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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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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JUST ANOTHER GAME? RICHMOND MATCH-UP LOOMS

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VCU is 2-1 against Richmond during senior Darius Theus' career.

VCU is 2-1 against Richmond during senior Darius Theus’ career.

RICHMOND, Va. – For a night, battle lines are drawn somewhere around Staples Mill Road. It’s West End versus Downtown when Richmond and VCU meet on the basketball court.

“I remember when I got the job here, several people came up to me and told me, I don’t care how you do all season, except you’ve got to beat Old Dominion and Richmond, and so I never forgot when they said that,” recalled VCU Coach Shaka Smart Tuesday.

In recent years, as both programs have risen to national prominence – VCU’s Final Four run in 2011 cemented its status, while Richmond’s Sweet 16 berth the same year did the same – so too has this long-running rivalry.

It’s always been a contentious fight, but lately, the stars have aligned to add flavor to this rivalry. In addition to each school’s NCAA tournament success, 19th-ranked VCU (16-3, 4-0 A-10) and Richmond (12-7, 2-2 A-10) are conference foes once again this season. A win is worth more than local bragging rights. It can alter the course of the Atlantic 10 Conference race.

Fans on both sides of the rivalry cast their stones annually, sometimes enough to whip players and coaches into the fervor. Smart said recently that in past years, players like Joey Rodriguez, known for his penchant for absorbing Internet chatter, and Richmond-native Brandon Rozzell enjoyed the buzz around town for games like this.

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QUICKLY: CLIPS AND NOTES

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PITTSBURGH – More to follow on VCU’s 90-63 win at Duquesne later, but a few pieces of housekeeping:

  • With the win, Shaka Smart improves to 100-31 all-time. He is the third VCU coach, joining J.D. Barnett and Sonny Smith, to reach that plateau. Smart reaches 100 wins in the 30th fewest games in NCAA history and is just the 12th coach to top the century mark in his first four seasons.
  • VCU’s victory was its 13th straight, the third longest in school history. The Rams won 16 in a row Jan. 18-March 13, 1981 and 15 straight Jan. 15-March 4, 1983.
  • Sophomore Treveon Graham scored 20 points in 21 minutes of play. It’s his fifth 20-point game of the season and his third in five games. Graham is averaging 20.5 points per game in his last six contests.
  • VCU knocked down 12-of-29 three-pointers Saturday, its most in five games.
  • Senior Troy Daniels buried two 3-pointers to become the fourth VCU player to hit 200 in his career. He joins B.A. Walker, Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess on that exclusive list.

A FEW HIGHLIGHTS:

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NO SURPRISES: LONGWOOD NOTEBOOK

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Senior Troy Daniels hit seven 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 25 points in Friday's win.

Senior Troy Daniels hit seven 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 25 points in Friday’s win.

RICHMOND, Va. – The Rams can move onto their holiday break with clear heads. VCU did what it was supposed to do in Friday’s 93-56 throttling of Longwood. There were no surprises, just a comfortable win where the Rams played to their ability.

The Rams kept the pedal to the medal, stomping out any fears of a lackluster performance and/or an overlooked opponent. In recent years, despite lesser opponents, that hasn’t always been the case in VCU’s last game before Christmas.

But rather than look ahead to Christmas ham and family time, VCU took care of business. The Rams scored the first nine points of the game and were up 19 by halftime. Although Longwood shot 44 percent in the first half, the Rams also forced 13 turnovers.

Whatever flaws VCU had on the defensive end in the first half were cleared up in the second when the Rams used a 17-0 run over an eight-minute stretch to turn the game into a 76-40 laugher. From there, it was all academic.

Senior Darius Theus, who finished with five points, five steals and nine assists, said the Rams were able to block out potential distractions.

“I think it’s hard for a lot of teams, but I think coming in and being ready to play separates good teams from okay teams, and I feel out approach was real good tonight,” Theus said. “Even though guys are excited about going home and being with their family, we only had one thing in mind. That was getting this win tonight.”

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CAMPER LIKELY BUYS HIMSELF A ONE-WAY TICKET HOME

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Fifth grader Collin Brown likely just bought himself a vacation. This kid is going to get sent home before he has time to tear into his first Hostess Cake at lunch. Showing up Final Four hero Joey Rodriguez like that? At his own camp? How about that little Kirk Gibson fist pump at the end, just oozing swag in J-Rod’s grill? Not cool, Collin Brown, not cool. Enjoy the rest of the week on the couch watching Dragon Ball Z.

MEN’S BASKETBALL FLASHBACK: J-ROD SETS SINGLE-GAME ASSIST RECORD

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Happy birthday to VCU alum and current pro basketballer Joey Rodriguez. In honor of the day, here’s Rodriguez breaking VCU’s single-game assist record with 17 against UNC Greensboro on Nov. 12, 2010.

Q&A WITH JOEY RODRIGUEZ

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Joey Rodriguez led the CAA in assists his final two seasons in a VCU uniform.

VCU Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Communications Scott Day recently caught up with former VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez to get his take on playing professionally and this year’s Rams.

SD: First of all, how’s it going down in Puerto Rico?
JR:
It’s going pretty well. I am backing up one of the best point guards to ever come out of Puerto Rico, so I’m learning a lot and playing a solid role on the team.

SD: How is this year different than last year in Puerto Rico?
JR: First and foremost, I’m not traveling back and forth. I am enjoying it here this year. Knowing I am working to provide for my family and I. I’m contributing on a good team and getting paid doing what I love.

SD: How does the team look this year?
JR:
We’re 2-2 right now. We’re still missing some players that are in China and Argentina.

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THE GROWING SEASON

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Junior guard Darius Theus is averaging 7.9 points and 4.7 assists this season.

In one dizzying 54-second stretch, it was obvious how much Darius Theus had grown into his role as VCU’s point guard and playmaker.

It was Dec. 4 and the Rams were watching a huge lead disintegrate against George Washington. The Rams’ 19-point advantage had been whittled to 62-56 with less than five minutes left. Momentum had shifted decidedly in the Colonials favor. It was at that moment that Briante Weber found Theus in the corner for a 3-pointer. Theus entered the game as an 18-percent career 3-point shooter, but neither player hesitated.

On the Rams’ ensuing possession, Theus darted past a defender and to the rim, scoring the bucket in traffic while drawing the foul. George Washington never recovered and the Rams cruised to a 75-60 victory.

Two plays do not a season make, but Theus that sequence showcased the junior’s impressive growth as he moves into the role of floor general for the Rams this season. After backing up Joey Rodriguez for two years, Theus is averaging 7.9 points and 4.7 assists a game, both career highs. Through 12 games, Theus’ 49 percent shooting from the field was a marked improvement over his 39 percent career average. While his statistical gains imply improved physical skills, the 6-foot-3 Portsmouth, Va. native says his success begins with his mental approach to the game.

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