‘CAN WE BE PLAYING ANYMORE GAMES RIGHT NOW?’

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Phoebe never did make it out of Central Perk.

Phoebe never did make it out of Central Perk.

I’m no Taylor Swift fan, but, she can be an awfully likable person sometimes. I enjoyed the heck out of “Friends” during its 10-year run, and seeing Lisa Kudrow sing “Smelly Cat”, the most memorable song in the career of Kudrow’s “Friends” character, eccentric coffee house singer Phoebe Buffay, with Swift, the burgeoning pop megastar, did spark my internal archive of the series.

One of my favorite memories is from the episode “The One Where No One’s Ready”. In one scene, Joey seeks revenge on Chandler by wearing his entire wardrobe, all at once. During the ensuing argument, Joey teases Chandler. “

“Look at me, I’m Chandler. Could I BE wearing anymore clothes?”

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It goes on from there.

I uttered something similar the other day when I noticed a full weekend of VCU games, the first of the school year. We got a little teaser last weekend with the women’s soccer openers, plus some exhibitions in other sports, but now we’re going full bore. Can we be playing anymore games right now?

Check out this slate:

Friday
Women’s soccer vs. Charleston, 5 p.m.
Men’s soccer vs. No. 25 Akron, 7:30 p.m.
Volleyball at Purdue, 7 p.m.

Saturday
Field hockey at Kent State, 1 p.m.
Volleyball vs. Ohio (1 p.m.) and Austin Peay (5 p.m.)

Sunday
Men’s soccer vs. No. 21 Coastal Carolina, 5 p.m.
Women’s soccer vs. James Madison, 7:30 p.m.

With that much action, it might be difficult for you, as a responsible VCU fan, to know what to watch. Let me help.

You may notice that men’s soccer is playing two ranked teams. This will be a theme throughout the season. VCU Coach Dave Giffard has made a point of assembling one of the toughest, if not THE toughest, schedules in the country. As of right now, there are NINE ranked teams on the schedule, including the top three teams in the country. I’m pretty sure Giffard would schedule Real Madrid if compliance would sign off on it. There’s going to be a ton of top-notch soccer played at Sports Backers Stadium this fall, so make sure you catch some of it.

The volleyball team will have a bit of a new look this year. The Rams will look to replace three key starters, including a couple of players who were good enough to sign pro deals. The Rams will be tested early at Purdue, a perennial Big Ten power. There’s also a bit of VCU history involved here. The Rams met Purdue in their first NCAA Tournament match in 2005. The next night the Rams draw Ohio, the alma mater of your favorite blogger and a team that is normally in the mix for an NCAA bid.

There’s plenty more to keep an eye on, of course. Field hockey will be getting underway and women’s soccer looks to build on a 1-1 start, but I’ll spare you the 1,000-word blog this week. Just know you can keep up with all that stuff on VCU Athletics DOT com, as well as all of our associated Twitter accounts.

Between now and then, I’m going to launch a Twitter campaign to convince Taylor Swift to invite David Schwimmer and his keyboard onstage at her next show.

GREEN LIGHT FOR THE BLACK AND GOLD

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Green means go. Red means go-al.

Green means go. Red means go-al.

Aaaaaand we’re underway.

I wish college soccer would take a page out of hockey’s playbook. I’d love to see the sport adopt a red lamp and fog horn atop the goals for when teams score. That way, when the Rams blast one into the back of the net, you’d hear about it on Main Street.

Our not-quite-a-reality-yet foghorn would’ve gotten a workout in the VCU Women’s Soccer opener Friday. The Rams owned the honor of opening up the 2015-16 VCU Athletics campaign, and they didn’t disappoint.

VCU lit the lamp four times on the way to a 4-2 win over that team from Norfolk. It started quietly. Megan Dell’s 16th-minute strike was the only score of the first half. That didn’t last long. The two teams combined for five goals during one 28-minute stretch of the second half. VCU’s Kelly Graves earned a gold star from this blog for providing a goal and an assist for the Rams.

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Unfortunately, the Rams couldn’t carry over one of those goals to Sunday, when they dropped a 1-0 nailbiter to Marshall. But VCU will get two more cracks this weekend, when both Charleston (Friday, 5 p.m.) and James Madison (Sunday, 7:30 p.m.) visit Sports Backers Stadium.

In other news, the VCU women flashed some nice gold home uniforms on Sunday. Home whites can look clean and nice, but they rarely catch the eye like gold. I loved them.

Sharon Wojcik scored her first goal of the season on Friday.

Sharon Wojcik scored her first goal of the season on Friday.

The Women’s Soccer team was the only VCU squad to log action in a game that actually counted in the standings, but that doesn’t mean the Rams’ other teams weren’t busy.

