RICHMOND, Va. – Amid one of the most tumultuous weeks in VCU Basketball in some time, Will Wade restored order with a declaration of Havoc.
“Havoc still lives here!” Wade – the newly minted coach of the VCU Men’s Basketball program announced before 1,200 fans at the Stuart C. Siegel Center at an introductory press conference.
Change is afoot at VCU, but fans can still find comfort in some of their favorite, familiar things.
Wade was referring to the moniker for VCU’s aggressive style of play, coined by Shaka Smart, that helped steer the Rams to national prestige and five NCAA Tournaments in six years. Over the years, the terms VCU Basketball and Havoc have become synonymous. When Wade, who served as an assistant for the Rams under Smart from 2009-13, took over as head coach at Chattanooga in 2013, he brought with him many of the same concepts, as well the same marketing savvy. He called it “Chaos”.
Wade says the Rams will still play with the same aggressive flair for which they’ve become known, and they’ll still get out in transition. You don’t have to say goodbye to the full-court press. It’ll still be there.
Like Smart, Wade is cerebral with a heavy focus on analytics. Both men are big believers in the data of Ken Pomeroy, with Wade noting that he subscribes to additional Ken Pomeroy scouting reports on opponents and that he “had an analytics guy” at Chattanooga who will join him in Richmond in some capacity.
“I’m a spreadsheet guy,” Wade said with a smile.
For VCU’s players, there might be some comfort in the continuity as well. Wade coached and/or recruited many of them. On Wednesday, he recalled his numerous trips as an assistant to Dickson, Tennessee, to recruit rising junior point guard JeQuan Lewis. The rest, he’s eager to get to know.
“I’m excited to coach all of them,” Wade said. “All of them are great guys, great players, guys I’m excited to get to know. I’m excited to coach the team. It’s about the team, not necessarily individual parts. “
But even as Wade, a 32-year-old Nashville, Tennessee native, noted the similarities, he pledged to be his own man.
“It’ll still be extremely player-centric like it was with Coach Smart, spend a ton of time with the players, develop deep relationships with the players, but I’m not Coach Smart, so…I’m going to be myself,” he said. “I’m not going to try to be anybody else, and it’ll have my distinct way of doing things.”
The team Wade inherited at Chattanooga was much different than VCU’s roster, and it forced him to adapt. Whereas the Rams became known for their diamond and man-to-man full court presses, Wade found success at Chattanooga with a mixture of man-to-man and zone presses, as well as match-up zones, philosophies he says will follow him back to Richmond.
“[It’s] just another curveball that the team has to prepare for,” Wade said. “I always think if you just throw heat all the time, fastball, fastball, fastball, eventually they’re going to catch on and start popping them out, so you want to have some knuckles, some changeups, some different things you can do, and the 2-2-1 to the matchups has been that answer for us and we want to continue that here.”
Wade was 40-25 in two seasons at Chattanooga, including 22-10 last season. The Mocs were 24-40 the two previous seasons and hadn’t won 20 games in a single campaign since 2004-05.
At VCU, he’ll inherit a very different situation. The Rams have won at least 20 games in nine straight seasons and have recorded a winning record in 15 straight under four different head coaches.
That merits a different set of expectations.
“VCU Basketball stands at a very important point. We’ve validated our success. We continue to win. But I do think there’s a next level we can achieve. I really do,” said VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin. “I think there’s a level to achieve that we will be the best basketball program in America.”
It was a bold statement that drew a raucous response from the crowd, which seemed to approach Wednesday’s event like a pep rally. But Wade made it clear he won’t run from those lofty goals.
“[This job has] got everything you need to compete at the highest level nationally,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity. The program’s in a great place. One thing that’s made VCU great is everybody who’s come here has elevated the program and now it’s my job to continue that and I embrace that. The alternative is to be somewhere where they don’t want to win and don’t care about it and don’t want to win, and I’d rather be here.”
Whatever Wade’s Rams end up looking like – Chaos, Havoc, some combination of both – he knows he’s walking into a good situation.
“Some of the faces are different, but the nuts and bolts of the program are the same. It’s my job to retool a few things and put my personality on a few things and continue with the same base that we have. Nothing’s broken,” he said. “It’s like being handed the keys to a Ferrari. You’ve just got to put the pedal to the metal and drive it fast.”