December 6, 2013
Eastern Kentucky Colonels, Glenn Cosey, JeQuan Lewis, Jordan Burgess, Melvin Johnson, Shaka Smart, Terrance Shannon, Treveon Graham
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.
November 30, 2013
Briante Weber, Juvonte Reddic, Melvin Johnson, Mo Alie-Cox, Northeastern Huskies, Shaka Smart, Treveon Graham
Treveon Graham led VCU with 24 points Friday.
RICHMOND, Va. – On the busiest shopping day of the year, VCU made sure to stop by the Siegel Center to pick up an important victory. Like Big Hugs Elmo dolls, they are in demand, and require a certain level of grit, persistence and focus to procure one; Although the eye-gouging was left to the Target parking lot squabbles.
There’s no such thing as a “must-win” game in November, but there are the kind that you’d really like to have, and even the kind you probably really need. VCU’s 79-66 win over Northeastern Friday at the Verizon Wireless Arena is likely some combination of both.
VCU, coming off a 1-2 trip to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last week, which including a stinging blowout loss to Florida State and a frustratingly just-out-of-reach setback to Georgetown, came home looking to get well. The Rams were trying to do so against a Northeastern team that has traditionally been a tough out for VCU…and had just beaten Georgetown…and played Florida State to the wire…and VCU was without two of its top eight players in Jordan Burgess (knee sprain) and Terrance Shannon (family matter).
This would not be a Black Friday giveaway. If the Rams were going to put Puerto Rico in their rearview mirror, they were going to have to earn it in the claw-your-way-past-Wal-Mart-shoppers way.
October 13, 2013
Black and Gold Game, Briante Weber, Doug Brooks, Jairus Lyles, JeQuan Lewis, Jordan Burgess, Juvonte Reddic, Melvin Johnson, Mo Alie-Cox, Rob Brandenberg, Shaka Smart, Terrance Shannon, Treveon Graham
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.
September 18, 2013
Antravious Simmons, Briante Weber, JeQuan Lewis, Melvin Johnson, Men's Basketball photo day, Mo Alie-Cox, Rob Brandenberg, Treveon Graham
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.
August 7, 2013
Briante Weber, CP3 Elite Guard Camp, Jairus Lyles, Jared Guest, JeQuan Lewis, Juvonte Reddic, LeBron James Skills Academy, Melvin Johnson, Rob Brandenberg, Shaka Smart, Torey Burston, Treveon Graham
Excitable and always entertaining, Briante Weber may be also be VCU’s solution at point guard.
RICHMOND, Va. – Shaka Smart got to the point Wednesday.
In a meeting with members of the local media, the VCU coach provided insight into the Rams’ point guard situation for the upcoming season. Following the departure of senior Darius Theus (graduation) and Teddy Okereafor (transfer), the most logical choice to trigger the offense is rising junior and Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year Briante Weber.
It’s sound reasoning. Weber showed considerable improvement from his freshman season when backing up Theus last year. He started in place of an injured Theus in a win at Old Dominion on Dec. 7 and provided an 8-point, 9-rebound, 10 assist, 5-steal performance. He turned the ball over just once in that game. Weber averaged 5.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.7 steals per game last season and posted a point-guard friendly 2.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
But Weber hasn’t played the position in college for any extended period of time. The excitable ballhawk has been something of a hybrid in college, a defensive disruptor with opportunistic tendencies on offense.
The only “true” scholarship point guard on the roster will be well-regarded incoming freshman JeQuan Lewis from Tennessee. Classmate Jairus Lyles played a fair amount of point guard in high school, and Smart says he’ll also be in the mix.
March 15, 2013
A-10 Tournament, Atlantic 10 Tournament, Briante Weber, Darius Theus, Justin Tuoyo, Melvin Johnson, Rolando Lamb, Saint Joseph's Hawks, Shaka Smart, Troy Daniels.
Freshman Melvin Johnson (12 points) was one of several of VCU’s young reserves who were key Thursday.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – There was freshman Justin Tuoyo, all alone on the right wing. He’d barely played the last month and had missed 12 of his previous 14 three-pointers this season. From behind my position, a Saint Joseph’s fan, who had apparently done some advance scouting, shouted, “He can’t shoot a three, let him shoot it.”
Tuoyo promptly sized up the three and canned it.
Instead of hesitating or letting nerves overcome him on a big stage, the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals, Tuoyo stuck to the aggressive, attacking principles that Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart preaches.
At the time the bucket didn’t seem terribly significant. It gave the Rams a 64-47 lead with 8:11 remaining. But Saint Joseph’s, namely Carl Jones (29 points) and Langston Galloway (25 points), wouldn’t quit and managed to whittle the final margin to 82-79.