The VCU Men’s Soccer team fell to N.C. State 1-0 in an exhibition. Despite the loss, VCU Coach Dave Giffard sounded encouraged by the performance.

“It was good to get out and play against another college team. We got minutes for a lot of guys (27) and we were able to see where we are at this point in preseason. Several guys got their first minutes for us as new players and For the most part, I thought they did well for the first time out. Now we have a week to work to get better and improve some things, especially in the attack, before we open with a very good Akron team on Friday night.”

The Rams host Akron, where Giffard once served as an assistant coach, Friday night at 7:30 at Sports Backers. In case you didn’t figure it out already, there’s a soccer doubleheader at Sports Backers Friday.

Meanwhile, Volleyball hosted its annual Black and Gold Scrimmage at the Siegel Center. The current Rams topped the alums 3-0, but really, the day was about much more than the volleyball itself. It was about connecting with alumni, and Saturday’s event saw the largest turnout of volleyball alums in many years.

The VCU Volleyball program welcomed back alumni on Saturday.

The VCU Volleyball program welcomed back alumni on Saturday.

The VCU Volleyball and Men’s Soccer teams officially kick off their seasons this week.

 

I WENT BACK TO THE STU…AND MY SUMMER WAS GONE

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gone-last-summer-wallpapers-1024x768

Peace out, summer.

According to the Gregorian Calendar and the autumnal equinox, the first day of fall is Sept. 23. But Pope Gregory XIII – we all called him “Thirteen” back then – never played college soccer. The first day of fall, according to the Athletician (made up word alert!) Calendar is Aug. 21.

The VCU Women’s Soccer team officially kicks off (pun intended) the 2015-16 VCU Athletics season tonight when they host some school from Norfolk at Sports Backers Stadium at 7 p.m.

Now, before you make any rash decisions about your evening and commit to binge-watching the second season of “True Detective”, know a couple of things. No. 1, this season’s “True Detective” was (spoiler alert) disappointing. No. 2, we’ll have dollar hot dogs for everybody, VCU snapback hats for the first 100 students, and the Rams Gameday Garden will be open to help you cool off and relax. You’re welcome.

On the field, it should be a fun season for the Rams, who finished second in the Atlantic 10 regular season last year.

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If you can’t make it for Friday’s VCU Soccer Kick-Off-A-Palooza, you can still catch the Rams on Sunday when they return to Sports Backers to meet Marshall at 1 p.m.

There are also a few of exhibitions of note this weekend. The VCU Field Hockey team will meet Kent State on the road Saturday. Meanwhile, the men’s soccer team will host N.C. State at Sports Backers on Saturday, Aug. 22 at 1 p.m. At the same time, over at the Siegel Center, the VCU Volleyball team will host its annual Black & Gold Scrimmage. The Rams will take on a team of VCU alums, and I’ve witnessed the career of many of those players. You’ve got to love a job that reminds you how old you are on a regular basis. FYI, contributions to my retirement fund can be mailed here to my office.

I’m out, but enjoy out season kick-off hype video, then go charge up the side of a mountain while dragging a Fiat.

JAZZ DEAL PROVIDES INTRIGUING OPPORTUNITY FOR TREVEON GRAHAM

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Treveon Graham averaged 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season.

Treveon Graham averaged 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season.

The Freight Train is ready to chug across the Great Salt Lake.

The Utah Jazz officially announced the signing of Treveon Graham Monday. Terms were not disclosed, but Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders and others are reporting Graham’s deal as a partially guaranteed 3-year contract.

Graham, who was not selected in the NBA Draft in June, played for the San Antonio Spurs in the Utah and Las Vegas summer leagues and averaged 7.8 points per game. Graham was said to be receiving interest from a handful of teams following his summer league stint and had been weighing his options.

This deal is an intriguing one, and could pay off for Graham. The Jazz currently have 13 players signed to guaranteed contracts for 2015-16. That includes injured point guard Dante Exum, who is expected to miss the entire 2015-16 campaign.

Source: RealGM.com

Source: RealGM.com

Graham will most likely try to win a spot at shooting guard, but could also play small forward in small lineups. With that in mind, it’s important to note the contracts of Elijah Millsap (who shot 34 percent from the field last season) and Chris Johnson are currently non-guaranteed.

NBA rosters are limited to 15 players in total, although only 13 can be active on a given night. Teams are allowed to carry 20 players during training camp and can then allocate four (up from three in previous years) cut players to their D-League affiliates. While teams do not retain exclusive rights, and can be signed by any NBA team, it does keep allocated players out of the D-League draft and allows teams to place them with their affiliate. Utah, in case you were wondering, is affiliated with the Idaho Stampeders in Boise. The Houston Rockets developed Troy Daniels in this very same manner.

