RICHMOND, Va. – It can’t be more than three blocks from Franklin Street Gym, where the VCU Men’s Basketball team holds the bulk of its practices, to the Verizon Wireless Arena, where it plays games before thousands of rabid fans.
But for some players, it can seem like a thousand miles. That’s because skills showcased during practice often don’t always easily translate to the arena on game night. In recent years, VCU Coach Shaka Smart talked about senior Troy Daniels’ walk down that road. Daniels appeared to mentally cross that bridge last season, and is now one of the nation’s best long-range shooters.
Sophomore Jarred Guest can probably relate. He’s in the midst of his own practice-to-game transition. Guest, a gazelle-like forward, aims to display more of his Franklin Street talents at the Siegel Center.
“We’re just trying to get him to be our energy guy,” Smart said recently. “[He’s] just been phenomenal in practice for most of the year; probably our leading rebounder in practice. He’s a guy that needs to just settle down and play when he gets in the game.”
With increasing frequency, Guest is starting to heed Smart’s advice. The sophomore from Columbia, S.C. has carved out spot in the Rams’ rotation this year to the tune of 10.4 minutes per game. Guest has shown his knack for rebounding, averaging 2.3 per game, a mark that equates to about 10 boards every 40 minutes. Other than junior Juvonte Reddic, no Ram has corralled rebounds with greater frequency during their time on the floor than Guest.
Earlier this season in a win over Stetson, Guest flashed some of the potential Smart saw when he plucked him from Charis Prep two years ago, erupting for his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds in just 16 minutes.
Guest’s sophomore year is unfolding significantly different than that of his debut season, when he saw all of 81 minutes of court time. While it was difficult for him to watch from the bench, it taught him a lesson about making the most of his opportunities.
“You definitely value those minutes more [now],” he says. “It’s kind of a reality check. You all have to go through a process to get where you need to be, so, it’s hard times, but it’s a learning experience.”
Most agree Guest is just beginning to tap into his reservoir of potential. He’s long, and his condor-like wingspan makes him ideal for getting deflections in VCU’s press-heavy system. Guest also has a nose for rebounding and an effective 14 to 16-foot jump shot.
There are 220 pounds clinging to Guest’s 6-foot-8 frame. He’s relatively thin for his size, but also sinewy and athletic. His body type probably most closely resembles Reddic’s sleek frame. It’s almost hard to imagine Guest was once a 194-pound freshman.
In practice last year, he battled daily in the post with D.J. Haley, David Hinton and Reddic, players who were carrying anywhere from 30-40 pounds more than him. He got pushed around a lot and took his lumps. But in the last 18 months, he’s managed to pack on 25 pounds. Although he’d like to eventually gain 5-10 more pounds, he’s now equipped to push back.
“Being pushed around is not happening anymore,” Guest says of the added weight. “It’s come in handy.”
Guest has benefitted from his daily battles with Reddic, a player similar in many ways to himself. Reddic has watched Guest’s growth from up close. He believes the 20-year-old Guest is physically ready to make an impact, but it’s self-confidence that will put him over the top.
“I think the only thing holding him back is, I don’t think he really believes how good he can be,” Reddic says. “We tell him all the time he can go out in the game and do big things for us, grab rebounds and get deflections and things like that. I think he’s doing a pretty good job, but he has a long way to go. He’s going to be a really good player.”
Guest is making it clear he’s not going away. His frame is prototypical of the ideal “Havoc” frontcourt player, and his skill set drew interest from programs like Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri and Oklahoma State. Now that he’s earning live game minutes, he’s hungry for more.
“Just continue to make progress,” Guest said when asked how he thought he could carve out a larger role. “Most guys come in, figure out what they need to do and they, I guess, get complacent. So, just being able to keep growing as a player would be the main thing.”
Growth has made easier Guest’s transition from practice excellence to game performance. It’s given rise to confidence that will allow him to play unencumbered when 7,600 eyes are on him.
“Last year he was very uncomfortable in the game setting,” Smart said. “He’s better this year, but he still has a ways to go to believing that, ‘hey, I can play with these guys and if I make a mistake, that’s going to happen, I can bounce back and keep playing.’”
But the distance from Franklin Street Gym to the Siegel Center seems shorter all the time.