the 5-foot-8 guard learned the game in her own independent way, but has proven to be a quick study. This season, she’s burst onto the scene to become the second-leading scorer for Coach Marlene Stollings’ upstart VCU Women’s Basketball team. Even among Stollings’ ready-made initial VCU recruiting class, Thorpe has managed to stand out.

Thorpe’s outstanding debut campaign isn’t just a nice surprise for the 18-6 Rams, it’s bordering on historic. Thorpe is averaging 12.9 points per game, the most by a VCU freshman since future WNBA pro Quanitra Hollingsworth averaged 14.7 during the 2005-06 season, and the most by a true VCU freshman since Rochelle Luckett (12.8) in 1998-99. Hollingsworth eventually scored 1,604 points in a VCU uniform, which ranks third in school history. Luckett is fifth with 1,483. Thorpe also ranks fourth in the A-10 in 3-pointers per game (2.5). Her 60 triples are already the sixth-most in school single-season history.

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FURY-OUS RAMS STORM TO 9-1 START

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Marlene Stollins' VCU club is off to a 9-1 start this season.

Marlene Stollins’ VCU club is off to a 9-1 start this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – Marlene Stollings rebranded her VCU Women’s Basketball program over the summer. Although she toyed with the term “High Octane” at times during her first year as VCU coach, she christened her program “The Fury”, a name which draws from same kinetic roots as Shaka Smart’s “Havoc”.

While The Fury has some undeniable marketing panache, the makeover appears to have been more than cosmetic.

With a convincing 85-64 victory over Manhattan Wednesday afternoon, Stollings, the Rams and Fury moved to 9-1 this season. It’s just the third 9-1 start in school history, and VCU’s current eight-game winning streak is the second-best for the program. Last season, Stollings’ first at the helm of the VCU program, the Rams finished 11-19.

Like Havoc, Fury equates to high-energy basketball. Not only do the Rams pressure the ball to the tune of 23 turnovers per game – they forced 25 Wednesday – but Stollings’ blender offense is perpetually set on liquify. The Rams attack the lane and kick out for 3-pointers with abandon. In ten games this year, the Rams are averaging 80.8 points and 27 three-point attempts per game. Last season, VCU averaged just 59.1 points per game and a little more than 15 three-point tries.

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