RICHMOND, Va. – It’s tough to stand out on a team when your point guard plays like a guy surfing a lightning bolt, or your center is built like The Thing with Inspector Gadget arms, or your understated leading scorer is chugging toward history.
VCU’s flashy roster, built to play a flashy style, is filled with stars both telegenic and prolific. But senior forward Jarred Guest doesn’t necessarily fit into either category. Instead, he’s been a quiet and steady role player in a program known better for loud moments.
While the blue-collar contributions of Guest (and others) shouldn’t be overlooked, sometimes they’re overshadowed by the highlight-friendly breakaway dunks and blocked shots.
That could change this season, as Guest enters his final year as a Ram. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound post player will be among those vying to fill – by committee or otherwise – the void left by the graduation of Juvonte Reddic. While none of the candidates, Guest, Mo Alie-Cox or three freshmen, possess Reddic’s polished offensive game, each will have a chance to make an impact. Guest will be one of the first in line.
The South Carolina native has always been an intriguing prospect. As a sophomore, Guest turned in a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double in just 16 minutes of play. Long and lean, Guest glides up and down the floor. Guest, who averaged 1.6 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last season, is comfortable shooting the ball beyond 15 feet and can knock down an occasional 3-pointer. Coach Shaka Smart also loves Guest’s disruptive presence at the top of the Rams’ full-court press.
Historically, Guest’s best quality has been his ability to rebound the basketball. Although his per game averages don’t jump off the page, Guest has led VCU in offensive rebounding percentage the last two years, and his 10.1 rebounds per 40 minutes ranked second on the team in 2013-14. When Guest is on the floor, he’s usually around the basketball.
“That’s just something that came from [Assistant] Coach Will Wade when I came in,” Guest said of his rebounding prowess. “He just always told me to move my feet and keep my motor going and just stay active.”
He’s occasionally been too active. Guest’s career average of 7.4 personal fouls for every 40 minutes of play is on the higher side. However, his 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes last season was a career low. That does not mean Smart wants Guest to slow down. If anything, the sixth-year coach wants more of the disruptive, board-crashing Guest.
“We just need him to be an energy guy on defense. We need him to be Dennis Rodman,” Smart said. “We need him to rebound at a high level, keep balls alive.”
With Graham, Melvin Johnson, JeQuan Lewis and others, Guest might not find a prominent role in the VCU offense, and that’s okay. They’ll still be plenty of transition and put-back opportunities. Defense and rebounding are the most likely elements of the game where Guest will make an impact.
“He’s been terrific since we started practice,” Smart said. “I’ve been really, really pleased with him. His attitude’s been really good. I’m excited about he’s grown off the court.”
Guest appeared ready for a more prominent role last season before misfortune struck. During a 2-on-1 transition drill last August, Guest dislocated his left ankle after dunking the ball. He missed more than six weeks and returned to practice just prior to the 2013-14 season. He says it wasn’t until halfway through the season that he began to feel like himself again.
“That definitely set me back,” Guest admits. “That whole mental process definitely took a toll.”
“It was tough. He’s a guy who need routine, needs reps and needs confidence,” Smart said of Guest’s injury. “I think that impacted him to some extent there. He’s been, for the most part, healthy this fall and really, really impressive and impactful in practice.”
As a senior, Guest will also take on new responsibilities, regardless of how many rebounds he grabs or points he scores. He’s the elder statesman among VCU’s post players, and he’ll be counted on for leadership from a group that includes three freshmen and a sophomore.
“My whole thing with those younger guys is, just be a mentor. I’ve been through some of the things they’re going through. It’s definitely a different style of play [from high school]. Mentally, when you’re going from high school it’s definitely different.”
Despite their relative inexperience, Guest feels strongly that this group of post players will be able to offset the loss of Reddic.
“I feel like we’re pretty good as far as the people we’ve got right now. Everybody brings something different to the table, and we’re definitely able to play with each other.”
Guest may never be known for explosive moments, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Every explosion needs a spark, and plays like deflections, offensive rebounds and leadership have lit a lot of fuses over the years.
“If there’s one guy if I could be guaranteed that would have the type of year in games that he’s had in practice, I’d love for that to be Jarred just for his sake, because he’s really worked hard,” said Smart.