RICHMOND, Va. – Most VCU fans know Juvonte Reddic as an oft stone-faced giant. Outward expressions of emotion have been rare, although not unheard of in recent years.
But Saturday’s 86-67 Senior Night win over St. Bonaventure was bursting at the seams with emotion. Finally, as victory was assured, Coach Shaka Smart pulled Reddic and fellow senior Rob Brandenberg from the game with a little more than a minute to go, a thunderous ovation from 7,700 showered the players on their way to the bench. Finally, Reddic let go.
“Once coach took me out for the last time, that’s when it really hit me. As soon I sat down on the end of the bench I started crying, just tears of joy,” said Reddic.
Reddic finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds, while Brandenberg poured in 18 points, including an exclamation point dunk in the waning moments. At some point, every player will suit up for one final time at the Siegel Center, and this will be the example they’ll strive toward.
As they exited the floor for the last time, Brandenberg and Reddic were surrounded by the product of the program they helped build. The crowd was VCU’s 50th straight sellout, a mark that would have been considered absurd back in November of 2010, when Brandenberg and Reddic began their careers as Rams.
“There’s so many memories, it’s hard to choose one,” Brandenberg said. “But if I had to choose one, I’d say the fans. When I saw them come out to a game when it was a snowstorm, no school, roads were terrible, and they still packed the house, that’s when I took a chance to really appreciate that. It’s not like that at a lot of schools. I’m very fortunate.”
Once unknowns, Reddic and Brandenberg are now idolized in Richmond. It’s not just the Final Four run, although they are indeed the last link to the greatest moment in the program’s history. That was just the beginning. It was this senior class’ 108th victory, the second most ever. The Rams completed an undefeated (15-0) home season for the first time since the 1970-71 campaign. Lest we forget, VCU is almost certainly dancing into its fourth straight NCAA Tournament, a program first.
For all of that, this class of seniors will be celebrated as much, if not more than any other.
It’s common for recruits to attend a game at a school when they’re being courted. Brandenberg did not, but was able to make a connection with Smart that convinced him to leave Ohio for Richmond. What he didn’t realize was the connection at VCU between the program and the fans.
“I remember it was against Virginia Union,” Brandenberg said of his first Siegel Center experience. “I think I came out and scored 10 points. The crowd was loving it. So, I always remember that game. It was electric. It was electric.”
It was similarly electric Saturday, as he checked out of a game at the arena for one final time and turned the crowd as a bright smile rushed across his face. He seemed to bask in it as he waved to the crowd.
Fans have been rewarded handsomely for their adulation. VCU is 54-6 at the Verizon Wireless Arena during Brandenberg’s and Reddic’s careers. Sure, this game carried actual importance in terms of Atlantic 10 Tournament seeding, but it all seemed secondary.
“We didn’t talk about seeds,” Smart said. “Our seed is going to be whatever it is. I’m glad we got a bye, but we just wanted to win for Juvonte and Rob. It was simple motivation tonight, that was our seniors. Whatever came from that was just a byproduct of winning for our seniors.”
VCU did lock up a top-four seed Saturday, but that was just gravy. Yes, St. Bonaventure made a game of it for a little while, but it was over in a flash, as a 15-5 burst in the second half turned a tense scene into one of celebration. Saturday was an opportunity to embrace four years of success, but Brandenberg and Reddic wanted to make one thing abundantly clear: there’s time for more.
“We’re not finished,” Reddic said. “Tonight was a very special night, but we’ve just got to move on and take care of ourselves and get prepared for the A-10 Tournament.”
“It’s kind of bittersweet, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot of basketball left,” Brandenberg said. “[There’s] the A-10 Tournament next week and the NCAA Tournament afterwards. If we could channel these emotions and really play for one another, us seniors really lead the way next month, hopefully we can make a deep postseason run in both tournaments.”
Judging from Saturday night, there’s plenty of emotion to go around.