Beth O'Boyle kicks off her first season as VCU head coach on Nov. 14.

Beth O’Boyle kicks off her first season as VCU head coach on Nov. 14.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU fans saw an array of skills last season from then-freshman point guard Keira Robinson. New Rams’ Head Coach Beth O’Boyle believes that’s just the beginning for the Columbia, South Carolina native.

In her first season with the Rams, Robinson averaged 11.4 points per game and handed out more than six assists per game. Her 200 assists were the most ever by a VCU freshman and the third most in program history. She also led VCU with 71 steals.

On Tuesday, Robinson, an Atlantic 10 Conference All-Rookie Team selection last season, was named to the league’s Preseason Third Team. As a freshman, she displayed impressive playmaking skills – arguably the best by a Ram since Rochelle Luckett from 1998-2002 – in the Rams’ wide-open offense. While O’Boyle says her style of play will differ from former Coach Marlene Stollings’, the Rams will still play up-tempo. She also believes a switch to man-to-man (VCU was almost exclusively a 2-3 zone team under Stollings) and some additional full-court press looks will lead to more steals and more transition basketball.

All of that is good news for Robinson, whose length and vision allow her to see the floor and find teammates in transition. Robinson’s guidance of O’Boyle’s motion offense will be essential. The Rams will look to replace A-10 scoring leader Robyn Parks, who averaged 21.6 points per game last season.

“I think they did an excellent job of getting the ball to Robyn with a variety of quick-hitters, but with her graduation, we’re going to look at different ways to score, and I think one of the ways is through our motion. I think it’s tough to scout. I think Keira and Chadarryl Clay will be able to create scoring opportunities for their teammates,” O’Boyle said Tuesday at A-10 Media Day.

It was clear last season that Robinson had the physical tools to play the point at a high level, so O’Boyle is turning her attention to the intangibles. She’s expecting Robinson to lead the Rams with her play.

“Keira got a ton of experience on the floor last year, and her next step is taking that experience and becoming a team leader,” O’Boyle added. “When you can take that and help your teammates play better. I think Kiki is going to continue to do a lot of great things this year.”

VCU was picked 10th in the A-10 Preseason Poll, released Tuesday. The Rams finished 22-10 overall last season and reached the first round of the WNIT, but O’Boyle says the poll won’t impact the way she operates.

“[Our players will] look and see the rankings, and I’m sure it’ll motivate them, but for us it’s not where we begin, it’s where we finish,” she said. “I hope it does motivate our players and it motivates them to work hard. But we’re just focused on the day-to-day and building our team identity.”

O’Boyle is cognizant of the fact that just one player on the Rams’ roster, junior college transfer Ashley Pegram, was signed on her watch. It’s one of the reasons she and her staff have been working overtime to build a rapport with the team.

In an exercise that has been part fitness, part team building, O’Boyle has been putting the Rams through weekly “team challenges”. Previous activities, which often involve divvying up the roster into teams for the sake of competition, have included a cornhole tournament – won by Robinson and sophomore Isis Thorpe – a running of the Broad Street Mile, and a ropes course on Belle Isle.

O’Boyle believes that in order for the team to play up to its ability, the players have to trust the coaching staff.

“When you take over any team it’s just getting to know the players so you can find ways to help motivate them. That always takes time and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the players, but the better I do hopefully the more successful they become,” she said.

VCU was already a somewhat undersized team a year ago, but Parks’ ability to score from any spot on the floor, as well as her rebounding ability (9.3 rpg) helped mitigate those discrepancies. But now the Rams have graduated their top two rebounders from last season in Parks and Zakia Williams (4.5 rpg), as well as forward Ryen Henry (1.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg).

That likely means increased opportunities for sophomores Camille Calhoun, who was a top-100 recruit out of Archbishop Spalding High School, and Monnazjea Finney-Smith, as well as redshirt junior Melanie Royster.

The Rams have no seniors, which makes Royster is the elder stateswoman on this year’s roster. That alone implies a level of experience and an expectation of leadership. O’Boyle says she’s been pleased with Royster’s approach thus far and lauded her leadership.

“I think Mel has really bought into the style that we’re trying to play and she works really hard,” O’Boyle said. “She’s been very excited in her individual workouts. She does a great job of running the floor and I think just her years of experience, she’s going to help us leadership-wise.”

Last season, the 6-foot-3 Royster – the tallest player on the roster – averaged 1.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game.