In one dizzying 54-second stretch, it was obvious how much Darius Theus had grown into his role as VCU’s point guard and playmaker.
It was Dec. 4 and the Rams were watching a huge lead disintegrate against George Washington. The Rams’ 19-point advantage had been whittled to 62-56 with less than five minutes left. Momentum had shifted decidedly in the Colonials favor. It was at that moment that Briante Weber found Theus in the corner for a 3-pointer. Theus entered the game as an 18-percent career 3-point shooter, but neither player hesitated.
On the Rams’ ensuing possession, Theus darted past a defender and to the rim, scoring the bucket in traffic while drawing the foul. George Washington never recovered and the Rams cruised to a 75-60 victory.
Two plays do not a season make, but Theus that sequence showcased the junior’s impressive growth as he moves into the role of floor general for the Rams this season. After backing up Joey Rodriguez for two years, Theus is averaging 7.9 points and 4.7 assists a game, both career highs. Through 12 games, Theus’ 49 percent shooting from the field was a marked improvement over his 39 percent career average. While his statistical gains imply improved physical skills, the 6-foot-3 Portsmouth, Va. native says his success begins with his mental approach to the game.
“It’s realizing that every night I have to be here,” Theus said. “Last year I was playing behind Joey, so he was the leader of the team, but this year, I’m the point guard. I’m the leader and I have to run the show.”
Statistics are one thing, but the Rams believe Theus is also making a difference in areas that are not easy to quantify. By nature, point guard is a position of leadership. Theus is in charge of directing the Rams’ up-tempo offense, making sure his teammates are in the right spots and getting players good looks. When someone misses a shot, Theus has to pick his teammate up and keep their confidence high.
“You’ve got to be that guy because you’ve got to get everybody in the offense, make sure the team knows what’s going on,” Theus said of his leadership role. “Basically, it’s being the second Coach [Shaka] Smart on the floor.”
Smart, himself a point guard in college, likes to reference the quote, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” It’s a way of instilling an appreciation for the opportunity afforded to his players and that a certain level of effort is expected in return.
VCU has enjoyed a pretty good run of point guards the last decade, from Dom Jones to Eric Maynor to Joey Rodriguez. It’s a position that carries a certain weight. Ram fans tend to expect a great deal from their point guards these days. Theus knows what’s expected of him, and he couldn’t wait to get started.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment,” he said. “Joey was a very good player, so you’ve got to wait your turn, and now it’s my time.”
Along the way, Theus has been able to tap into Rodriguez, Maynor and occasionally Jones. The 21-year-old Theus served as Rodriguez’s understudy for two seasons, while Maynor is a fixture on campus over the summer and is a regular participant in workouts and pickup games with current and former Rams.
“They all have helped me to become the player I am today and I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me,” Theus said. “Eric and Joey are like my big brothers. From Day One, as soon as I walked on campus, they’ve been helping me.”
For all his success this season, Theus isn’t a finished product. He’s struggled with foul trouble at times. He’s fouled out of two games and leads the Rams in personal fouls this season. The problem isn’t so much the fouls themselves, but rather that when Theus is in foul trouble, he can’t be out on the floor. It’s also a testament to how valuable Theus is to this team.
On Nov. 27 at Alabama, Theus fouled out with 3:31 remaining. At the time, the Rams trailed by a single point, but managed just one field goal the remainder of the game in a 72-64 loss. Theus’ fouls, many of them preventable, have been a source of frustration for Smart, who knows the Rams are a better team with Theus on the floor.
“You have to play with more discipline and that’s something that he’s learning the hard way,” Smart said following the Rams’ 73-51 win over Richmond on Dec. 9. “We have a high level of expectation for him, but he will. He did some good things tonight and he’ll keep learning.”
One reason Smart and Theus both believe that will happen is because neither man will be satisfied until it does. In addition, Smart’s criticism, while direct, is based in his belief of Theus, much like it would be for any of his players. It’s one of the primary reasons Theus, who came into the season averaging 2.9 points and 1.6 assists per game for his career, has already made great strides.
“Coach Smart just told me, ‘it’s your time. It’s your time to run the show,’” Theus said. “He said he’s going to put the ball in my hands and he believes in me. Without a doubt, he has the most confidence in me. When he told me that, I just took it and ran with it.”