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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HEY, THOSE GUYS LOOK FAMILIAR

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Former VCU star Lanto Griffin (-12) won the Delta Dental Virginia State Open this weekend.

Former VCU star Lanto Griffin (-12) won the Delta Dental Virginia State Open this weekend.

We’ve officially reached summer’s angry phase in Richmond. The heat index is a billion right now, and my lawn melting. Local weathermen and women are warning people with beards – there are a healthy number of bearded folks in this town – against spending time outdoors, due to the high risk of spontaneous beard brush fires.

But it’s not all bad. As I hunkered down inside and reclined on a couch I fashioned from blocks of ice, I was able to follow the exploits of a handful of VCU alums who killed it this weekend.

First and foremost, Lanto Griffin, a former CAA Golfer of the Year for the Rams, ran away with the Virginia State Open Championship by six strokes this weekend. For his efforts Griffin (-12), who turned pro after graduating from VCU in 2010, pockets $6,300. Griffin opened the tournament with back-to-back rounds of 66 and 68 and took a 5-stroke advantage into Saturday’s final round. Griffin briefly saw his lead cut to three strokes Saturday, but recovered to win going away.

Meanwhile, former VCU Soccer standout Nate Shiffman enjoyed possibly the best moment of his young pro career Sunday when he scored the Richmond Kickers’ lone goal in the 84th minute against West Bromwich Albion from the English Premier League. Shiffman’s strike briefly tied the match, but West Brom answered in the 88th minute to secure a 2-1 win.

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Treveon Graham. You’ve heard of him, right? The Rams’ great continues to plug away for the Spurs in NBA Summer League action in Las Vegas. Playing time in summer league games can be all over the map, and Graham’s burn is no exception, but he did pick up 20+plus minutes in back-to-back games this weekend. On Sunday, Graham pumped in 12 points and corralled five rebounds in a summer league semifinal victory over Atlanta.

Graham is still trying to find the range from NBA 3-point range (shooting 22 percent), but his other metrics this summer have been pretty good. He’s averaging 6.2 points and 2.8 boards and shooting 42 percent overall for the Spurs in nine contests. Graham and the Spurs will play in the Las Vegas Summer League Championship Game against Phoenix Monday at 9 p.m. on NBATV.

THE RAM REPORT IS OUT NOW!
The latest edition of the Ram Report is online now! Check out a feature on VCU Basketball Coach Will Wade, not to mention stories on Olivia Sutton, the first lacrosse player in VCU history, and baseball’s connection to Puerto Rico. READ HERE.

‘I WAS THE WORST ONE THERE': FORMER VCU WALK-ON SIGNS FIRST PRO DEAL

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Janelle Sykes (left) prepares to sign a professional volleyball contract with Azeryol Baku earlier this month.

Janelle Sykes (left) prepares to sign a professional volleyball contract with Azeryol Baku earlier this month.

RICHMOND, Va. – The early days of Janelle Sykes’ foray into serious volleyball didn’t exactly foretell a bright future.

The Clifton, Virginia native largely muddled through three years of volleyball at Trinity Christian School, and when she finally found her way into the development-friendly club program at NVVA in Sterling, Virginia, she didn’t come bounding out of the blocks.

On the first day of practice with NVVA’s 17-1s club, the 6-foot-3 Sykes dislocated her thumb blocking a ball during a scrimmage, in large part, she says, due to poor fundamentals. She didn’t get near the game floor again for weeks as she worked almost exclusively on footwork.

Today, five years removed from her underwhelming club debut, Sykes can call herself a professional volleyball player. Two weeks ago, the 2015 VCU graduate signed a one-year contract (with an mutual second-year option) with Azeryol Baku of Azerbaijan’s Super League.

Azerbaijan, which is located on the Caspian Sea, east of Turkey, isn’t widely known in the United States, and even Sykes admitted she had to locate the country on a map, but the country’s Super League is well-regarded in Europe. Sykes will depart later this summer.

“Right now I’m pretty excited,” Sykes, a middle blocker, said. “I’m sure as it gets closer, I’ll be more anxious about it.”

Sykes’ transformation from an awkward gym-class plodder to a professional volleyball player in five years is remarkable. She was a walk-on during her first two years at VCU. This season, she was named First Team All-Atlantic 10 and First Team All-State. She ranks sixth in school history in blocks (345).

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RAMS GET HOT IN NBA SUMMER LEAGUES

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VCU alum Troy Daniels led Charlotte with 16 points and 14 rebounds Tuesday.

VCU alum Troy Daniels led Charlotte with 16 points and 14 rebounds Tuesday.

