VIDEO: VCU SHUTS DOWN RHODE ISLAND 68-52

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HIGHLIGHTS

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RHODE ISLAND COACH DANNY HURLEY

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SHAKA SMART

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JORDAN BURGESS, JEQUAN LEWIS, JUVONTE REDDIC

HOMETOWN FRIEND INSPIRES VCU’S LEWIS

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VCU freshman JeQuan Lewis with friend Earl Denton Dec. 1 at Belmont.

JeQuan Lewis and Earl Denton catch up after VCU’s win at Belmont Dec. 1.

Someday, VCU freshman JeQuan Lewis could end up being most famous basketball alumnus of Dickson County High School. But even then, he won’t be the institution that Earl Denton is, and Lewis knows it.

While Lewis may not be able to lay claim to being his Tennessee hometown’s favorite son, he’ll have Denton’s friendship to drive him toward whatever success lies ahead. Even while he’s hundreds of miles away, Lewis’ connection to Denton inspires him.

“Earl, he has the ability to get me hype like no one else really does,” he says.

For most of his life, the 24-year-old Denton has been confined to a wheelchair. When he was a year old, Earl’s parents, Al and Sherry Denton, noticed a deterioration in their son’s physical abilities following a bout with a virus. After a battery of tests and meetings with specialists, Earl was diagnosed with leukodystrophy, a group of disorders marked by a degeneration of the myelin sheath – which aids neuron function – surrounding the brain. Children with leukodystrophy can experience a gradual and irreversible decline in physical skills, speech, vision, hearing, behavior and cognitive abilities. There are believed to be around 40 different types of leukodystrophies, and there is no cure.

Sherry Denton says the family’s doctors originally gave Earl only about two years to live.

“It was horrible,” Sherry says. “We were 22 and 24. It was horrible. We really thought Earl wasn’t going to make it. We put him in our bed and slept with him in our bed every night. If we only had two years, we were going to make the best of it.”

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VIDEO: VCU TOPS WOFFORD 72-57

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HIGHLIGHTS!

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SHAKA SMART!

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JEQUAN LEWIS, JORDAN BURGESS, TREVEON GRAHAM!

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WOFFORD COACH MIKE YOUNG!

EMERGING LEWIS BOLSTERS VCU OFFENSE

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Freshman JeQuan Lewis, seen here crossing over Wofford's Jaylen Allen, sparked VCU with 16 points Tuesday.

Freshman JeQuan Lewis, seen here crossing over Wofford’s Jaylen Allen, sparked VCU with 16 points Tuesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – As JeQuan Lewis finished an interview in a hallway in the guts of the Verizon Wireless Arena, he encountered an upbeat Shaka Smart, on the way to his postgame press conference. The VCU coach greeted Lewis warmly with a fist pound, a silent congratulations for a job well done. Lewis, however, offered an earnest and unsolicited assurance to Smart.

“I’ll play better ‘D’, Coach,” he said.

Lewis made no mention of his 14 second-half points – or the career-high 16, total – that helped the Rams overcome an underwhelming offensive performance in a 72-57 victory over Wofford. Tuesday’s effort was just the most recent batch of evidence that sought to prove the value of Lewis’ offensive skill set to the Rams. While he’s still learning the nuances of the Division I game, Lewis’ offense is clearly college prepped.

Although junior Treveon Graham led VCU with 18 points Tuesday, it was Lewis who had the hot hand down the stretch as the Rams kept Wofford at bay. Graham scored 15 of his points in the first half, and when his shots stopped falling in the second – he was 0-of-4 from the field – VCU turned to Lewis.

Lewis scored 10 of his points in the game’s final 4:49. Each time the Terriers appeared to ramp up a challenge, Lewis answered for the Rams. With 3:27 left, Wofford’s Jaylen Allen knocked down his second consecutive 3-pointer to pull the Terriers within 64-56. But on the ensuing possession, Lewis drove baseline from the left corner for a layup in traffic. Wofford wouldn’t seriously challenge VCU again.

“A big possession, probably the killer, was when he got all the way to the basket there around the five-minute mark, the four-minute mark and just carved us up and got all the way to the rim,” said Wofford Coach Mike Young.

The Dickson County, Tenn. native’s offensive shot in the arm came at a critical time for the Rams. VCU struggled to find a rhythm in its halfcourt sets for much of the game and shot 38 percent (21-of-56) in the contest, including 25 percent (5-of-20) from three. Lewis knocked down 4-of-5 field goals in the second half, while the rest of the team shot 5-of-23 (22 percent).

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VCU-EASTERN KENTUCKY NOTEBOOK

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Freshman JeQuan Lewis scored 13 points Thursday in VCU's 71-68 victory.

Freshman JeQuan Lewis scored 13 points Thursday in VCU’s 71-68 victory.

RICHMOND, Va. – As pure entertainment, VCU’s 71-68 overtime win over Eastern Kentucky Thursday at the Verizon Wireless Arena was terrific. There was practically March intensity in an early December game, the score was close, it was, for the most part, well-played, and the pace was often dizzying.

But Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart can invest very little emotionally in the basketball on the floor as a consumable product. As a coach, he’s got to be more clinical. For Smart, there’s likely more value in the victory as a progress report of sorts.

