OPENER SHOWS GOOD, BAD OF YOUNG VCU SQUAD

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Sophomore Juvonte Reddic provided a career-high 19 points and 10 rebounds Friday.

Following six months of build-up, a crowd of 7,617 came to 1200 West Broad Street to celebrate Friday night. It was a coronation of sorts. VCU, March’s superstar underdog, unfurled its Final Four banner from the rafters. For all-time, fans will view that as the moment the Rams arrived on the national scene and took on all comers. The roar of the crowd was jubilant, deafening. It was unforgettable.

Somewhere in the bowels of the Verizon Wireless Arena, Shaka Smart missed every pulse-pounding second.

“I didn’t even see it,” the VCU Coach admitted following the Rams’ 63-57 season-opening victory over Saint Francis (Pa.) Friday night.

Some called the unveiling of the banner one of, if not the biggest, moment in program history. No big deal. Smart saw the banner earlier in the week. He had already turned his attention to getting his young team prepared for the game.

In the weeks prior, Smart maintained that the Final Four season, while great, was over. This was a different team, a youthful group that featured six freshmen and a lone senior. VCU was ready to turn the page, he said.

If turning the page was their stated goal, the Rams succeeded Friday night. VCU bore scant resemblance to the shot-making juggernaut that stormed through five big-name schools on the way to Houston in March. Instead, the Rams looked like a team with plenty of questions to answer. They were a team that fully expects a tug-of-war between its youth and its inherent ability.

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ALL APOLOGIES

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Jamie Skeen was named All-CAA Second Team at the end of the 2010-11 regular season. He was not on any of the All-CAA preseason teams.

On Tuesday, the Colonial Athletic Association will hold its annual men’s and women’s basketball media day in Arlington, Va., where it’ll reveal its Preseason All-Conference Teams. I think this is the perfect opportunity to apologize for my profession and the rest of my media brethren. These preseason All-Conference teams, they’re our fault.

I know how fun it is to prognosticate, to predict how an entire season will shape up on a single sheet of paper. Believe me, I’ve done it and enjoyed the heck out of it.

As a former voting member of both the All-CAA Men’s and Women’s awards body, I have contributed to this affliction for the preseason crowning of the best of the…well, I don’t know, actually. What are we rewarding people for with these preseason All-Conference teams again?

It’s a simple equation. Take last year’s All-Conference team, subtract the graduating seniors, injured players and suspended/ineligible/dismissed troublemakers. Move everybody up into the available spots. Then, with what’s left, take some educated guesses to fill the remaining slots and voila! You have voted for your very own preseason All-Conference team.

There’s the rub. There’s little or no science to this. We’re not rewarding an accomplishment, unless we’re talking about last year’s accomplishments, which we already rewarded – last year. It doesn’t – and can’t – account for so many unforeseen circumstances. How about an underperforming junior who figures it out as a senior? May I present, Jamie Skeen? How about the player whose career arc levels off, like, say, Julius Wells? What about new transfers or breakout freshmen?

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A MATTER OF TIME

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How cool is this? Cristin Granados with the buzzer-beater? Not much rarer than a buzzer-beater in soccer futbol. This is my seventh year at VCU and I’d say this is one of the cooler singular plays of that time. If I had to put together a list of my favorite true buzzer-beaters since the 2005-06 season, it would look something like this:

1-Jamie Skeen vs. Drexel in CAA Semifinals, 2011 (MBB – 1:20 mark of video).
2-D’Andra Moss vs. Delaware, 2010 (WBB).
3-Cristin Granados vs. Georgia State, 2011 (WSOC).
4-B.A. Walker vs. Drexel, 2006 (MBB – :20 mark of video).

Actually, those are the only four buzzer-beaters since 2005-06 that I could think of. I initially included Joe Van Meter’s homer to win the CAA Tournament in 2010, but that was just a go-ahead homer, not a walk-off, so it doesn’t count for these purposes.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T IS SPELLED E.S.P.Y.

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‘sup?

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

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Well, the NBA officially locked out its players today. If you think the NFL’s labor strife has been contentious, buckle up, this will likely be worse. It couldn’t happen at a worse time for the league, either. The NBA is coming off one of its best seasons. If the owners and players can avoid missing actual games, then no harm, no foul. Otherwise, it will be a huge step back.

It seems appropriate to talk about European basketball at this point. Many of you have seen that Jamie Skeen signed a contract with ASVEL of the French Pro A League. It’s the same league Jamal Shuler has played in the last two years for Vichy. I’m not sure if Jamal will stay with Vichy. I don’t know his contract situation, but we can all hope to see some former Rams square off next year.

ASVEL finished sixth in the Pro A League last year at 17-13 and reached the championship semifinals. That’s a bit more favorable of a situation than Shuler has been faced with. Vichy was 11-19 and ranked 15th in the 16-team league. That being said, Jamal had a very productive year, averaging 16.0 points while giving us one unforgettable buzzer-beater.

