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.

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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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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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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