In basketball, we immortalize our heroes by hoisting their jerseys into the rafters. Often, we “retire” numbers, deciding that no other player is worthy to be identified by that set of numerals. It’s how we remember our favorites, and is one of the simplest ways kids can emulate their heroes. So it’s no wonder VCU fans approach the announcement of something as benign as jersey numbers with a level of excitement my wife reserves for the new season of “Scandal”. So when we released the new jersey numbers of VCU’s highly rated freshman class, it led me down the rabbit hole to questions like, “Who is the best No. 31 in VCU Basketball history?
So here we are. My ground rules were simple. First, I didn’t pick any current players. Yes, Briante Weber and Treveon Graham (and others, perhaps) certainly have arguments, but I’d like to see the entire arc of their careers before I rank them among the greats. This list is subjective, and I’d like to have as much information as possible. Second, the player needs to have worn the number for a “significant” part of his career, unless no other option was available. Therefore, I didn’t spend time considering Juvonte Reddic at No. 5 and Rob Brandenberg at No. 23, since they only wore the numbers for one season.
Feel free to berate me in the comments section.
00-George Byrd (1994-97)
Before he conquered Slamball, George Byrd was a reliable post presence for VCU’s mid-90s squads. Byrd averaged 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks to help steer the Rams to a 1996 CAA Championship that ended an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought. Honorable mention: Johnnie Story
1-Larry Sanders (2007-10)
Although Bo Jones makes a compelling argument, the No. 1 No. 1 in VCU history is LAR-RY SAN-DERS, and not just because he resembles one. In addition to averaging nearly a double-double as a junior (14.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Sanders ranks fourth in school history in blocked shots. Also, his 17-point, 20-rebound, 7-block performance against George Mason in the 2009 CAA Championship Game should be preserved by the Smithsonian. Honorable mention: Bo Jones
2-Michael Doles (2002-05)
Led the Rams to perhaps the most miraculous comeback in school history, was one of the best players on the 2003-04 team that won the CAA and sent VCU back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996, averaged 15 points a game as a senior and is home grown (Meadowbrook). Good enough for me. Honorable mention: Wil Fameni. On deck: Briante Weber.
3-Eric Maynor (2005-09)
If I have to explain this one to you, it’s probably time to stop reading. Honorable mention: Nicky Jones, LaMar Taylor.
4-Willie Taylor (2000-03)
Taylor’s greatness is occasionally muted by the fact that he just missed out on the return of VCU Basketball to prominence. But make no mistake, the Nashville, Tennessee native is one of the best scorers in program history. A transfer from Georgetown, Taylor pumped in 1,367 points in three seasons, and averaged better than 17 points a game his final two years as a Ram. Honorable mention: Troy Godwin, Elander Lewis.
5-Calvin Duncan (1981-85)
Perhaps no Ram is more beloved than Calvin Duncan. The rock-solid leader of three NCAA Tournament teams, including the 1984-85 squad that ascended to No. 11 in the country, Duncan’s legacy is unquestioned. If you need to be convinced further, 1,630 points should do the trick. Honorable mention: Bernard Hopkins, Bo Jones (1998-99).
10-Dom Jones (2000-04)
Younger fans may clamor for Darius Theus here, and the older set might push for Monty Knight, but the choice here is Dom Jones. The 2004 CAA Player of the Year, Jones ushered in a new golden age of VCU Basketball when he guided the Rams to the 2004 CAA crown and NCAA Tournament. He ranks seventh in school history in points (1,616). Honorable mention: Monty Knight, Darius Theus, Bruce Allen
11-Rob Brandenberg (2010-11)
Following a notable freshman season, Shaka Smart pointed out that Rob Brandenberg’s number, 23, was already hanging from the rafters, courtesy slam dunk automaton Kendrick Warren. Brandenberg, knowing he would never make this list four years later unless he changed his number, switched to No. 11 for his final three seasons. At least, that’s how I remember it. Brandenberg scored 1,219 points and was the catalyst for the single greatest radio call in VCU history. Honorable mention: Eric Atkins, Tim Binns, Kirill Pishchalnikov.
12-Joey Rodriguez (2007-11)
Fun-sized point guard Joey Rodriguez ranks third in school history in assists (580) and steals (237), and was masterful during VCU’s Final Four run in 2011. Plus, he’s the only guy to wear No. 12 for VCU and appear on the George Lopez Show in the same season. Honorable mention: Kenny Harris.
