A HUNT FOR EXCELLENCE

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Dr. Eugene Hunt's association with VCU and RPI spanned seven decades.

Dr. Eugene Hunt’s association with VCU and RPI spanned seven decades.

This year, even as his health betrayed him, Dr. Gene Hunt was a presence at VCU games. Hunt filled his 81 years to the brim with life, love and memories through lasting friendships, far-flung travels and rich experiences, and he wasn’t going to let an act as trivial as changing an oxygen tank at halftime stop him.

Hunt, an ardent but gentle presence in the VCU community for five decades (and RPI before that) was laid to rest last week. Since its inception in 1968, there has been no greater champion of VCU than Hunt.

Rare were the times when Dr. Hunt wasn’t draped in black and gold, wearing an impossibly warm grin, his kind features framed by his white Abraham Lincoln beard, with his lovely wife Honey by his side.

There were times I felt like I saw Gene and Honey more than my wife, because they were everywhere. They attended volleyball matches, men’s basketball games, women’s basketball games – it didn’t matter. They drove to road games even as they approached their 80s. When they couldn’t drive themselves anymore, someone else gladly would.

I was in my first year at VCU in 2005 when I met the Hunts for the first time at the Jeff Capel Coaches Show. It was a VCU event on a day ending in ‘Y’, so naturally they wouldn’t miss it. My wife and I talked with the ever-approachable couple and were struck by their inviting personalities and buoyant enthusiasm. After more than 50 years together, they still doted on one another. Recently married, we marveled at them.

“They were a package deal,” said Gordon McDougall, VCU Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations. “If you’re in a relationship, you hope that when you’re at that stage of your life you have the love and respect for each other that they did.”

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VIDEO: RAMS TOP NORTH CAROLINA A&T, WIN FIFTH STRAIGHT

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Ashley Pegram scored 19 points and Isis Thorpe added 18 as the VCU Women’s Basketball team capped its non-conference schedule with a 60-51 win over North Carolina A&T Tuesday. The Rams have won five in a row and are 9-4 overall. VCU heads to Saint Joseph’s on Saturday, Jan. 3 to open Atlantic 10 Conference play.

THORPE FINDS COMFORT, JUMPER IN WIN OVER HIGH POINT

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Sophomore Isis Thorpe scored a season-high 22 points in VCU's 81-59 win over High Point Thursday.

Sophomore Isis Thorpe scored a season-high 22 points in VCU’s 81-59 win over High Point Thursday.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s a new year with a new coach and a new system, but Isis Thorpe started to look like her old self in Thursday’s 81-59 win over High Point.

Thorpe, a slick-shooting sophomore guard, scored a season-high 22 points to lead the Rams (6-4). It was her fifth career 20-point performance. Thorpe knocked down 8-of-12 from the field, including a season-best 5-of-7 from 3-point range.

It was a return to form of sorts for Thorpe, who knocked down a team-best 74 threes as a freshman and averaged 12.3 points per game, but shot just 25 percent (19-of-75) from 3-point range in her final 11 games. She came into Thursday’s game averaging 9.1 points while shooting 33 percent (10-of-30) from beyond the arc.

Thorpe stroked her first three triples of the contest and mixed in timely pump-fakes and dribble drives on the way to her best scoring output in 33 games.

“It’s about time I started hitting some shots, so that felt really good today,” she said. “It was just a great win for all of us as a team. We finally got to a point where we’re up with a lead and twisted the knife instead of letting them come back, so that was really great game that we had today.”

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LEAN, MEAN BRASS-PLAYING MACHINES

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Did you wake up this morning and wonder what the baddest band in the land, the VCU Peppas, were up to lately? Yeah, me too.

Well, while we’ve been attached to our sofas, watching one of the seven NCIS programs on TV, plowing through bags of Cheetos, The Peppas have been training like Rocky Balboa. Sidebar: I hope they trained with “Hearts on Fire” playing in the background. Anyway, The Peppas will be taking over the Earth soon.

THE PEPPAS: ALL ABOUT THAT HAKA

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Hanover native Kayen Wilborn leads The Peppas through a traditional Maori haka Sunday at the Black and Gold Scrimmage.

Hanover native Kayen Wilborn leads The Peppas through a traditional Maori haka Sunday at the Black and Gold Scrimmage.

