GAME CHANGERS: ’84-85 RAMS FORGED NATIONAL PRESENCE FOR VCU

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Two of the stars of VCU's 1984-85 Sun Belt Championship team Mike Schlegel (left) and Calvin Duncan (right) enjoy a light moment.

Two of the stars of VCU’s 1984-85 Sun Belt Championship team Mike Schlegel (left) and Calvin Duncan (right) enjoy a light moment.

The following is an excerpt from the winter edition of “The Ram Report”, available online now. For the full issue, click here.

J.D. Barnett technically wasn’t running VCU Basketball like a fly by night operation in 1984. Actually, it was more much literal than that.

“You’ve got to remember what VCU was like back in those days…[we] had a campus that didn’t have much to sell. Sometimes you’d want to bring a player in at night so he wouldn’t see the campus during the day,” Barnett said in a 2008 interview.

The VCU of today, the 32,000-student behemoth, complete with new dorms along Broad Street, sparkling new business and engineering schools, and the beloved utilitarian Stuart C. Siegel Center, is a far cry from the one Barnett used to try to hide on recruiting visits.

Barnett wasn’t around to see the Eugene Trani-led transformation of the school in the 1990s and early 2000s, a metamorphosis that continues today under Dr. Michael Rao, who took over as university president in 2009.

In 2011, after VCU upset Kansas to reach the Final Four, students poured out of the dorms that buttress Broad Street to celebrate. Hours later, the electric mob packed the Siegel Center in the early morning hours to greet the team in its return from San Antonio. That scene would have been unimaginable for Barnett back then.

“Broad Street was a lot of dilapidated buildings, it was kind of just there,” says Calvin Duncan, who starred for VCU from 1981-85. “It was like an eyesore. Something you ride by. That’s basically what it was.”

While Barnett couldn’t sell recruits on amenities, he managed to entice them with a dream and an opportunity. What he eventually assembled, along with one of the more impressive coaching staffs in the country, was a colorful cast of characters that would redefine the program.

VCU had already achieved at an unprecedented level under Barnett by the time the 1984-85 season tipped off. In his first five seasons, VCU averaged 21 wins, captured the Sun Belt Championship in 1980 and 1981 and made four trips to the NCAA Tournament. In 1983-84, VCU earned its first national ranking when the Rams were 20th in the Associated Press Top 25 for a week. Later that year, Rolando Lamb hit a buzzer-beating jumper to give the Rams a win over Northeastern in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

As successful as VCU had been, the 1984-85 campaign would eventually serve as the benchmark of the program for nearly 30 years, and it wasn’t until the Rams’ Final Four run that fans could again embrace a VCU as a national power.

By the time it was over, the Rams would win a school-record 26 games, a Sun Belt Championship and the No. 11 spot in the Final AP Poll – a ranking VCU would not eclipse for a generation. It’s a team many still consider the greatest in school history.

Click here to read the full story.

STEALS ON STEALS ON STEALS

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In honor of Briante Weber setting VCU’s all-time steals mark Saturday against Richmond, here’s an awesome compilation of him relentlessly picking the pocket of every ball-handler within a five-mile radius. Weber now has 260 career steals. He’s a JUNIOR. VCU hosts Rhode Island Thursday. Go see Briante make more history.

MARK NEAR, ‘BRIFENSE’ KEEPS HUMMING

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As of Jan. 28, Briante Weber needs seven steals to become VCU's all-time leader.

As of Jan. 28, Briante Weber needs seven steals to become VCU’s all-time leader.

RICHMOND, Va. – There are so many types of Briante Weber steals that it’s hard to pick a favorite.

There are the garden-variety, poke-the-ball-away steals, and the Havoc-induced free safety interception steals. From there, they progress to, things like the blind side, who-was-that-guy steal and the cruise-missile, fast-break-thwarting steal.

“Coach, since my freshman year, he emphasized a no layup rule,” Weber says. “Me having the quickness and the long arms, I just kind of reach in there. Sometimes I’m lucky. Sometimes I get a foul. But most of the time it works out for me. I’ve got a good knack for the ball. It helps me.”

Steals from those subsets have become relatively common, but if you’re lucky, you’ll catch something truly special at a VCU game.

For instance, Weber ripping the ball away from Butler’s Roosevelt Jones last year before administering a thunderous tomahawk dunk that set the tone for a blowout VCU victory. For the past year, that play has served as Weber’s seminal steal moment. But his diving theft of a George Mason roll-in pass on Jan. 9 may have been his magnum opus. It had all the markers of greatness: a disregard for personal welfare, a jolt of otherworldly adrenaline, and a pedestrian moment rendered disastrous for the opposition. It was furious art; like a Monet painted with a chainsaw.

weberslide

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VCU BASKETBALL ALL-NAME TEAM

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Rolando Lamb had a game as good as his name during his VCU tenure (1981-85).