13-Patrick Kodjoe (1997-2001)
Kodjoe brother Boris, a former VCU tennis star, gets all the attention because of his impossibly good looks. I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t lose themselves in those eyes. What was I talking about? Right, Patrick. Anyway, Patrick Kodjoe is plenty handsome for this list. He also averaged 5.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 heartbreaks per game in three seasons.
14-Howie Robertson (1970-74)
Okay, so I get that some people may be superstitious, which is way not a lot of guys have worn No. 13, but No. 14? I don’t get it. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with famous No. 14s in sports history like Neil O’Donnell, Frank Reich, Kent Hrbek and Tom Meschery? Anyway, Howie Robertson was a four-year contributor for the Rams back when the program was finding its footing. He averaged 10.8 points as a sophomore in 1971-72. Honorable mention: Keith Highsmith.
15-Juvonte Reddic (2010-14)
The No. 15 has an interesting history at VCU. Gerald Henderson, whose No. 22 hangs in the Siegel Center rafters, wore it as a freshman (senior Richard Jones was already wearing No. 22). It was also the first of Jamal Shuler’s three jersey numbers, before he handed it off to Michael Anderson. But Reddic – who himself wore No. 5 as a freshman – wore 15 the best, as evidenced by 1,438 points and 895 rebounds, third-most in school history. Honorable mention: Michael Anderson, Scott Lilly.
20-Rolando Lamb (1981-85)
This is an absolute dogfight between Bradford Burgess, B.A. Walker and Rolando Lamb. You could make a compelling argument for all them. I was required to do something my college professors kept whining to me about, and I’m paraphrasing here, “some freaking research”. Lamb’s senior season is one of the best individual campaigns in school history, Burgess’ play during VCU’s Final Four run was spectacular, and B.A. Walker, at worst, is the second-best shooter in school history. I’ll probably change my mind three times before the end of the day, but I’m going with Lamb, who was a defensive wiz – his career steals mark (257) lasted nearly 30 years – and also handed out the fourth-most assists in school history. He was also the best player (that season) on the 1984-85 VCU team that finished No. 11 in the country. I will now climb under my desk while you guys throw stuff. Honorable mention: Bradford Burgess, B.A. Walker.
21-Nick George (2002-06)
I assume this will be when people begin furiously scribbling hate mail. Then again, if we’re not making tough choices, what would be the fun of all this? People are going to point to Jamie Skeen’s March of 2011, which led the Rams to the Final Four and earned him Southwest Region MVP honors, and that’s fine. It’s a reasonable argument. I’m certainly not arguing against that. But how do I weigh that against two terrific – and honestly, largely underrated – seasons by Nick George? I’m a “total body of work” guy, so I’m going with George. Honorable mention: Jamie Skeen, Chris Brower, Sherman Hamilton, Danny Kottack. In the wings: Treveon Graham.
22-Gerald Henderson (1974-78)
Despite the outstanding careers of guys like Michael Brown, Richard Jones and Tyron McCoy, this isn’t really that close. Henderson’s jersey was the first retired by VCU and for good reason. Henderson averaged 17.6 points per game his final three seasons as he helped put the Rams on the map. Honorable mention: Tyron McCoy, Michael Brown, Richard Jones.
23-Kendrick Warren (1990-94)
Next. Honorable mention: Jesse Pellot-Rosa.
24-Jamal Shuler (2003-07)
Jamal Shuler actually wore three different numbers as a Ram, including No. 15 and No. 32, but in his final two seasons – his best – he rolled with No. 24. A plus defender and 3-point shooter, Shuler averaged 15.5 points as a senior and shot 41 percent from three in his final two seasons. Honorable mention: Reggie Cain, Antoine Willie.
25-Edmund Sherod (1977-81)
There are three guys in VCU history with 1,000-points, 500 assists and 200 steals in their careers. The other two, Joey Rodriguez and Rolando Lamb, are already on this list. Sherod averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 assists per game during his career and led VCU to its first NCAA appearance in 1980. Honorable mention: Alexander Harper, Don Franco.
30-Troy Daniels (2009-13)
Thirty is an incredibly underrated number, but only three guys in school history, Emmanuel Mathis, Calvin Roland and Troy Daniels, have worn it. Daniels, who owns school records for threes in a season (124) and a single game (11) is the clear choice here. Plus, his stat lines are undeniably fun. He took 650 threes in his career, but just 114 twos and 87 free throws. Honorable mention: Calvin Roland, Emmanuel Mathis.
