By Brett Bosley
VCU Men’s Basketball welcomed back one of their own to the program this offseason, when the Rams added former standout Darius Theus to the coaching staff as Director of Student-Athlete Development. Although Theus had other career aspirations at the time, the opportunity at VCU convinced him to return to his roots.
“I was excited, just to come back and work with the guys was obviously a little tough because I was still in the process of trying to continue to play, but things didn’t work out the way I wanted to,” said Theus. “So when [Coach Will Wade] offered me the position, I took some time to think about it, but was really excited because I knew could come here and help these guys out.”
Theus spoke on his personal relationship with Coach Wade, which he admits was “shaky” at first when he came in as a freshman in 2009. However, as Theus grew as a player and a person in the program, he finally saw what Wade was all about.
“My junior year is when he really took me under his wing and we became real close and then from there we kind of took off. I think the start of my junior year we started to build a good relationship and he showed me that he genuinely cared about me and that’s how he treats all those guys. For me it was something special when we took time to connect with each other.”
From there, the duo clicked. Their relationship would eventually yield not just a solid basketball player, but a promising coach as well. In addition to helping shape VCU’s players off the court, he believes his experiences can benefit the Rams’ talented guards on the court.
“I played for Coach Wade, and he was helping me the most my junior and senior year, and I think what he taught me, he is trying to show Johnny [Williams], JeQuan [Lewis], Torey [Burston], and I think I’m the best person to help because I know what he wants from his point guards. I’d be the best person for advice about what he wants out of them. It’d be easier coming from me because I did it, and I went through everything, so I think it’s not the easiest part, because those guys are who they are and you can’t change who they are but I can give them certain ideas and advice that will help them.”
Theus, who averaged 6.9 points and handed out 169 assists, while shooting 46 percent from the field as a senior, described himself as “tough” when talking about his game on the hardwood. But when referring to himself as a coach, it became a little harder for him to describe.
“I’ve been around a lot of great coaches so I can’t even describe that in one word. I feel I have a little bit of Shaka Smart in me, also a bit of Will Wade in me; Also a little bit of [former assistant coach] Mike Rhoades in me. I’ve been around a lot of great coaches, but I think for me I just want to be that coach that my players will know that first thing is first to become a better man. When you leave here you become a better man. I think that will take care of the basketball part, and I learned that from the coaches I had when I played and I think that’s the type of coach I’m going to be. I want to turn my players into men first, then basketball players. That’s how I want to be when people talk about me as a coach. That I genuinely care about my guys.”
Theus’ position was created for exactly that reason, to guide VCU’s student-athletes and help them become well-rounded people. His approach of taking the extra step has been beneficial, as Theus believes it allows him to better assess the needs of the individual student-athletes. For Theus, individual development boils down to a series of questions. “Are they willing to be coached? How do they take criticism? How hard do they want to work? Does the coaching staff have to beg you to come to the gym or do you want to come to the gym?”
You can learn a lot about a student-athlete from a few questions, Theus says.
“That lets you know right there how bad you really want it,” he said. “When you leave here, no one is doing it for you. My job in student-athlete development is to develop these guys and prepare them for this idea that when you leave here there is no one is setting a time for you to work out, no one is setting a time for you to get up and come to the gym. They have all that laid out for them right now. I think my job is to develop them for their off-the-court habits and that will help them on the court.”
It’s not an easy job for college coaches to convince student-athletes to join their programs. Each program needs a selling point. In that respect, VCU is well-positioned. The Rams have reached six straight NCAA Tournaments and opened a state-of-the-art $25 million Basketball Development Center in October of 2015. Although Theus wasn’t able to utlize the Basketball Development Center as a player, he’s excited about the possibilities the facility will provide the program in the coming years.
“It will help us a lot,” Theus said. “It will help us in recruiting, just how nice this place is; you could fall in love with it when you walk in the front door. It’s a beautiful place. I think the biggest thing would be helping us in recruiting. Other schools already have this. You add this on top of how great Coach Wade is and how great the assistant coaches are and how great the staff is here, all of that comes together. Plus, this building makes things a little less stressful.”
With the season on the horizon, Theus is also excited about what this year’s roster can accomplish, with a significant senior class to lead the way. However, he sometimes finds himself at odds, learning how to be a coach above all.
“We have a great team and it might be the first group of guys I’ve been around that really wanted to be coached. They all listen to the plays and the process that Coach Wade has and they all try their best. They might not get it right away but they all try their best. For me it’s trying to find the difference between coaching and since I played with the seniors, knowing when to be the coach and not getting it mixed up since some of the guys are my brothers. That’s probably the hardest part transition-wise.”
All in all, Theus is ready to go and excited to be back in Richmond and on the bench for the Rams. Describing what it means to him, he could only think of one word: Everything.
“In 2009 when I came here, it was one of the best things that could happen to my life,” he said. “Now in 2016 I’m back, and it’s again one of the best things that could happen to my life. It’s so great to be here. You meet a lot of great people, and people appreciate you. That means a lot to me when people appreciate you and you appreciate each other. VCU would go to war for you if you bring the right traits. I think I’ve done that because Coach Wade has brought me back on staff. Being here means the world to me. The way they treat my family means everything. This is home for me. It just feels great to be here I can’t even describe it.”