After the game, Smart was quick to remind Tuoyo of that bucket.
“I told him in the locker room after the game, I know it’s just one shot, but I don’t know if you noticed, but we won by three, and you hit a three,” Smart said. “So we needed every basket, and I think overall, just the contribution that he made in 14 minutes says a lot about his future.”
March 15, 2013
2013 NCAA Tournament, A-10 Tournament, Atlantic 10 Tournament, Darius Theus, Melvin Johnson, Shaka Smart
Shaka Smart says an NCAA bid is “nice”, but the Rams are in Brooklyn to win a championship.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – For VCU, the conference tournament has long functioned as a de facto play-in round for the NCAA Tournament as much as it was a chase for a championship. Not since 1985 have Rams fans been able to truly compartmentalize the two experiences.
Although there’s no such thing as an “automatic” at-large berth, not officially anyway, the Rams will be dancing this year. Every “bracketologist” under the sun – from Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm, to Joe Schmoe crunching brackets in his mom’s basement – has VCU safely seeded anywhere from a No. 6 to a No. 9. While the Rams’ results this weekend will greatly impact where VCU will be seeded, who it’ll play and where it will go, it won’t be a do-or-die scenario. This NCAA Tournament is one thing. That’s next week. This weekend in Brooklyn is all about chasing a title.
VCU’s move to the Atlantic 10 is actually one of the main reasons the Rams don’t have to grit their teeth through CBS’ tournament selection show this year. The A-10 has the seventh-highest RPI in the country and will likely receive anywhere from three to six bids. The Rams racked up six top-100 wins in league play. In all, VCU has built a NCAA resume on 10 top-100 wins, including three top 50 triumphs, and no “bad” losses.
March 13, 2013
A-10 Tournament, Atlantic 10 Tournament, Barclays Center, Darius Theus, Melvin Johnson
The new Barclays Center in Brooklyn will serve as host to the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time. The building has given the tournament a previously unseen buzz.
RICHMOND, Va. – It’s about a mile-and-a-half from the door of Shaka Smart’s office to the floor of the Richmond Coliseum. An absurdly fit man, it’s not silly to think he can run there in about 10 minutes (probably less). But Barclays Center in Brooklyn? It would take a Forrest Gump-like effort and a couple pairs of Nikes to make that jog.
But that’s what Smart would be facing if he wanted to leg it to the conference tournament this year, VCU’s first in the Atlantic 10. While the Rams traded the Colonial Athletic Association for the more highly regarded A-10 this year, they also traded the familiar confines of the nearby Richmond Coliseum for Barclays Center, some six hours away, depending on traffic, of course.
Although the Rams have parted company with the convenience, VCU-friendly crowds and homespun appeal of the Coliseum in March, Smart isn’t losing any sleep over it.
“A lot has been made of the fact that we’re not playing here in home at Richmond,” he said Tuesday. “But I’ve coached at a lot of schools. This is the only school I’ve coached where we’ve played a conference tournament in our home city. That’s more the exception than the norm. We’re like everyone else. We have to travel to New York to play.”
For the first time since it joined the CAA in 1995-96, VCU will play in a conference tournament outside the city of Richmond. The Rams joined the A-10 this summer, in part because the league will host its championship at Barclays. The arena, located in America’s hoops haven, New York, provides the A-10 Tournament with a curb appeal the CAA just couldn’t match.
March 12, 2013
A-10 Tournament, Atlantic 10 Tournament, Barclays Center, Melvin Johnson
Freshman Melvin Johnson, a native of the Bronx, is averaging 7.1 points per game this season.
RICHMOND, Va. – Brooklyn isn’t the Bronx, but it’s still New York City, and that’s good enough for Melvin Johnson.
The VCU freshman guard, a Bronx native, is set to return to his hometown this week as the Rams descend on Brooklyn and Barclays Center for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The second-seeded Rams have a first round bye and will take on the winner of No. 7 Xavier and No. 10 Saint Joseph’s on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
For Johnson, it’s a chance to come home to play before friends and family in the city’s new, chic hoops destination. Johnson says he expects about 50 relatives, neighborhood buddies, AAU teammates and others to make the trip to the arena. But please, if you know Johnson, don’t call him. Call the Barclays ticket office.
“I couldn’t get 50 tickets, so I’ve got friends that are purchasing tickets,” he said Tuesday.
But it’s not all bad. Johnson says he’s been flattered by the outpouring of support he’s receiving from New York.
“Just for them to come out for me and do things like that for the entire weekend is going to mean a lot for me and is going to go a long way,” he said.