On that level, there was much for him to see. Some things, he’ll like, others, he won’t. But for the second straight game, his team provided a window through which to view how good it could be. On the other hand, Smart knows the Rams have plenty of work to do.

While the fans and media were bullish on VCU from day one, Smart has never sold the Rams as being a finished project. Sure, he’d like them to be, and Smart wants the Rams to be as good – and even better – as that top 10 ranking they once held, but we live in a world of college basketball where North Carolina can lose to UAB and then beat top-ranked Michigan State. The game is unpredictable, and teams don’t always realize their potential when coaches want. VCU certainly has moments of greatness. Capturing it and honing it is a skill in and of itself.

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VCU-EKU POSTGAME PRESSERS

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VCU PLAYERS

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EASTERN KENTUCKY COACH JEFF NEUBAUER

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SHAKA SMART

RAMS LEAN ON HAVOC TO TRAVERSE EMOTIONAL VALLEY

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Briante Weber sparked VCU - and Havoc- with 16 points, 5 steals and 4 assists Saturday.

Briante Weber sparked VCU – and Havoc- with 16 points, 5 steals and 4 assists Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Despite the 7,700 rabid souls burying Winthrop under an avalanche of angst-tinged decibels draped in gold, despite the rising mercury inside the packed Verizon Wireless Arena, despite his frantic, Briante Weber-meets-R. Lee Ermey sideline demeanor, it was a couple of clock malfunctions that finally made Eagles’ Coach Pat Kelsey lose his cool in VCU’s 92-71 win Saturday.

Kelsey wore his suit coat buttoned up for the first 31 minutes of game time – VCU Coach Shaka Smart lasted exactly 23 seconds with his jacket on – before a clock glitch with nine minutes left inspired him to dispose of it rather dramatically. Kelsey shed the tailored garment as if it was on fire, before spiking it to the ground like a Brooks Brothers football. He also yelled angrily towards the timing crew, actions for which he immediately apologized.

The outburst occurred just as VCU began to distance itself from Kelsey’s plucky Winthrop club. What had been a four-point game minutes before was now 69-58 in the Rams’ favor, and VCU was beginning to tighten its grip under a hailstorm of pressure. Winthrop had successfully inbounded the ball on the play in question, only to be immediately halted by the referees’ whistles.

Kelsey later explained this behavior as Havoc-related.

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CALIFORNIA (PA.) EXHIBITION NOTEBOOK

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Despite the offseason chatter, fouls slid into the background of VCU's 92-54 win.

Despite a lot of offseason chatter fouls slid into the background of VCU’s 92-54 win.

BOX SCORE

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s a bit of a fishing expedition to find a reasonable narrative in these mismatched Division I-Division II exhibition games.  There’s a desire to look at the scoreboard, which showed that VCU earned a 92-54 win over California (Pa.) Saturday night, and extrapolate 100 superlatives from the wreckage of the box score. More often than not, it’s fool’s gold.

But Saturday, even as I waded through some impressive, if not gaudy, statistics, I was still struck by the depth of talent on this VCU team. If Shaka Smart truly desires a 10 or 11-man rotation, it sure looks like he’s got the horses to do it.

Smart essentially rotated 11 players in the first half and 10 in the second after Rob Brandenberg exited with back spasms. While there were moments of youthful frustration, there was hardly a dramatic drop-off in ability.

Freshman Doug Brooks led VCU in scoring with 14 points in 13 minutes of play. For most of those 13 minutes, he looked like Briante Weber with a better jumper and a disinterested barber.

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BLACK AND GOLD GAME SCRIBBLES AND OBSERVATIONS

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Sophomore Melvin Johnson led all players with 25 points Sunday.

Sophomore Melvin Johnson led all players with 25 points Sunday.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU held an intra-squad exhibition Sunday night before 3,187 excited souls at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. It was many people’s, myself included, first chance to get a look at the 2013-14 Rams. While the Gold team came away with a 72-56 win, the score was little more than a matter of academics.

Here are some observations from courtside.

1-Guards, guards, guards and guards
To any fan who has followed this team of late, this is no surprise. VCU was expected to be deep in the backcourt this year. But until we got a chance to see a Jairus Lyles no-look pass or one of Doug Brooks’ four steals, it was hard to know how deep. If Sunday is any indication, uh, the Rams are insanely deep at the wings.

Returnees Rob Brandenberg, Briante Weber, Melvin Johnson and (if we’re calling him a guard today) Treveon Graham were pretty much the guys we knew they were. But JeQuan Lewis, Lyles, Doug Brooks and Jordan Burgess all had moments and illustrated how difficult a choice Shaka Smart will have when doling out minutes.

Lyles was magnetic for long stretches of the second half and he might end up being the Rams’ fourth option at point guard. Think about that. Lyles finished with eight points, six assists (two turnovers) and three steals.

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MEN’S BASKETBALL PHOTO DAY

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I dropped in on men’s basketball photo day earlier and snapped a few photos with my iPhone. They’re obviously phone quality, but at least you guys get a peek at the new uniforms and some of the guys.

Rob Brandenberg

Rob Brandenberg

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