31-Ren Watson (1975-79)
It’s hard to pick against Jesse Dark, one of the greatest scorers in program history and VCU’s first NBA player, but Ren Watson’s 46 career double-doubles (and a triple-double) and 391 career blocks tip the scales for me. I should mention that blocked shots were not kept during Watson’s freshman year, so those 391 rejections – a school record – occurred during his final three seasons. Watson averaged 12.1 points and 11.0 rebounds during his four-year career. Honorable mention: Jesse Dark, Kenny Stancell, Neil Wake.
32-Brandon Rozzell (2007-11)
Like Juvonte Reddic, Brandon Rozzell wore No. 5 as a freshman before switching to something else. Before Troy Daniels started torching nets, VCU’s go-to, no-conscious gunner was Rozzell, a walking NBA Jam simulator. His career numbers aren’t spectacular, but few guys were more fun to watch when they got going. You know what I’m saying, Bill Self? With that in mind, I’m reserving this spot for Melvin Johnson and his schoolyard skills in two years. Honorable mention: George Byrd, Charles Booker.
33-Patrick Lee (1995-97)
You’d think 33 would be a sought-after set of digits, like 3, 20, 21, 32, but in a strange twist, no VCU player has worn No. 33 for an entire four-year career. Patrick Lee did, however, put together a couple of solid seasons in the trey-trey, including 1996-97, when he led the Rams in scoring (16.1 ppg). Honorable mention: D.J. Haley, Troy Godwin.
34-Lionel Bacon (1986-90)
I haven’t denied bacon at any point in my life, why start now? Lionel Bacon averaged 14. 9 points for the 1988-89 team that reached the Sun Belt Championship Game. Honorable mention: Derrick Reid, Marlow Talley.
35-Phil Stinnie (1984-88)
It’s unfortunate that Phil Stinnie’s career largely occurred on the downswing of VCU’s first golden age, or else he’d be mentioned in the same regard a guy like Calvin Duncan. Regardless, Stinnie is VCU’s fifth all-time leading scorer, and should be recognized as one of the program’s best players ever.
40-Charles Wilkins (1968-71)
You know who owns the highest single-season scoring average (27.5 ppg) in school history? Charles Wilkins. You know who owns the second-highest single-season scoring average (24.0 ppg) in school history? Charles Wilkins. Honorable mention: Sherron Mills, Bruce Pettway.
41-Greg McCray (1978-81)
Although not a star, McCray, a 6-foot-8 forward, was a solid three-year contributor for the Rams. He averaged 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds on VCU’s first NCAA team in 1979-80. McCray also wore No. 54 during his career. Honorable mention: Alvin Robinson.
42-Bernard Harris (1971-74)
Before he became a national treasure in Finland (seriously), Bernard Harris averaged better than 19 points per game and 11 rebounds in each of his final three seasons as a Ram. Honorable mention: Eugene Kissourine, L.F. Likcholitov, Antoine Willie, T.J. Gwynn.
43-Mike Schlegel (1981-85)
Quiet and rugged, Schlegel was an understated star on some of VCU’s best teams. The MVP of the 1985 Sun Belt Conference Tournament, he scored 1,173 points in a VCU uniform.
44-Shawn Hampton (1999-2000)
No. 44 doesn’t have much of a history at VCU, which is why Shawn Hampton’s 10.1 point, 6.8 rebound effort in 1999-2000 is enough here.
45-Chris Cheeks (1987-89)
Although he only played two seasons with the Rams, Chris Cheeks should be remembered as one of the program’s smoothest scorers. As a senior, he averaged 23.8 points per game, third-highest in school history. His 42 points against Old Dominion on Jan. 14, 1989 are the most by a Ram in the Division I era. Honorable mention: Rodney Ashby.
A reliable, 6-10 center, Henlan nearly averaged a double-double (9.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg) as a junior in 1988-89 as VCU reached the NIT. Honorable mention: Ed Nixon, Greg Ringo, Edd Tatum,
52-Greg McDougald (1971)
Native New Yorker Greg McDougald came and went so fast at VCU that he barely had time to say hello. But in his lone season with the Rams, he averaged 16.5 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, despite dreadful free throw shooting (.483). When VCU upset Minnesota at Franklin Street Gym that year, McDougald led with way with 16 points. Honorable mention: Sherron Mills (one season), Tom Motley.
54-Greg McCray (1978-81)
In an odd twist, the only guy to make this list twice is Greg McCray, a nice player, but hardly a star.
55-Ken Jones (1979-80)
Although he played just one year for the Rams, NAIA transfer Ken Jones made the most of it. A 6-11 center, Jones averaged 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds for J.D. Barnett’s first VCU team. In the Sun Belt Championship Game that year, Jones scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Rams to their first conferment title and NCAA bid.