RICHMOND, Va. – It’s been 27 years since VCU broke into the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, but senior Darius Theus doesn’t view the Rams’ No. 22 ranking as a destination. It’s more like a train stop in Rochester on the way to Detroit.
“We’ve got to get better,” Theus said Tuesday. “Top 25, that’s good. [But] can we be top 10 or can we be top five? We want to get better. We want better than that.”
That’s the prevailing attitude around the Rams this week. The top 25 is nice, but it’s January. Nobody remembers teams that were ranked in January. You make your name in March.
It’s why Theus, VCU’s point guard and captain, is helping Coach Shaka Smart pump the brakes on the top 25 talk.
“We’ve just got to stay humble and stay hungry,” Theus said. “What are we, 22? We want to be better than that. I think we’ve got the guys that are bought into Coach Smart’s plan and process to not be focused on that type of stuff.”
VCU, which is also No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, hasn’t been ranked by the AP since the 1984-85 season. Although many Rams fans have waited a generation for this type of recognition, Smart knows the whirlwind that has surrounded his team could be gone just as soon as it arrived.
“That stuff can be fleeting,” he said. “I told the guys, you can feel good all you want about being ranked, but if we don’t win this week, you won’t be ranked anymore. That’s just how it works. The emphasis has to be on winning our upcoming games.”
On Thursday, VCU will host Atlantic 10 Conference preseason favorite Saint Joseph’s at the Verizon Wireless Arena. Less than 48 hours later, the Rams will head to Pittsburgh to face Duquesne. Smart knows that hanging onto that national ranking won’t be easy, especially if his team is busy reading its own press clippings.
“It’s a challenge,” Smart acknowledged. “We have to make sure we’re focused on what’s going to bring us success moving forward. For our guys, it’s a test of their maturity and their focus and for us as a program. It’s a test of how good can we be when everyone’s watching and when there are a lot of people out there saying good things about us.”
That’s not to say Smart isn’t appreciative of the positive attention. A national ranking grants a program a level of visibility it might not enjoy otherwise. From more highlights on Sportscenter to the perception of the program to recruits, there’s plenty to be gained for Smart and VCU.
Whether or not the Rams get a prime spot in the ticker, it won’t change how VCU prepares. Smart will still preach to the chip on his player’s shoulders and to the part of their soul that remembers all the weeks the Rams weren’t ranked.
“We’ll still find a way to be the underdog,” he said. “That’s when we’re at our best, when we’re attacking and aggressive and have something to prove. We definitely still have a lot to prove even though we’re in the top 25. That doesn’t change anything. “