Former Ram Rolando Lamb had a game as good as his name

This list is entirely subjective to my whims, so feel free to disagree and leave your nominations or stories (Johnnie Story?) in the comment box below. But basically, if you’re named after a Beatle, game show host or have a name that sounds like that of a traveling circus host, you’re on my list.

BILL ZEPPLIN
Not exactly spelled like Led Zeppelin, but close enough for me. Wisconsin native who averaged 2.2 points and 2.5 rebounds in 1973-74.

PENNY ELLIOTT
You don’t go by ‘Penny’ if you don’t want to be noticed. He may have had a great name, but what Penny Elliott needed was a buffet. Stood 6-foot-9, but weighed just 200 pounds.  Played for the Rams from 1977-80 and averaged 12.2 points and 5.6 rebounds as a junior.

MONTY KNIGHT
I can only hope that VCU effectively leveraged Monty Hall and “Let’s Make a Deal” references during Knight’s Rams’ career from 1979-82. He ranks ninth in school history with 1,549 points.

GREG RINGO
Another good one from the late 70s. Part of a pipeline of Louisville, Ky. players for the Rams. Played sparingly on the Rams’ first NCAA squad in 1979-80.

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RAMS’ YOUTH, BENCH HELP DELIVER A-10 QUARTERFINAL WIN

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Freshman Melvin Johnson (12 points) was one of several of VCU's young reserves who were key Thursday.

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.”

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BRIANTE WEBER: MAN OF STEAL

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Sophomore Briante Weber is piling up steals at record pace.

Sophomore Briante Weber is piling up steals at record pace.

RICHMOND, Va. – In 1989, Energizer Batteries scored a marketing victory when it introduced the Energizer Bunny, a pink, sunglass-wearing, bass-drum pounding, stuffed rabbit that shuffles, presumably, in perpetuity. It became a pop-culture icon and embedded itself in the national lexicon as a THE metaphor for someone or something with a seemingly endless supply of energy.

I’m appreciative of the Energizer Bunny’s legacy, because it allows me to describe the play of supercharged VCU guard Briante Weber effectively to the uninitiated. If Weber dresses up as the Energizer Bunny for Halloween next year, I will lose my mind.

He’s a unique talent, Weber. An angular, 6-foot-3, 165-pound sophomore wing with a 45-inch vertical leap, he doesn’t necessarily fit into the tidy positional descriptions we’ve come to accept: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, etc. What is he? He can play some point guard, yes. But most of the time he’s swooping around the court as if he’s on fire, creating havoc on defense.

Defense in basketball has never been as easily quantified as offense. You can more easily judge the efficiency of a player by his shooting percentages, scoring averages, assist-to-turnover ratio. Defense can be a little murkier. But for VCU and Coach Shaka Smart, you can draw a number of conclusions about the Rams’ effectiveness on defense by the number of turnovers they force, many via the steal. That’s where Weber’s impact is most easily understood.

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RAMS SIDESTEP A TRAP: HOFSTRA NOTES

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Briante Weber has 58 steals this season, tied for eighth-most in school history.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU avoided the proverbial “trap game” Monday night, using another stout defensive effort on the way to a 61-49 victory.

It wasn’t always pretty. The Rams committed a season-high 17 turnovers and were 12-of-21 at the line, but they also forced 18 Hofstra turnovers and completely locked down the Pride offense in the second half. Hofstra was 4-of-20 from the field after the break, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range.

As has been a reoccurring theme this season, VCU was able to use its intense defensive pressure to wear down the Pride in the second half.

“Sometimes it feels like they’ve got seven or eight guys out there,” said Hofstra Coach Mo Cassara.

The Rams led 35-32 at the break but took command with a 6-0 burst early in the second and never looked back.

VCU, which has won four straight and 13 of 16, was coming off an emotionally-charged win over rival Old Dominion on Saturday. The Rams were also playing their third game in five days, but managed to avoid a letdown and grind out a choppy win.

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PHOTO OF THE DAY

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Volleyball Director of Operations Dave Oglesby stumbled on this framed gem the other day. Somebody can correct me if I’m wrong, but this appears to be Michael Brown, Calvin Duncan, Mike Schlegel and Rolando Lamb, sponsored by Best department store. All kinds of random stuff floating around these offices.

YOU CAN’T TELL ME THIS ISN’T COOL

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Here’s a time-lapse video over eight days of crews setting up a court and stands on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson for the Carrier Classic.

The photos from the game, won by North Carolina, are unbelievable.

BONUS VIDEO
Jeremy Lamb, son of VCU great Rolando Lamb, may have started and ended the race for college basketball dunk of the year last night. Give that man an award.

ONE MORE THING…

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Don’t forget about this…

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