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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CATCHING UP WITH VCU’S OLYMPIANS: EVGENY KISURIN

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Evgeny Kisurin averaged 6.0 points and 5.7 rebounds for VCU during the 1992-93 season. He would become an Olympian with Russian in 2000.

To many VCU fans, Evgeny Kisurin’s time at the university was merely a one-year tease before he disappeared out of their collective conscience. Few may even know how close he came to being a part of Olympic history.

Kisurin, more commonly known to Ram fans as Eugene Kissourine, played basketball for VCU during the 1992-93 season and went on to become a member of Russia’s 2000 Sydney Olympic squad, a team that flirted with a stunning upset.

Eight years removed from the “Dream Team” in Barcelona, the talent gap between the Americans and the rest of the world was closing. In the quarterfinals, Russia pounced on a USA team that included Vince Carter, Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton. In a physical, contentious matchup, the Russians stormed to a 10-point lead and led by five at the half. It was the Americans’ smallest lead at intermission since 1988.

It was a clear wake-up call for the U.S., which rallied in the second half to win 85-75. The United States went on to win gold, while the Russians eventually lost to Canada – and former VCU guard Sherman Hamilton – in consolation play and finished eighth.

It’s been 12 years, but that loss to the Americans still tugs at Kisurin a bit.

“Team USA came back and beat us, but not without a fight,” the 43-year-old Kisurin said recently.

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