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.