Terry Larrier knows a little something about transitions.
The 6-foot-7 VCU freshman’s current adjustment is to college curriculums and the rugged style of Division I college basketball. It’s a been a period of change for the lanky wing player, who also happens to be VCU’s highest-ranked recruit in a generation.
High school basketball and college basketball are the same in that their names both contain the word “basketball”. Other than that it’s like going from Mario Kart to NASCAR. It’s not just that college basketball players are more skilled – they are – it’s that most of them are genetic wonders.
But for Larrier, it’s not the first time he’s faced such difficult transition far from home. The last one helped shape him personally, academically and athletically, and made his college career possible.
Although he is, like teammate Melvin Johnson, a Bronx, New York kid to the bone, Larrier spent his final two years of high school at The Phelps Academy in Malvern, Pennsylvania, located in the rolling rural patches west of Philadelphia. It couldn’t have been more different than The Bronx.
According to the 2010 United States Census, more than 1.4 million people reside in The Bronx. For every one of the borough’s 42 inhabitable square miles, there are an average of 32,000 residents. In Malvern, there are about 3,000 people living in the entire town.
Set back a couple hundred yards off a country road, Phelps is a private, all boys boarding school. The Phelps website depicts student life through images of smiling teens in Hollister sweatshirts framed by verdant backdrops. There’s also a direct link for students to order their school uniforms, khakis and navy polo on most days, from Land’s End.
“It’s basically in the middle of nowhere,” Larrier says. “I went from being in classes with 32 kids to six, 10 kids. It was a big change and transition for me, but it was something I had to do. It was the best thing for me.”
John F. Kennedy High School, where Larrier spent his freshman and sophomore years was a large, public behemoth nestled between the Henry Hudson Parkway and the Major Deegan Expressway. Before it was shuttered in 2014, the school had been marked in recent years by poor academic performance.
“I needed to get out of New York so I could focus on just my schoolwork and basketball. It was a small school. It was a good situation for me,” he said. “There were just too many distractions for me [in New York].”
Larrier says he’d seen too many great New York City high school players fall by the wayside because they couldn’t qualify academically for college. He didn’t want to become another New York high school legend turned “Where are They Now?”
It was that mindset that led him to Phelps, which was physically two hours away, but, for all intents and purposes, was on another planet.
His retreat to the Pennsylvania hills didn’t throw college recruiters off his scent. Larrier thrived at Phelps and on the AAU circuit and shot up the recruiting boards. Shaka Smart and his staff targeted Larrier midway through his high school career before schools like UCONN had him on their radar. By his senior year, the competition for Larrier was intense. Throughout the process, he leaned on Johnson, his fellow Bronx native, to gather intel on Smart and VCU.
“He was basically telling me what kind of coach Coach Smart was. That’s basically what I was trying to emphasize as far as my decision went,” Larrier said. “I was going to go be with a good coaching staff, so he was just telling me how good a coach he was and how much freedom he gives the guys as long as they do what they’re supposed to do, and that was something that I liked.”
Larrier also made several visits to VCU and attended the Rams’ wins over ranked Butler and Saint Louis teams. The crowd, he says, made an impression.
“The crowd was definitely crazy,” he said, cracking a smile. “The fans showed me a lot of love when I came down here. Some of the other schools that recruited me, they had football…so the fans were just more into football than basketball.”
Larrier ultimately chose VCU over UCONN, despite its 2014 National Championship. A consensus top-50 recruit, Larrier’s signing generated headlines in a way not seen for an incoming VCU freshman since McDonald’s All-American Kendrick Warren.
Like all college freshmen, Larrier’s freshman year has been an adjustment, but he’s enjoyed a fair amount of success. He’s averaging 6.7 points per game for the Rams, the most by a VCU freshman since Bradford Burgess in 2008-09.
He’s also had some real teaser moments. Games where writers like myself rapid fire Twitter platitudes about Larrier’s “ceiling” and such. It’s not an intentional repurposing of the hype that surrounded Larrier’s signing and his brief VCU tenure, but more of an acknowledgement of his obvious and rare skills.
That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. Larrier arrived on campus a slender 175 pounds. Although he’s added 13 pounds to his frame through weight training, he’ll need to get stronger in the coming years. Defensively, he’s worked hard, but is still finding his way.
“I thought I knew how to guard a ball screen in high school, but when I got here it was totally different,” he says. “Ball screens in high school, we were just switching or go under. We don’t go under ball screens [here]. You’ve got to blow it up.”
Despite the inherent challenges, Larrier says he’s getting more comfortable throughout the season. Progress is rarely linear, but Larrier says his transition is headed in the right direction.
“Right now I’m real confident,” he declares. “I’ve always been confident in my game. I’m definitely over that freshman period, the pre-jitters. I’m definitely more calm when I play now.”