Think about this now. With Joey Rodriguez playing in Puerto Rico and now Skeen in France, VCU has a ton of former Rams playing professionally right now:

MEN
Eric Maynor (NBA)
Larry Sanders (NBA)
Michael Anderson (D-League)
Joey Rodriguez (Puerto Rico)
Jamie Skeen (France)
Jamal Shuler (France)
Jesse Pellot-Rosa (Puerto Rico & Mexico)
Calvin Roland (Mexico)
B.A. Walker (Finland)
Dom Jones (Germany and Belgium)
Kirill Pishchalnikov (Russia)

WOMEN
Quanitra Hollingsworth (WNBA)
Krystal Vaughn (Finland)
D’Andra Moss (Finland)
Kita Waller (Germany)

With the exception of Dom Jones, those are all players that have graduated since the 2006-07 season, mind you. That’s not bad at all. That’s 14 pros in the last four years alone, including three at the highest possible level.

QUOTE OF THE DAY
Comes courtesy of Charles Jenkins, who recently joined what is becoming my second favorite NBA team, the Golden State Warriors (look, if you can’t enjoy watching Steph Curry play, I can’t help you).

SUMMERTIME
No, it’s not the NBA Summer League, it’s Ben Wallace’s summer league, which, in some respects, is better (especially since there probably won’t be an NBA Summer League this year). Not only can you catch a glimpse of Wallace, but Eric Maynor, Larry Sanders and a bunch of other former Rams will be there. The league starts Wednesday. Check this link out for more details.

MORE SKEEN

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Here’s an interview that Hoops World did with Jamie Skeen at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Pretty tame by Jamie’s standards. I was hoping for some crazy story about how he was eating deep dish pizza and got a phone call that told him he had been invited to the combine, only he had pizza sauce all over his hands and couldn’t answer his phone. That type of thing.

BONUS
Here’s also an interview with Hofstra product Charles Jenkins

ALSO
Luke Hancock of George Mason is headed to Louisville.

SKEEN AT NBA COMBINE IN CHICAGO

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A THING OF BEAUTY

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HOUSTON, Tex. – Every day for the past four years, Shaka Smart has entered at least one quote, sometimes more, into a rapidly expanding dossier on his computer.

The word document is more than 115 pages long and literally includes thousands of quotes, some inspirational, some thought-provoking, from luminaries throughout history. But it started with one simple quote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” from a John Keats poem.

When Smart gave me that quote back in August for a story I was writing, I didn’t give it much thought. Today, those words really hit home. VCU’s NCAA Tournament run, which included five wins over BCS conference schools, was a thing of beauty. I hope that when the sting of Saturday’s loss fades, that people can appreciate the gravity of what transpired the last three weeks. From a lightly-regarded bubble team that was trashed on ESPN, to America’s sweethearts, it’s been truly magical.

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GLAD TO HAVE YOU

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By their own admission, Jamie Skeen and Joey Rodriguez, two centerpieces of VCU’s Final Four run, probably shouldn’t even be here. Each wrestled with his emotions before making the decision for which VCU fans will be forever grateful, to be – or stay – a Ram.

Rodriguez’s internal struggle has been well-documented. Following the departure of former Head Coach Anthony Grant to Alabama, in 2008, Rodriguez actually announced that he was going to transfer to Rollins College. However, spurred by phone calls from his teammates, Rodriguez decided to return to VCU. Last week, following the Rams’ victory over Purdue, I asked him whether or not he had thought about what could’ve happened, had he never returned to the fold.

“Yeah, I’ve thought about it,” Rodriguez said. “Yeah, I could be playing in front of 200 people right now.”

On Saturday, he’ll be suiting up for the Rams at Reliant Stadium, which had a capacity of over 75,000 for basketball.

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RULE OF (THE) THREE

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Bradford Burgess has hit 13-of-22 3-point attempts (.591) in five NCAA Tournament games.

RICHMOND, Va. – I have to confess, “You live by the three, you die by the three,” might be my most-hated sports cliché. What does that even mean? Will excessive long-range shooting spark the ire of wild dogs? Will the hoisting of triples unleash marauding Vikings?

I get it. If a team forgets about the inside game and focuses too heavily on “low percentage” shots, it’ll be in trouble when a shooting slump takes hold. I suppose that’s correct, that balance is best. But – and this is the 12-year-old pretending to be Mark Price version of myself talking – isn’t this way more fun?

VCU’s five-game blitz to the NCAA Final Four has been fueled, in part, by impressive 3-point shooting. The Rams have hit 44 percent (53-of-121) from long range in the tournament. In wins over Georgetown, Florida State and Kansas, VCU knocked down 12 3-pointers. The Rams’ previous season-best had been 11, reached 10 times. Against top-seeded Kansas, the Rams hit 9-of-11 3-pointers in the first half and built an 18-point cushion on the way to a 71-61 victory.

That’s not to say that VCU hasn’t been productive in other areas. In the tournament, the opposition is shooting 39 percent from the field, including 23 percent from 3-point range. The Rams also hold a plus-4.0 turnover margin, so defense has been a big part of the equation. But on offense, the talk has been all about the three.

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