VCU BASEBALL – ATLANTIC 10 CHAMPIONS

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Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 10.42.42 AMA few weeks ago, VCU looked like it might not even make the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Rams had just been swept at league-leader Saint Louis and were sitting 11th in the A-10 standings, albeit amid a tight race.

Yesterday, VCU capped its incredible turnaround by defeating Rhode Island 5-3 for the A-10 title in Arlington, Virginia. VCU has won 11 straight games and the Rams outscored their opponents 38-8 in the four-game A-10 Tournament. Now VCU will play in its 11th NCAA Tournament.

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Meanwhile, check out Logan Farrar’s tournament-clinching catch in centerfield. It made SportsCenter’s Top 10.

BASEBALL CHASING A-10 CHAMPIONSHIP

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The VCU Baseball team appears to be hitting its stride at the right time. The Rams are riding a seven-game win streak as they prep for the Atlantic 10 Tournament this week in Arlington, Virginia. VCU, the five seed, will open with fourth-seeded Davidson on Wednesday.

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One of the big reasons for VCU’s success this year is senior Heath Dwyer and his hair. Dwyer’s been terrific for VCU his entire four-year career – his 26 wins rank second in school history – but he’s been particularly splendid in 2015. In 15 starts, he’s 8-2 with a 2.90 ERA. I think it has something to do with the Thor-like mane he’s been growing out. The photo on the left is from a couple of years ago; the one on the right is from this week. Draw your own conclusions.

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SENIOR SITDOWN (THE FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT, BRI’S GOTTA WEAR SHADES)

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We recently had the opportunity to sit down with graduating VCU seniors Treveon Graham, Briante Weber and Jarred Guest to shoot a sort of all-encompassing video that looks back on their careers, as well as to the future. You’re going to have to commit roughly the same amount of time you would into watching a “Big Bang Theory”, but it’s worth it. In the past, you’ve only gotten snippets of what these guys were like, but here, you get a feel for them as people as never before. Let Briante Weber entertain you one more time.

WILL WADE MEDIA MINUTES

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VCU BASEBALL SIGNS GRAYSON DUTTON

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On Monday, the VCU Baseball team announced the signing of 4-year-old Grayson Dutton, who has rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Grayson has endured rounds and rounds of treatment, not to mention surgery. When he’s feeling well, he’s been a fixture around the VCU Baseball team this year.

VCU ALUM NAMED MVP AFTER BANANAS EUROCHALLENGE BUZZER-BEATER

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Former Ram Jamal Shuler, a fan-favorite for VCU from 2004-08 has carved out a nice professional career for himself overseas, with stops in France, Germany and Ukraine. This weekend, he picked up some nice hardware when his current team, Nanterre of France’s ProA league, won the EuroChallenge (it’s complicated, but it’s essentially the No. 3 championship tournament in Europe) on this crazy buzzer-beater. Shuler is No. 1 in green in this video.

That replay is a little inconclusive, but this angle appears a little more definitive.

To boot, Shuler was named MVP of the EuroChallenge Final Four after he averaged 14.0 points and 4.5 assists. Nanterre wins a promotion to the EuroCup next year.

An All-CAA First Team selection in 2008, Jamal Shuler scored 1,011 points as a Ram and ranks 11th in school history with 170 three-pointers.

An All-CAA First Team selection in 2008, Jamal Shuler scored 1,011 points as a Ram and ranks 11th in school history with 170 three-pointers.

Crazy as that was, it’s still not the nuttiest buzzer-beater Shuler’s been party to during his European career. Check out the absurd winner Shuler hit in 2011 with Vichy.

PERFECT PITCH: VCU HURLERS HAVE RAMS IN CONTENTION

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Closer Daniel Concepcion (2.03 ERA, 8 saves) is one of a number of VCU pitchers enjoying career seasons.

Closer Daniel Concepcion (2.03 ERA, 8 saves) is one of a number of VCU pitchers enjoying career seasons.

RICHMOND, Va. – The VCU Baseball team is loaded with pitching talent, and that includes the dugout.

Head Coach Shawn Stiffler and first-year Pitching Coach Steve Hay, longtime friends and former high school teammates, were both accomplished pitchers in college at George Mason and Webber International, respectively. Stiffler served as a pitching coach at Mason and VCU for the better part of a decade before assuming taking over as Rams head coach in 2012. Hay succeeded Stiffler as George Mason pitching coach and produced eight productive seasons for the Patriots. Combined, Stiffler and Hay boast nearly a quarter-century of experience mentoring college pitchers.

It should come as no surprise that as VCU (24-16, 7-5 A-10) readies for a pivotal series with league rival Rhode Island this weekend, the Rams lead the Atlantic 10 Conference and rank in the top 30 nationally in both ERA (2.93) and strikeouts (338).