The VCU Basketball season hasn’t even started yet, but the school’s pep band, The Peppas, appear to be in midseason form.

Over the years, the band has used any number of tactics to distract opponents and whip VCU fans into a frenzied state, from riding (and playing) around Manhattan on a double-decker bus, to ripping through a non-traditional set list with unusual flair.

On Sunday, Oct. 26 at the annual VCU Basketball Black and Gold Scrimmage, The Peppas raised the bar with a thunderous rendition of a traditional New Zealand Maori haka. As of this writing, a video of the performance had caught the eye of several national media outlets and had been viewed nearly 23,000 times on YouTube. For a photo gallery of the performance, check out VCUSports.com.

The first haka, Ka Mate, Ka Mate, was composed in the late 19th century by Te Rauparaha, a chief of the Ngāti Toa Rangatira tribe. Hakas were originally performed by the Maori people in preparation for a challenge or battle, but in recent years it has been used at welcome celebrations, before athletic contests and a variety of other special events. New Zealand athletic teams popularized the performance of hakas prior to sporting events shortly after its introduction into the culture. New Zealand’s “All Blacks” rugby team has been the most visible of these, and the country’s national basketball team nabbed headlines this past summer for their performance during the FIBA World Championships.

According to VCU Pep Band Director Ryan Kopacsi, The Peppas will be performing a war haka called Peruperu (a dance with weapons), which is marked by fierce facial expressions and percussive movements, and has been used throughout its history to intimidate the opposition. It is considered a bad omen if a haka is not performed in unison.

“I was searching for intense things for us to do a few years ago and I was watching tons of videos. I was writing down ideas. Someone sent me a video of the All Blacks doing it. I was floored and couldn’t stop watching video after video. From there it was all about right place right time. The right place is here and the right time is now,” Kopacsi said earlier this week via email.

Also, according to the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Bill, passed the New Zealand’s Parliament in 2014, Kopacsi asked to include the following statement:

Te Rauparaha was the composer of Ka Mate and a chief of Ngāti Toa Rangatira. We accept the honor to perform this declaration.

In case you missed it, or if you just wanted to watch again, here’s Sunday’s performance:

 

“…THIS FULLY OPERATIONAL SPACE STATION (SCOREBOARD)”

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The new Siegel Center scoreboard is up, and it’s glorious. Fans can have their first chance to see it up close Friday or Sunday at the VCU Volleyball team’s matches (the Rams are also home next weekend). You can also drop by the Black and Gold Game – VCU’s intrasquad men’s basketball scrimmage – on Oct. 26.

NEW LOGO IS A GO

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The new VCU logo has been chiseled into center court at the Siegel Center by the nocturnal leprechauns we keep around just for these types of jobs. Out with the old, in with the new. Meanwhile, the new corner suites should be nearing completion. Next up is the center-hung scoreboard.

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WE WERE MERELY FRESHMEN…AN OPEN LETTER

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Warning-FreshmanHey freshmen,

We’ve probably never met, but I hope you’ll soon recount to me how you learned to play the bassoon or that time you saved a gaggle of puppies from a burning building.

For lack of a better term, I’m the features writer here. For the last five years, I’ve been scribbling stories about student-athletes like you. I’ll happily write about how many goals you want to score this year, but I’d rather tell people why “Hannah Montana” inspired you practice your jump serve.

You’re more than a number on a field. That’s what I want people to know when I write about you, but more importantly, you should know it as well. I write because people are a collection of layers, not just a surface coat of athletic mastery.

I’ve never been a Division I student-athlete, unless we’re counting my MVP performance in the annual basketball game between Ohio University’s student TV station and school paper. It was my magnum opus, a display of shot-making and stunningly average defense I’ve failed to replicate in the years since. I could never hit a curveball…or much of anything else, for that matter, and my high school cross country career fizzled out in about the fourth grade.

So I’m not going to tell you how to split a double-team, unless it’s at the soft-serve ice cream machine. What I can tell you is what years of perspective have taught me, something you’d probably refer to as, “being old”.

You’ve got plenty of coaches to help you shine championship trophies. I just want to make sure the next four years are unforgettable. You’re all student-athletes, but a student-athlete is not all that you are. You’re going to do (if you’re doing it right) a lot of growing up while you’re here. Welcome it.