By joining the Jazz for training camp, Graham has given himself an excellent chance to remain under the team’s umbrella. Even if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, there’s a very good chance the Jazz will place him in Idaho and give him a chance to develop.

Seven former VCU players have appeared in an NBA game.

BALL LOOKS TO RECAPTURE SPIRIT OF ’13 AT U.S. AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP

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Rising senior Adam Ball will compete among a field of 312 hopefuls at the U.S. Amateur Championship Aug. 17-23.

Rising senior Adam Ball will compete among a field of 312 hopefuls at the U.S. Amateur Championship Aug. 17-23.

RICHMOND, Va. – The U.S. Amateur Championship is the country’s oldest championship and one of its most prestigious. VCU rising senior Adam Ball (Richmond, Va.) is set to play in his fourth U.S. Amateur, but the feeling of competing in the revered event has not faded with time.

“Cannot wait. You have no idea. I can’t wait,” Ball said. “It’s my last one, too, so it’s pretty important to me. I’ve been working pretty hard for it. I’m excited.”

On Monday, Aug. 17, Ball will tee off at 1:20 p.m. at Olympia Fields Country Club outside of Chicago. He will be one of 312 golfers vying for the title of “U.S. Amateur Champion”.

Ball and his competitors will play 18 holes each on Monday and Tuesday. The top 64 scorers will advance to the match play bracket and eventually winnow to a sole champion on Aug. 23.

In 2013, Ball reached the quarterfinal round before he fell to eventual champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

“It was a magical week,” Ball said. “I got there, and the golf course really fit my eye and my swing while I was there, and my putter got hot for a couple of days. The next thing I knew I was in the quarterfinals and playing the eventual champion, and it was a really cool week. It was a neat experience to play on national television, to get that first one under my belt.”

It’s a grueling format, complete with a distraction few college golfers face, network TV coverage (Fox Sports 1 and Fox will broadcast match play). But Ball says he enjoys the challenge.

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BRIANTE WEBER EYES A NEW BEGINNING

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Briante Weber, VCU's all-time leader in steals and a three-time A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, continues to rehab a right knee injury.

Briante Weber, VCU’s all-time leader in steals and a three-time A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, continues to rehab a right knee injury.

Sometimes we don’t know how good we have it. Briante Weber flew around the basketball court in a VCU uniform for nearly four years, displaying a unique combination of speed, guile, explosiveness and enthusiasm I doubt we’ll ever see again. As much as we cheered his greatness, it was difficult to embrace it to the degree it deserved. That all changed on Jan. 31, when Weber tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus late in a game against Richmond. Weber’s brilliant career was over in a blink. He was 12 steals shy of breaking the NCAA career mark.

VCU overcame its post-Weber malaise to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship. The sight of a jubilant Weber – who continued to dress in uniform – ditching his crutches to hop to center court to celebrate reduced even some of the most iron-jawed VCU fans to misty-eyed messes.

In the months since, Weber has looked to resume his basketball career. Once an intriguing NBA prospect, Weber is fully immersed in the rehabilitation process. Weber is now more than five months removed from surgery and has begun playing in pickup games.

We sat down with Weber for an extended interview for the first time since his injury to find out his thoughts on his injury and the road back to playing Superman-like “Bri-fense”.

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Weber says a number of NBA teams have been keeping tabs on him (which I can independently confirm). He has signed with an agent and says he’ll be spending much of the coming weeks working out in California. Weber hopes to earn a tryout or invitation to an NBA training camp and is confident he’ll at least play in the NBA D-League this season.

 

WHAT’S BREWING FOR GRAHAM, DYKSTRA?

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Former VCU shortstop Vimael Machin is playing for South Bend, the Chicago Cubs' 'A' affiliate in the Midwest League.

Former VCU shortstop Vimael Machin is playing for South Bend, the Chicago Cubs’ ‘A’ affiliate in the Midwest League.

VCU Athletics’ Mike Voyack had an opportunity to catch up with Treveon Graham recently, which isn’t easy, considering how well Graham moves for a man of his size. No matter, Voyack, camera in tow, wrangled Graham for an interview to update us on his pro prospects. Graham, you’ll remember, is coming off a solid performance with the San Antonio Spurs’ summer league teams in Utah and Las Vegas. Graham averaged 7.8 points and shot 46 percent for the Spurs in 10 games overall. From the sound of it, Graham will have options, and you shouldn’t be surprised if he ends up in an NBA training camp this fall.

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Meanwhile, it’s been somewhat of a breakout year for former VCU Soccer star and all-around good guy Andrew Dykstra. After years of bouncing around the MLS in Chicago and feeder leagues like the USL, Dykstra appears to have found comfort for D.C. United. Injuries have thrust him into a regular starting role and he’s been making the best of it. To wit, Dykstra was recently nominated for MLS “Save of the Week” for the third time (vote here).