Two former VCU standouts tore it up in NBA Summer League action Tuesday. As if we had any doubt. You and I know what guys like Troy Daniels and Treveon Graham can do on the basketball court, but it’s nice for them to remind NBA eyeballs from time-t0-time.

Daniels and Graham are in very different situations. Daniels, who is open more often than 7-Eleven, has a guaranteed contract for this season and has a fairly secure roster spot. During Tuesday’s game with the Nets, Hornets’ GM Rich Cho said that Daniels would get minutes this season. Graham, on the other hand, is trying to channel his inner Troy Daniels by going from undrafted rookie to NBA veteran. He certainly helped himself Tuesday.

Daniels, who never averaged more than 3.3 rebounds per game in his VCU career, grabbed 14 caroms against the Nets in Orlando and scored 16 points in a 64-55 win. You might not have expected that, but you certainly counted on Daniels to light it up from 3-point land, and he did, knocking down 4-of-6 triples on the way to a 16-point effort.

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In three summer league games, Daniels is averaging a team-best 15.7 points, while shooting a robust 55 percent (11-of-20) from three. He’s also pulling down 7.7 rebounds per game, which is, if you don’t mind me saying, very Treveon Graham-like. Here’s Daniels’ postgame interview.

Just because, here’s a Troy Daniels highlight mix. Spoiler alert: copious amounts of 3-pointers.

Meanwhile, Graham, playing for the Spurs in the Utah Summer League, got busy Tuesday against the Jazz with 17 points in 21 minutes of burn. In two summer league games, Graham is averaging 10.5 points, while shooting 64 percent (7-of-11) from the field.

San Antonio already has a deep roster, especially with the additions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, but Graham certainly has the kind of attributes that seem to work in that organization. Right now, he’s trying to convince the Spurs that he either deserves a spot on the team as the third shooting guard behind Danny Green and Manu Ginobili (both established) or that he can hold his own as an undersized small forward amid a group that includes Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Anderson and Reggie Williams. Of that SF group, only Leonard is a lock. Marco Belinelli’s departure to Sacramento certainly opens the door a crack. Also, food for thought, this is probably Ginobili’s last season.

Graham and the Spurs will play again Thursday at 7 p.m. EST against the Celtics. That game will be broadcast on NBA TV.

 

 

TWO TALKS – MELVIN & WILL

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Melvin Johnson addresses the audience at his VCU Criminal Justice TED Talk earlier this year.

Melvin Johnson addresses the audience at his VCU Criminal Justice TED Talk earlier this year.

We have two videos to share today, both educational, but with very different lessons. The first, the most important is Melvin Johnson’s criminal justice TED Talk from earlier this year. It’s important to remind everybody sometimes there’s more to the guys on the basketball court than just basketball. I love seeing student-athletes take part in things like this, and applaud the VCU Criminal Justice Program – which is terrific, as far as I can tell – for challenging these men and women.

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Today’s second video is a little more straightforward. Mike Litos sits down with Will Wade to discuss next season’s rule changes. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing Wade talk about basketball.

WILL VEGAS SPUR GRAHAM TO NBA?

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CIb7jZCWoAA7wswTreveon Graham, the second-leading scorer in VCU Basketball history, is hoping to find a home in San Antonio, via Las Vegas.

Graham, who was not selected in Thursday’s NBA Draft, will play for the San Antonio Spurs NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas July 10-20. He hopes to follow a path to the similar to that of former Ram Troy Daniels, who was not drafted in 2013, but managed to garner the attention of teams while playing for Charlotte during the Las Vegas Summer League. Daniels, currently a member of the Charlotte Hornets, has also played for the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s unclear if Graham will also play in either the Orlando or Utah summer leagues, although it is not uncommon for a player to compete for multiple organizations during summer league season.

Below is the Spurs’ Vegas schedule, which strangely does not include the Carrot Top show at Luxor. But there’s still time. Meanwhile, NBATV will broadcast tons of summer league action again this year. The network has not published a schedule beyond July 11, but expect most, if not all, of Graham’s games with the Spurs to be broadcast.

UPDATE: Juvonte Reddic has announced he’ll play for the Brooklyn Nets’ summer league team in Las Vegas. I’ve updated the schedule with Brooklyn’s games. Reddic spent last season playing for two different teams in Italy.

UPDATE #2: I can’t update this post quickly enough. Bradford Burgess, who has been playing professionally in Belgium and Italy the last few years, as signed on to the Miami Heat’s summer team. He will play in both Orlando and Las Vegas.

The schedule below has been updated. Again.