When I took this job at VCU, I told my wife we’d probably be here three years. This fall will mark my 10th year with this department. What began as a just a paycheck has become a life. I’m not saying you need to spent the rest of your life here, but for the next four years, embrace VCU and Richmond. I’ve been to a lot of places, and I can tell you that Richmond is a pretty cool town. See the city. Catch a show at The National, eat somewhere other than the 10 chain restaurants on campus, spend a day at the river, whatever. Just go. There’s a whole city out there that doesn’t play college field hockey, and that’s okay. Go find it.

DISCLAIMER: Make sure you go to class and practice first.

Second, this town and this school love a winner, but they love class, dignity and grace even more. Work hard, keep your chin up and your eyes open, and you’re going to be fine, regardless of what the scoreboard says.

Third, more people than you can count are going to tell you that these are going to be the best four years of your life. They’re not wrong, but they’re not right, either. The next four years will be the best four years of your life, if you let them be. So will the four after that and the four after that. But these four years will be unique. For most of you, it’s your first time out on your own, and you get to learn how to become an adult around a bunch of people, your teammates, who know exactly what you’re going through. Lean on them, and listen to them when they need an ear.

Finally, my words are just a guidebook, suggestions, really. At a distance, my college career is a hilarious dustbin collection of earnest missteps, awkward moments and well-intentioned bad ideas. I’m thankful everyday that my college career predates social media. But I also (allegedly) learned a ton, made friends for a lifetime, met my future wife and found some direction.

I sincerely hope you win a bunch of championships while you’re here. That said, championships and victories on the field can shape your college experience, but they don’t have to define it. In four years, if you emerge with a degree, seasoned and ready for the next best four years of your life, then you’re doing it right. Good luck, and here’s to the next four years.

P.S.: If you make ice sculptures with chainsaws as a hobby, come see me immediately.

SUITE-NESS; UPGRADES PROGRESS AT SIEGEL CENTER

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Earlier this year, VCU announced it would add two suites in the south corners of the Stuart C. Siegel Center as part of an overall effort to enhance the arena. It’ll be a busy couple of months for “The Stu”. In addition to the suites, a new, centerhung scoreboard and sounds system will be installed, and the court will be repainted to reflect VCU’s (and the A-10’s) new branding marks.

WHAT’S YOUR 20? VCU BASKETBALL’S BEST AT EVERY NUMBER

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In basketball, we immortalize our heroes by hoisting their jerseys into the rafters. Often, we “retire” numbers, deciding that no other player is worthy to be identified by that set of numerals. It’s how we remember our favorites, and is one of the simplest ways kids can emulate their heroes. So it’s no wonder VCU fans approach the announcement of something as benign as jersey numbers with a level of excitement my wife reserves for the new season of “Scandal”. So when we released the new jersey numbers of VCU’s highly rated freshman class, it led me down the rabbit hole to questions like, “Who is the best No. 31 in VCU Basketball history?

So here we are. My ground rules were simple. First, I didn’t pick any current players. Yes, Briante Weber and Treveon Graham (and others, perhaps) certainly have arguments, but I’d like to see the entire arc of their careers before I rank them among the greats. This list is subjective, and I’d like to have as much information as possible. Second, the player needs to have worn the number for a “significant” part of his career, unless no other option was available. Therefore, I didn’t spend time considering Juvonte Reddic at No. 5 and Rob Brandenberg at No. 23, since they only wore the numbers for one season.

Feel free to berate me in the comments section.

00-George Byrd (1994-97)
Before he conquered Slamball, George Byrd was a reliable post presence for VCU’s mid-90s squads. Byrd averaged 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks to help steer the Rams to a 1996 CAA Championship that ended an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought. Honorable mention: Johnnie Story

larry-sanders1-Larry Sanders (2007-10)
Although Bo Jones makes a compelling argument, the No. 1 No. 1 in VCU history is LAR-RY SAN-DERS, and not just because he resembles one. In addition to averaging nearly a double-double as a junior (14.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Sanders ranks fourth in school history in blocked shots. Also, his 17-point, 20-rebound, 7-block performance against George Mason in the 2009 CAA Championship Game should be preserved by the Smithsonian. Honorable mention: Bo Jones

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