It’s hard to believe it’s already been four years. This is the first VCU class I’ve been able to follow from signing day to senior day, so excuse me if I’m a bit melodramatic. But it’s hardly familiarity that leads me to feel this way. It’s also the nearly 100 victories, a 22-game home winning streak, the Oklahoma upset, the 2009 CAA Championship, the near-miss in the NCAA Tournament against UCLA, the NIT at Madison Square Garden and more Wachovia 3-point t-shirts than I can count. Here’s a few of my thoughts on VCU’s four seniors.
In the moments following Rodriguez’s two free throws that gave VCU a 68-67 win at Wichita State with .8 seconds left, amidst an impossibly chaotic environment, I received a text that read something like this:
“That Joseph Rodriguez is a fine young man with impressive intestinal fortitude. It’s quite remarkable.”
Okay, so I may or may not have edited that for the Disney set and the soccer moms, but those free throws, and the “constitution” necessary to make them, say a boatload about Rodriguez’s career at VCU.
Raise your hand if in 2007 you thought that Rodriguez would finish in the top five on VCU’s career lists for assists, steals and 3-pointers. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Much of his success has been a product of his ability to remain cool under fire. Rodriguez fully admits to reading the critiques of internet armchair quarterbacks, allowing them to fuel his own desire.
He’s been a joy to watch from my perspective because Rodriguez plays with reckless abandon, because he’s not afraid physical or mental abuse and seems to revel in his teammates’ success. Earlier this season, he set a school-record with 17 assists in a game, and it looked like the most fun he’d had as a Ram.
Rodriguez has a large tattoo of the Lord’s Prayer on a scroll on his left arm. Earlier this season at William & Mary, a fan in the Tribe’s student section asked Rodriguez if the ink was a textbook. Unflappable, but always aware, Rodriguez turned to the guy and simply said, “yeah”. You want a player like that on your team.
As a freshman, he literally played his way out of a redshirt season. Rams’ Coach Anthony Grant had already announced that he intended to redshirt Rozzell in 2007. That was, until Rozzell walked onto the Siegel Center floor eight games into the season, the product of relentless work in practice. Rozzell never looked back, nailing 169 3-pointers over the course of the next four seasons.
Once a scrawny, slashing local hero from Highland Springs, Rozzell has transformed into of one of the best 3-point bombers in school history. So dramatic has Rozzell’s physical transformation been, that VCU Strength Coach Daniel Roose hangs a copy of two photos – one of Rozzell as a freshman and one as a senior – in the VCU weight room to illustrate the value of hard work.
Rozzell won a state title with Highland Springs on the Siegel Center floor in 2007. Quite possibly as a result, no Ram is as comfortable at in the building as Rozzell. His home statistics are drastically better at the Siegel Center, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t come to play on the road. In the CBI Championship game last year, host St. Louis dared Rozzell to beat them, and he did, torching the Billikens for a career-high 27 points.
On a locomotive, the fireman was responsible for shoveling coal into the fire, which heated the boiler that ran the steam engine. It was grueling work, and history often overlooks the fireman in favor of the conductor. But make no mistake, the engine doesn’t run without a good fireman. Ed Nixon is the Rams’ fireman.
When you find a player that enjoys playing defense more than he does offense, you’ve got to keep that guy. That’s rare breed. Nixon wants to guard the other team’s best scorer, because he relishes the idea of shutting that guy down.
Perhaps no player improved more under Shaka Smart’s watch than Nixon. After two years as an athletic defensive specialist with a flat jump shot, Nixon willed himself to become one of the Rams’ most reliable shooters.
Before last year, I would’ve told you that Richard Nixon had a better chance to lead VCU in 3-point shooting. But that was before Ed shot .432 (41-of-95) from beyond the arc. It’s one of about 15 reasons why Nixon is my favorite player in this class.
Here’s about all you need to know about Jamie Skeen. Smart doesn’t allow freshmen to conduct interviews with the media until they’ve played a game in a VCU uniform. The idea is that freshmen have to prove themselves before they can enjoy the spotlight.
Skeen, who had to sit out until the second semester of last season after he transferred from Wake Forest, asked if that same rule could apply to him. Skeen said he wanted the focus to be on his teammates and because he hadn’t accomplished anything at VCU yet. It didn’t seem to matter to Skeen that he was coming off two solid seasons in the ACC and was a four-star recruit coming out of high school.
It led me to believe that when Skeen did start talking, he wouldn’t have much to say. I thought he’d be shy, reserved. I was wrong. Skeen is the best quote on the team. He’s humble, honest, direct and hilarious.
Although he initially struggled while playing in Larry Sanders’ shadow last season, Skeen has emerged as VCU’s best player in 2010-11. Not only does he handle the Rams’ dirty work in the paint, rebounding, scoring and blocking shots, but Skeen regularly steps out as one of VCU’s top 3-point threats.