Stiffler’s teams have generally pitched well, but Hay’s influence appears to be having an impact this season. Senior left-hander Matt Lees, who pitched hurt and saw his ERA balloon to 5.45 last season, has allowed one earned run in 38 innings this year (0.24 ERA). During the fall, Lees and Hay worked to find a more comfortable arm slot for the senior lefty. The result of those labors has been one of the best seasons by a VCU reliever in recent memory.

Senior starters JoJo Howie (4-4, 3.06 ERA) and Heath Dwyer (5-2, 3.32 ERA) have been their usual, outstanding selves, while hurlers like senior closer Daniel Concepcion (2-2, 8 saves, 2.03 ERA) and classmate Tyler Buckley (2-0, 1.71 ERA) – who threw just 5 2/3 innings last season – have really hit their stride this year.

Earlier this week, VCU limited Maryland, the Big Ten’s highest scoring team, to just two runs in back-to-back wins over the 21st-ranked Terrapins.

“It’s all to their credit,” Hay says of VCU’s staff. “They’re good. It’s recruiting. They recruited good guys for me to walk into. They’ve obviously coached them up for three years.”

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OF BLOCKS AND BOOKS…

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Mo Alie-Cox averaged 7.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and and 1.9 blocks per game in 2014-15. He will receive his bachelors degree in May.

Mo Alie-Cox averaged 7.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and and 1.9 blocks per game in 2014-15. He will receive his bachelors degree in May.

Editor’s note: This feature ran in the winter edition of the Ram Report. You can find the link to the full article below. 

Mo Alie-Cox is only a redshirt sophomore, but it can be said with some certainty that the best comeback of his VCU career won’t come on the basketball court. No, the rally he’s led in the classroom has been much better.

Once ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA, Alie-Cox was forced to sit out his entire freshman year. This summer, he’ll earn his bachelor’s degree from VCU in just 3 ½ years. Alie-Cox, who has quickly become a shot-blocking maven and fan favorite, also has two years of athletic eligibility remaining, and he’s exploring the possibility of using that time two earn not one, but two master’s degrees, one in criminal justice and the other potentially in coaching. It’s a remarkable success story for a student-athlete whose VCU career was marked by an early false start.

A conversation with Alie-Cox will reveal many things and sharply dismiss a number of misconceptions. A chiseled, 6-foot-6 giant with long, floppy dreadlocks, Alie-Cox is an imposing, physical presence on the basketball court. Off the floor, he is affable and unassuming. Unfailingly polite and matter-of-fact about his business, he’s as low-maintenance as they come. Despite his early academic misstep, it’s abundantly clear that he’s bright and articulate.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE

FROM SMART TO WADE: INSIDE THE VCU MEN’S BASKETBALL COACHING SEARCH

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Ed McLaughlin (left) introduces VCU Head Coach April 8 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Ed McLaughlin (left) introduces VCU Head Coach Will Wade April 8 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Thursday, April 2
The call from Richmond reached Ed McLaughlin’s cell phone at Mo’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis at 10:28 p.m. McLaughlin, in Indianapolis for the Final Four, was expecting the call, but the message was still a mystery. He was either going to enjoy a nice evening with colleagues or a long night of planning for the biggest decision of his professional career.

He was out the door within five minutes.

On the other end of line was VCU Men’s Basketball Coach Shaka Smart, who informed McLaughlin that he’d decided to accept the same position at Texas. Smart had just told his team of his plans and would be in Austin by the following day.

Despite the emotional demonstrations in Richmond, where fans gathered outside the Siegel Center in an attempt to convince Smart to stay, McLaughlin’s conversation with his now-former coach was businesslike.

“I congratulated him and said, ‘good for you’, and we talked about some logistical things,” McLaughlin said.

It was a quiet end to a week of rampant speculation in the media, a week where guesswork outpaced actual work. McLaughlin knew better. The real action lay ahead, not behind.

McLaughlin began organizing for what promised to be one of the busiest weekends of his life. Back in Richmond, Executive Associate Athletic Director Glenn Hofmann started calling VCU donors to inform them personally of the news. Meanwhile, Deputy A.D. Jon Palumbo, essentially in standby mode as Smart weighed his options, prepared to fly to Indianapolis to help McLaughlin conduct interviews.

The search to replace Smart, the most successful coach in VCU history, would begin the next morning in earnest.

While there was little certainty about Smart’s decision until late Thursday, McLaughlin and his staff had been preparing for this contingency for days, and in some ways, years.

‘The plan was in place,” McLaughlin said.

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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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