MOONEY PIES? SHAKA SMARTFOOD?

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Ewoks love BBQ.

Ewoks love BBQ.

On April 17 at 6 p.m., Shaka Smart and Chris Mooney will start their ovens and square off in what can only be billed as the most important basketball-themed culinary showdown in Richmond this spring, the 2014 Coaches’ Cook-Off, which will be held at the Science Museum of Richmond.

So as not to bury the lede, the competition will benefit Max’s Positive Vibe Cafe, a terrific organization which trains people with disabilities to work in the food service industry. So if you have an opportunity to attend this great event, please consider it. Find out more, including how to purchase tickets, here.

I’ve got to give Mooney credit. Shaka Smart already owns three wins over the Richmond coach this year, but he’s back for more. Despite his track record, don’t expect Smart to take this match-up lightly. I know for a fact he’s been dissecting film of “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen” this entire week.

VCU Video Coordinator Dwight Perry says Smart has been working around the clock to prepare for the kitchen showdown.

“I spent all of last night cutting risotto clips. Today, it’s chutney. I didn’t even know what chutney was until yesterday,” said Perry, clutching a 64-ounce espresso. “Two days ago, he kept screaming ‘Havoc!’ throughout an entire episode of ‘Barefoot Contessa’. He’s totally dialed in right now.”

As of press time, rumors that Guy Fieri interviewed this week for the open position on Smart’s staff, vacated when Mike Rhoades accepted the job at Rice (coincidence? I think not), remain unconfirmed.

In the competition, Smart and Mooney will each team with a chef to create dishes that will be rated by a panel of judges. Mooney edged Smart last year in this competition, but I love Shaka’s squad this time around. He’s teaming up with Buz Grossberg of Buz and Ned’s BBQ. Seriously. Just call it off now. Shaka is nearly unbeatable when paired with BBQ. I checked with men’s basketball SID Scott Day for Smart’s record when barbequing.

“What is wrong with you,” Day replied via a tersely worded text message.

It should be fun. I’m expecting laughter, tears, joy, exasperation, triumph and cole slaw. I hope you can make it.

2013 COACHES’ COOK-OFF

THE LAST WORTHLESS EVENING…

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I had to furrow my brow a bit when VCU came out of the locker room for its public shootaround yesterday. Normally the Rams charge onto the floor with its trademark spirit and ebullience, but this was different. It was more of a mosey.

It was atypical and a bit concerning, to be honest, but once the whistle blew and called the meeting to order, somebody turned on the wattage. It was a bouncy, loose, fun shootaround. I had someone from another university comment to me that “my God you guys are loose” and he wondered if we were always this loose.

Yes, we are. And our coach participates:

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The practice ended, somewhat perfectly, with Juvonte Reddic giving Torrey Burston a bit of help in his leap to dunk the ball.

Yeah, I”d say the team is loose.

Last night the team went to dinner but was back early to watch more basketball and take it easy. (Side note: how much fun was that?) Our hotel had a faux fire alarm while they were out that stirred up the place, but it turned out to be nothing. All in all, it was a pretty standard pregame evening. That’s exactly as we want it.

But that was yesterday.

Today, it’s a different kind of meeting, and Shaka Smart will be in suit and tie, although he won’t be wearing his jacket for very long. The guys will sleep in and then begin the gameday routine they’ve gone through 34 times already this year.

They will approach the SFA game with great seriousness but simply go play basketball, which is more fun for them than anything else.

Gameday.

VIDEO: VCU PRESSERS & OPEN PRACTICE

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OPEN PRACTICE

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SHAKA SMART

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VCU PLAYERS

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STEPHEN F. AUSTIN COACH BRAD UNDERWOOD

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STEPHEN F. AUSTIN

THE HEART OF THE MATTER…

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MFF_2014_LogoBy Mike Litos

SAN DIEGO – The plane leaving Richmond for San Diego last night was delayed. Considering it was originally a 7:30pm departure that was due to land more than five hours later, that could’ve been a painful wait. You know how it goes, the feeling of it’s going to be a long night, and this makes it longer.

It turns out not so much.

Without that delay, I would not have seen Juvonte Reddic gleefully playing with assistant coach Jeremy Ballard’s son. Reddic’s wide smile matched that of the toddler’s as he flew higher and higher into the air and then settled into the 6-9 Reddic’s arms again and again.

I would not have seen a 5’2″ security agent wanding Mo Alie-Cox. Picture that for a moment. Ditto Doug Brooks, who instead of spreading his arms wide for the scan flexed his biceps. Jarred Guest was wearing a throwback VCU baseball hat, and by throwback I mean to the 1980s. Melvin Johnson was there, too, and he still has both legs intact.

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VCU MEDIA MINUTES (MARCH 17)

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On Monday, Shaka Smart, Rob Brandenberg and Treveon Graham met with members of the Richmond media to discuss the Rams’ NCAA Tournament match-up with Stephen F. Austin, the Atlantic 10 Tournament and other topics.

SHAKA SMART

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ROB BRANDENBERG

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TREVEON GRAHAM

TITLE GAME LOSS NOT THE ARBITER OF VCU SEASON’S WORTHINESS

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VCU fell to Saint Joseph's Sunday in the A-10 Championship Game, but the Rams are dancing anyway.