VCU IN THE NBA SUMMER LEAGUE (All times listed as EST)

ORLANDO
Saturday, July 4
Miami vs. Indiana, 9 a.m. – NBATV

Sunday, July 5
Miami vs. Brooklyn, 5 p.m. – NBATV

Monday, July 6
Miami vs. Detroit, 5 p.m. – NBATV

Wednesday, July 8
Miami vs. L.A. Clippers, 5 p.m. NBATV

Friday, July 10
Championship

LAS VEGAS
Saturday, July 11
New York vs. San Antonio (Thomas & Mack Center), 4:30 p.m. – NBATV
Brooklyn vs. Cleveland (Cox Pavilion), 10 p.m.
Miami vs. Utah (Thomas & Mack Center), 10:30 p.m. – NBATV

Sunday, July 12
Milwaukee vs. San Antonio (Thomas & Mack Center), 6:30 p.m. – NBATV

Monday, July 13
New Orleans vs. Brooklyn (Thomas & Mack Center), 4:30 p.m.
Miami vs. Denver (Cox Pavilion), 8 p.m.

Tuesday, July 14
Portland vs. San Antonio (Cox Pavilion), 3 p.m.
Brooklyn vs. Chicago (Cox Pavilion), 5 p.m.
Miami vs. Boston (Cox Pavilion), 7 p.m.

July 15-20
Playoffs

FORMER RAMS STILL GET THEIR KICKS IN RICHMOND

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Matthew Delicate (center) is the leading scorer in both VCU and Richmond Kickers history. (Photo credit: James Loving)

Matthew Delicate (center) is the leading scorer in both VCU and Richmond Kickers history. (Photo credit: James Loving)

RICHMOND, Va. – On Wednesday, the Richmond Kickers will host the Columbus Crew in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the country’s oldest ongoing soccer competition. In all, 91 amateur and professional teams vie for the right to call themselves the best team in America.

The VCU Soccer program has long been intertwined with the USL’s Kickers, who began play in 1993. When the Kickers take the pitch Wednesday in search of an upset, VCU will certainly have a hand, or a foot, in the effort.

A number of former VCU stars have suited up for the Kickers over the years, including Andrew Dykstra as part of a loan agreement with D.C. United. Against Columbus on Wednesday, three former Rams, Matthew Delicate, Owusu Sekyere and Nathan Shiffman will wear Kickers red.

The Kickers represent something different to all three players, who find themselves at different junctures of their careers, but they all agree that the organization has allowed them to keep playing their beloved game, while finding a home in Richmond.

THE STAR
Matthew Delicate knows moments like Wednesday’s match aren’t unlimited. They are to be cherished. Events like the U.S. Open Cup and the opportunity to chase another USL Championship, like the one Richmond captured in 2009, keep him coming back.

“Once you get a taste of that, you want to continue that, and there’s a lot of guys that will go their whole career without winning things like that,” he said. “I don’t have many seasons left, so time is running out, and that’s why I want to bring another one back to Richmond. That would be nice.”

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CAP TIP TO BASEBALL & CATCHING UP WITH FORMER RAMS

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Lefty Heath Dwyer was 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA for VCU this season.

Lefty Heath Dwyer was 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA for VCU this season.

In case you missed it, VCU Baseball saw its season come to an end over the weekend after dropping a pair of games to No. 5 Miami in the NCAA Super Regionals. It was a heckuva ride, and we enjoyed every minute of it. The Rams went on a late-season tear – winning 13 straight games at one point – to win their first conference title since 2010 and reached the Super Regionals for the first time.

Looking ahead to next season, the Rams return nearly all of their starting lineup in the field, save starting shortstop Vimael Machin, who hit .339. The pitching staff, which posted an outstanding 2.92 ERA, will look completely different next season. Heath Dwyer, JoJo Howie, Matt Lees, Matt Blanchard, Daniel Concepcion, Tyler Buckley and Thomas Gill – seven of VCU’s most-used eight arms – all graduate. Look for right-hander Sean Thompson, who was outstanding as a freshman this year, to anchor that staff next season.

But your opportunity to cheer for some of those seniors may not be over. The 2015 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft begins tonight. The first and second rounds, plus compensation picks, will be held Monday beginning at 7 p.m. Although no Rams are expected to be called tonight, Tuesday’s action will include rounds 3-10, and Wednesday will include rounds 11-40. Hopefully a number of these guys will spend the rest of their summer playing Rookie ball somewhere.

ELSEWHERE…
Speaking of VCU Baseball players continuing their careers in the minors, keep your eye on former Ram Kyle Haynes. A 20th-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2012, Haynes, now a member of the Yankees’ system, is throwing very well at Double-A Trenton. As of this writing, he’s dealing to the tune of a 1.82 ERA in 18 appearances. Trenton will be visiting the Richmond Flying Squirrels at The Diamond June 23-26.

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