LEARNING WILL WADE – MEDIA ROUNDUP

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New VCU Men's Basketball Coach made the rounds in a whirlwind 24 hours.

New VCU Men’s Basketball Coach made the rounds in a whirlwind 24 hours.

It was a whirlwind first day for new VCU Head Men’s Basketball Coach Will Wade. He completed the media car wash that included a throng at his press conference, then his own coaches show, plus in-studio appearances at other locations. He was truly a man about town. What did we learn on day one? Well, I listened to a bunch of his interviews in case you didn’t have the time. Some nuggets.

  • He’s obviously happy to be back. “One thing that happens when you leave here, you appreciate it more. You take for granted when you’re here sometimes the sellouts, how fanatical the fan base is. All those people at the press conference yesterday, half our road games in the Southern Conference didn’t have that many people at them.”
  • Wade originally hoped to become a world geography teacher and was once a substitute teacher.
  • One of his favorite memories from his first VCU stint was beating Drexel in the 2012 CAA Championship, one year after the Rams reached the Final Four with a senior-laden team. “I thought that really jump started the program in terms of consistency. That season we started out….we were on the bus on the way back from Charleston. I told one of the assistants on the bus, we’re going to be lucky to win 20 games with this crew.”
  • On keeping Havoc: “I think it gives us a national brand. When people think of VCU Basketball, they think of Havoc.”
  • He had plans to meet with incoming recruit Kenny Williams on Thursday.
  • His coaching staff will take shape quickly. If Wes Long, one of his assistants at Chattanooga, doesn’t get that school’s head job, he’ll join Wade in Richmond. Long, like Wade, is a Clemson grad. He served five seasons as head coach at Queens University in Charlotte.
  • In addition, Wade on plans on bringing a math student from Chattanooga that handled much of the team’s analytic data, likely as a graduate assistant.
  • He loves the food in Richmond. It sounds like Comfort is his favorite restaurant. Good choice.

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WADE’S WILL: A LITTLE CHAOS, A LITTLE HAVOC

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Will Wade was 40-25 in two seasons as head coach at Chattanooga.

Will Wade was 40-25 in two seasons as head coach at Chattanooga.

RICHMOND, Va. – Amid one of the most tumultuous weeks in VCU Basketball in some time, Will Wade restored order with a declaration of Havoc.

“Havoc still lives here!” Wade – the newly minted coach of the VCU Men’s Basketball program announced before 1,200 fans at the Stuart C. Siegel Center at an introductory press conference.

Change is afoot at VCU, but fans can still find comfort in some of their favorite, familiar things.

Wade was referring to the moniker for VCU’s aggressive style of play, coined by Shaka Smart, that helped steer the Rams to national prestige and five NCAA Tournaments in six years. Over the years, the terms VCU Basketball and Havoc have become synonymous. When Wade, who served as an assistant for the Rams under Smart from 2009-13, took over as head coach at Chattanooga in 2013, he brought with him many of the same concepts, as well the same marketing savvy. He called it “Chaos”.

Wade says the Rams will still play with the same aggressive flair for which they’ve become known, and they’ll still get out in transition. You don’t have to say goodbye to the full-court press. It’ll still be there.

Like Smart, Wade is cerebral with a heavy focus on analytics. Both men are big believers in the data of Ken Pomeroy, with Wade noting that he subscribes to additional Ken Pomeroy scouting reports on opponents and that he “had an analytics guy” at Chattanooga who will join him in Richmond in some capacity.

“I’m a spreadsheet guy,” Wade said with a smile.

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WILL WADE PRESSER HIGHLIGHTS

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Will Wade was introduced as the 11th coach in VCU Basketball history Wednesday.

Will Wade was introduced as the 11th coach in VCU Basketball history Wednesday.

Say hello to the 11th coach in VCU Men’s Basketball history, Will Wade. Great turnout at the Siegel Center today for Wade’s introductory press conference. There were somewhere around 1,200 in attendance, and it was more of a celebratory atmosphere than anything else. But that’s what we’ve come to expect out of this fan base. A great day for VCU Basketball.