VCU fell to Saint Joseph’s Sunday in the A-10 Championship Game, but the Rams are dancing anyway.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Two years ago, this column would have been a eulogy. Today, it’s merely a reminder of how far the VCU program has come and where it’s headed.

VCU suffered a cruel blow Sunday at Barclays Center with a 65-61 loss to Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 Championship Game. It was a near repeat of 12 months ago, when Saint Louis dealt the Rams a similarly close championship game loss on the same floor.

Emotion caught up to the weight of those two losses Sunday. At the final horn, which cut short VCU’s furious attempt at a comeback, senior Juvonte Reddic crouched down near the VCU basket and buried his head in his shirt. It wasn’t until teammate Jarred Guest and Assistant Coach Mike Rhoades came over to comfort Reddic that he finally left the floor.

It’s understandable that Reddic would be crestfallen. For a second straight year, VCU came within a couple of bounces of a championship. That’s hard to handle, for sure.

But the tonic for what ails Reddic and VCU fans right now should be this: In the two years since the Rams last won a conference championship, the 2012 CAA title, the program has blossomed into a consistent national force. That doesn’t blunt the pain of a championship loss on Sunday, but it does make for a better Monday. That’s because by then, VCU will be making travel arrangements for a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament trip.

In 2011, VCU had to sweat out the NCAA Selection Show after losing to Old Dominion in the CAA Championship Game. Actually, many of the players didn’t bother to watch the show at all. Today, all they had to worry about was whether or not they needed to pack shorts or fleece. The answer is shorts, by the way, as VCU drew a 5-seed and will play Stephen F. Austin in San Diego Friday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

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VIDEO: VCU DEFEATS GEORGE WASHINGTON IN A-10 SEMIFINALS

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HIGHLIGHTS

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PRESSER

VIDEO: RAMS DOWN ST. BONAVENTURE 86-67

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JUVONTE REDDIC AND ROB BRANDENBERG

SHAKA SMART

EMOTIONS RUN HIGH IN SENIOR NIGHT VICTORY OVER BONNIES

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Seniors Juvonte Reddic (middle) and Rob Brandenberg (right) combined for 31 points Saturday in their final home games.

Seniors Juvonte Reddic (middle) and Rob Brandenberg (right) combined for 31 points Saturday in their final home games.

RICHMOND, Va. – Most VCU fans know Juvonte Reddic as an oft stone-faced giant. Outward expressions of emotion have been rare, although not unheard of in recent years.

But Saturday’s 86-67 Senior Night win over St. Bonaventure was bursting at the seams with emotion. Finally, as victory was assured, Coach Shaka Smart pulled Reddic and fellow senior Rob Brandenberg from the game with a little more than a minute to go, a thunderous ovation from 7,700 showered the players on their way to the bench. Finally, Reddic let go.

“Once coach took me out for the last time, that’s when it really hit me. As soon I sat down on the end of the bench I started crying, just tears of joy,” said Reddic.

Reddic finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds, while Brandenberg poured in 18 points, including an exclamation point dunk in the waning moments. At some point, every player will suit up for one final time at the Siegel Center, and this will be the example they’ll strive toward.

As they exited the floor for the last time, Brandenberg and Reddic were surrounded by the product of the program they helped build. The crowd was VCU’s 50th straight sellout, a mark that would have been considered absurd back in November of 2010, when Brandenberg and Reddic began their careers as Rams.

“There’s so many memories, it’s hard to choose one,” Brandenberg said. “But if I had to choose one, I’d say the fans. When I saw them come out to a game when it was a snowstorm, no school, roads were terrible, and they still packed the house, that’s when I took a chance to really appreciate that. It’s not like that at a lot of schools. I’m very fortunate.”

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THE LONG WAVE GOODBYE

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It’s Senior Night, which is another great opportunity to use this video, which I think was my high school class song. That makes me some kind of super duper senior at this point. Let’s move on:

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On Saturday, seniors Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic will play their final home game as Rams. Mike Litos stepped in to pen this great tribute for the game program. If you can’t make it to the game and pick up a program, make sure you put your Internet to good use and read it online.

A sample:

In every big moment over the past four years for VCU basketball, these two young men have been right there in the mix.

And while it’s important to note that the big moments in the careers of Reddic and Brandenberg came in the NCAA tournament, they both represent so much more than moments on a grand stage. Both have impressive career statistics, crossing the 1,000-points plateau, but numbers don’t represent their impact on the VCU program.

They represent the rise of VCU basketball in the national conscience. Because as much as you point to the Final Four run as a watershed two weeks–and it certainly was–the ability of the players to serve as the backbones for at least two more NCAA Tournament-winning teams cannot be underestimated.

Make sure you read. Also, Shaka Smart gave his comments on his seniors Tuesday during his radio show.

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It’s appropriate that these seniors have another opportunity to do something historic tonight. VCU will be attempting to complete an undefeated season at home since the 1970-71 season. VCU is 14-0 at the Verizon Wireless Arena this season.

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