D.C. United (12-7-5) currently sits in first place in the MLS’ Eastern Conference. The United are 3-3-1 with Dykstra in goal.

When he’s not busy making great saves, Dykstra is making great brews. Last year, D.C. Brau invited Dykstra to tour its brewery, and recently, D.C. United shared this video of Dykstra’s home brew operation.

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In baseball news, it appears that Vimael Machin, one of the stars of VCU’s recent NCAA Super Regional run, is settling in at the pro level. A 10th-round selection of the Chicago Cubs organization, Machin is currently playing for South Bend, the Cubs’ A-ball affiliate. Although Machin is still waiting for his signature swing to come around at the plate, he’s still flashing the glove.

Machin has already played third, short and second in his 21-game pro stint. He is hitting .186 in 80 at-bats.

PROGRESS REPORT: VCU BASKETBALL DEVELOPMENT CENTER

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We recently had an opportunity to check on the progress of the VCU Basketball Development Center (yes, we’re trending away from “practice facility”). Have a look around.

CATCHING UP WITH VCU GLOBETROTTER AND OLYMPIAN QUANITRA HOLLINGSWORTH

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Quanitra Hollingsworth, who starred for VCU from 2005-2009, is averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 rebounds for the the WNBA's Seattle Storm this season.

Quanitra Hollingsworth, who starred for VCU from 2005-2009, is averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 rebounds for the the WNBA’s Seattle Storm this season.

VCU made waves in 2004 when it signed an unknown 15-year-old from Chesapeake, Virginia named Quanitra Hollingsworth. The 6-foot-5 center, who skipped two grades in middle school, made her debut for the Rams a year later as the nation’s youngest player. She became more than a fascination. Hollingsworth led VCU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009 and became the No. 9 overall pick of that year’s WNBA Draft. Her jersey is one of three retired by VCU. She’s won championships in Europe and played in the 2012 Olympics in London for Turkey. Hollingsworth is still just 26 years old.

This summer, following a one-year WNBA hiatus to fulfill commitments to the Turkish National Team, Hollingsworth returned to the WNBA with the Seattle Storm. She’s averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 rebounds off the bench for the Storm this season, but Hollingsworth, who is fascinated by computers and cuisine, has always been about more than basketball.

We recently caught up with the 2009 VCU graduate.

CK: How’s it feel to be back in the WNBA?
QH: It’s good. I obviously haven’t played back at home in quite a few years, and to just be able to play in front of so many of my friends and family, it’s good because it’s definitely not something you get overseas.

CK: How does the game overseas compare with the WNBA?
QH: Over there game a little slower and more structured, probably less athletic with more shooters more fundamentals. Over here it’s more athletic. Everyone is the best of the best. Sometimes overseas you meet a team or some players that aren’t on the same level.

CK: There’s good money to be made overseas, compared to what most WNBA players make. I’m assuming coming back wasn’t really a question of economics.
QH: For me, I simply wanted to be back in America this summer. I play against most of these players overseas, so I can’t say I was missing the competition, but to be back home is important to me.

CK: How is Seattle treating you?
QH: I’m actually enjoying it. The only thing I was concerned about was the weather, but the weather has been beautiful.

CK: Between your Turkish National Team commitments, the WNBA and European ball, do you ever take a break?
QH: There’s no such thing as an offseason unless you decide not to play. I think as long as you’re taking care of your body, you’re fine. Mentally, it doesn’t get as exhausting as people expect because if you love this, it’s not going to be as draining.

CK: You played for Turkey in the 2012 Olympics. How would you characterize that experience?
QH: In some ways it was overwhelming, but it was like I was dreaming. You’re in the same place with all of the best athletes from every sport in the world. Even some of the best players never make it to the Olympics.

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GRAHAM IMPRESSES AS SPURS WIN SUMMER CROWN

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Treveon Graham scored 22 points to lead the Spurs to the NBA Las Vegas Summer League title Monday night.

Treveon Graham scored 22 points to lead the Spurs to the NBA Las Vegas Summer League title Monday night.

Treveon Graham made his final case for an NBA training camp invitation Monday night in Las Vegas, when he pumped in 22 points and ripped three steals to help lead the San Antonio Spurs to a 93-90 win over the Phoenix Suns in the Summer League Championship Game.

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Graham finished the game 7-of-11 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range. He participated in San Antonio’s summer league teams in both Utah and Las Vegas and averaged 7.8 points while shooting 46 percent from the field in 10 games. Did he impress the Spurs brass enough? We’ll see, but it should be noted that Graham has been party to Atlantic 10, Portsmouth Invitational (plus MVP honors) and NBA Summer League championships since March. It’s funny how some guys are always on teams that win, isn’t it?

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