Check out some highlights from today’s presser, plus thoughts from Melvin Johnson and Jarred Guest.

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Edit: The full press conference is now available as well.

TOTAL COMMITMENT: WILL WADE (REPOST)

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Will Wade, a VCU assistant from 2009-2013, will be introduced as the 11th head coach in Rams history Wednesday.

Will Wade, a VCU assistant from 2009-2013, will be introduced as the 11th head coach in Rams history Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: This feature on Will Wade originally ran in April of 2009. Wade was named VCU head coach Tuesday. 

Distance from Boston to Richmond: 555 miles.

Approximate cost of one-way flight on Jet Blue: $200.

Time to pack: Five hours.

Chance to work with Shaka Smart at VCU: Priceless.

On April 1, the day before his introductory press conference, Shaka Smart gave Will Wade, an assistant coach at Harvard, the opportunity to join his staff at VCU. Wade didn’t need long to think it over.

“He called me around noon and said, ‘It’s done’, and I was on an 8:40 flight that evening,” Wade said. “I think I landed about 11 p.m., and then we met until 3 a.m.”

It wasn’t completely a blind leap of faith. The 26-year-old Wade and Smart had known each other for years. Although they had met previously, Smart and Wade forged a close friendship during the 2006-07 season at Clemson. That year, Smart was serving as an assistant coach, while Wade was the director of operations on Oliver Purnell’s staff.

“We hit it off,” Wade said. “We were both very involved with our players, so our paths just crossed a lot. We have a lot of the same core beliefs and many of the same ways of doing things.”

For Smart, the decision to make Wade his first hire at VCU was a no-brainer.

“There’s that saying, ‘don’t work harder, work smarter.’ Well, Will works harder and smarter,” Smart said. “He struck me as the hardest working guy I knew. His attention to detail is second to none, and he’s really good at developing relationships. I knew that Will was someone we had to have on staff here.”

During their days at Clemson and in the years since, Wade and Smart would occasionally kick around the idea of working together again if one of them secured a head coaching job.

“We’d joke about stuff like that, but I don’t think we’d ever take it seriously,” said Wade. “This is a crazy business. You never know what’s going to happen down the line. But we had a mutual respect for what each other did.”

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A LASTING IMPRESSION

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Shaka Smart won 163 games and led VCU to the 2011 Final Four, but his tenure was about much more than wins and losses.

Shaka Smart won 163 games and led VCU to the 2011 Final Four, but his tenure was about much more than wins and losses.

“Who the hell is Shaka Smart?” I asked.

This was back in the wild days of 2009, when we talked about basketball in “94 feet, both ways” terms and Eric Maynor’s Duke Dagger was still freshly firing through our synapses.

I was conversing with Jeremy Shyatt, VCU’s then-director of basketball operations. Chaka? Shaky? Shaka Smart? Never heard of him. I wasn’t the only one. This was the heir apparent, some 32-year-old Florida assistant with a funny name? Shyatt assured me that this surprise hire – and it was a surprise – was a good one. His father, Larry Shyatt, worked alongside Smart at Florida.

“Shaka’s awesome,” he declared with nary a tinge of doubt.

When there’s a coaching search going on, a parade of names is trotted out, everybody from the high-major retreads to the hotshot recruiters. I hadn’t heard this Shaky Smart dude’s name all week, and it felt like a leap of faith. Was then-Athletic Director Norwood Teague trying to outthink the room?

We were riding pretty high on the hog those days. Three NCAA bids in six years? There was a feeling in the hallways that we’d arrived as a program. The man at the top, Anthony Grant, didn’t just resemble a statue. People were actually ready to build one of him outside the Siegel Center. How much better could we expect to do? We were mid-major darlings, and we were pretty darn happy about it.

It’s not like Smart immediately inspired confidence from afar. This is why your mother lectures you about reading books by their covers, that sort of thing. Grant looked like he’d been genetically engineered. Intense, laconic, sonorous, 6-foot-5 and sculpted from stone, he commanded attention. You could’ve mistaken Smart for the UPS guy. I just hoped he could keep VCU near the top of the CAA.

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HEY, WHATEVER WORKS, RIGHT?

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Baseball players are a special breed. I think even they would tell you that. Long seasons, rain delays, bus trips. These guys have a lot of time on their hands to get creative. They also tend to be superstitious, as anyone who saw Nomar Garciaparra’s at-bats will attest. With that in mind, VCU Baseball has a rally tiki this year. They call him Monty.

 

UVA ON TAP: ‘HATS…KEEP BATS WARM’

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VCU senior left-hander Heath Dwyer is 4-1 for VCU this season with a 3.46 ERA.

VCU senior left-hander Heath Dwyer is 4-1 for VCU this season with a 3.46 ERA.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU may be facing 14th-ranked Virginia at an opportune time. The Rams are hitting the baseball at an impressive rate, a trend they hope continues deep into Tuesday evening.

Senior shortstop Vimael Machin has led the way. Machin, who was named Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Week on Monday, is in the midst of a 15-game hitting streak. He was 11-of-18 with six RBIs and a gaudy .696 on-base-percentage in five games last week for the Rams.

Machin was already an accomplished hitter – he entered the year batting .299 for his VCU career – before his recent hot streak, but he’s on a different level right now. Machin is batting .363 overall, eighth in the A-10, with 23 RBIs.

In addition, centerfielder Logan Farrar was 11-of-23 last week, including a 5-of-6 performance in Friday’s 16-3 win over UMass. He is hitting .303 this year with a .421 on-base-percentage, second only on the team to Machin.

Behind his lead, VCU outscored its opponents 52-7 last week. VCU Baseball Coach Shawn Stiffler says there’s a correlation between warm bats and warm weather.

“I think the biggest thing has been consistency in our routine,” he said. “I think the weather has broken, and to be able to get out here for practices on days like this and continue to work on our game. Everyone always knows, when the weather heats up, so do the bats, usually.”

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EVER-READY LEES SLOTTED FOR COMEBACK SEASON

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Senior Matt Lees is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 18.1 innings this season.

Senior Matt Lees is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 18.1 innings this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – It doesn’t take long for Matt Lees to go from bullpen observer to shutdown reliever. The senior lefty says it requires a little more than a dozen warm-up tosses before he’s game-ready.

The routine, which he’s compressed over the years, has served him well. No one has made more appearances out of the VCU bullpen the last four years than Lees.

“I love it,” says the ever-ready lefty. “It definitely brings a lot of confidence to the team when they see I can run out there on one days rest or no days rest. It gives them a real boost.”

This year, once warm, Lees has been red hot.

In 12 appearances this season, covering 18 1/3 innings, Lees is 4-0 and has not surrendered a run. It’s been a boost for VCU (13-10), which found itself short on arms at times last year, but has watched Lees help anchor a staff that ranks second in the A-10 in ERA (2.95).

Lees, who ranks fourth in school history with 19 saves, has enjoyed plenty of success as a Ram, but this recent streak has been especially gratifying for the Richmond native, whose senior season was once in doubt. Just a few months ago, Lees and the VCU coaching staff weren’t sure what he’d deliver this season.

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9 REASONS TO GO TO VCU BASEBALL

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Senior Matt Lees hasn't allowed a run in 12 appearances this season.

Senior Matt Lees hasn’t allowed a run in 12 appearances this season.

My first organized baseball experience was an unmitigated disaster. I was 11, and an aspiring third baseman for Luciano’s of the Austintown Little League – we didn’t have fancy team names; we just slapped the font of whatever funeral home or local eatery ponied up 100 bucks to buy the uniforms on the jersey. My dad, a firm man with little patience for the frivolous concerns of 11 year olds, was the coach.

We were terrible by every measure. In two seasons, we went 5-25. I played one year with my dad’s softball glove, which was so large that on at least one occasion, I lost a ground ball in it. We lost one game 22-1. This was not the Little League World Series Regionals you see today on ESPN. This was the “Bad News Bears” without Kelly Leak to save us.

Whether by masochism or persistence, baseball stuck with me, and not a spring comes around where I don’t have a twinge to go shag fly balls. That’s why it’s nice when we clear our desks of basketball’s bustle, baseball is there waiting for us. VCU Baseball is waiting for you too, out at The Diamond. If my tale of childhood failure and triumph wasn’t enough to compel you to take in a game, here are a few more reasons to go see the Rams this spring.

1-Dollar Hot Dogs. I’m really not sure why I need to explain this, as it should be self-evident, but I will, just in case there are some savages among us. For every weekday game at The Diamond, VCU Baseball will offer hot dogs for one single, glorious American dollar bill. If you’re a sweet-talking lad, you might even be able to procure a dog for four Canadian quarters, but you didn’t hear that here. Hot dogs and baseball go together like Shaka Smart and Havoc. You can have one without the other, but why would you? Also, don’t trouble me with your self-righteous bluster about hot dog ingredients. I don’t know how a carburetor works either, and I’m cool with that.

2-Everybody loves a winner. The Rams have won nine of 12 heading into Wednesday’s game with Longwood. They viciously drubbed VMI 18-0 Tuesday. Just reading that score game me Little League flashbacks, but without the sweet, sugary embrace of postgame candy from the concession stand.

3-JoJo Howie. The senior left-handed hurler has a little bit of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in him. Sometimes he talks to the baseball, as well as other endearing quirks. It usually listens, too. He was 7-3 last season and threw four complete games. He’s also doing it while dealing with a mild form of muscular dystrophy. JoJo is a bad mofo.

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PUT A BOW ON IT

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VCU finished 26-10 and won its first Atlantic 10 Championship in 2014-15. The Rams were ranked No. 25 in the final Associated Press Top 25 Poll.

VCU finished 26-10 and won its first Atlantic 10 Championship in 2014-15. The Rams were ranked No. 25 in the final Associated Press Top 25 Poll.

Sorry for the dearth of correspondence since Portland. I promised I’d return to comment on the season that was, but had some family stuff to address.

I’m back now, and in my stead, I see that Mike Litos, as he often does, has succinctly summed up many of my own feelings on the 2014-15 season and the NCAA Tournament, but better:

The loss of Weber was a tectonic shift. Gone was the frenzied piranha havoc defense. Gone was the senior point guard. Factor in the number two scorer and number five rebounder in school history suffered a significant injury.

This was not November and we were not playing Bethune Cookman with months to figure it out. This was February in the A10, and they didn’t blink.

While Shaka kept us a preoccupied with coaching vagaries like the process and the plan, he and his staff was busily re-crafting where the chess pieces would go. Roles would change.

It got worse before it got better, but to the credit of the players they never lost focus. They believed.

And it came together over those four days in Brooklyn.

Before he dove into the underground, mid-major Pied Piper Kyle Whelliston used to tell us, “It always ends with a loss”, a cold reality for all but the national champion (or NIT/CBI, but even those are pretty hollow).

That last loss is always the toughest, and has the power to skew the impact of the previous 35 games. Although I would have selfishly loved to stay two more days in the Pacific Northwest because I love Portland and I love basketball, the legacy of this team is not one afternoon in Portland against Ohio State. No, it’s four days in Brooklyn.

I’m sure VCU’s 1996 and 2004 CAA Championships, which ended extended NCAA droughts, were emotional nights. Those who were there can feel free to share their stories. But I can’t imagine it approaching what we felt at Barclays this March, watching Briante Weber hop to center court in celebration, then climb that ladder. For me, it’s right there with Eric Maynor’s Dagger and the Final Four. Chills. All of it.

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