PROGRESS REPORT: VCU BASKETBALL DEVELOPMENT CENTER

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We recently had an opportunity to check on the progress of the VCU Basketball Development Center (yes, we’re trending away from “practice facility”). Have a look around.

CATCHING UP WITH VCU GLOBETROTTER AND OLYMPIAN QUANITRA HOLLINGSWORTH

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Quanitra Hollingsworth, who starred for VCU from 2005-2009, is averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 rebounds for the the WNBA's Seattle Storm this season.

Quanitra Hollingsworth, who starred for VCU from 2005-2009, is averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 rebounds for the the WNBA’s Seattle Storm this season.

VCU made waves in 2004 when it signed an unknown 15-year-old from Chesapeake, Virginia named Quanitra Hollingsworth. The 6-foot-5 center, who skipped two grades in middle school, made her debut for the Rams a year later as the nation’s youngest player. She became more than a fascination. Hollingsworth led VCU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009 and became the No. 9 overall pick of that year’s WNBA Draft. Her jersey is one of three retired by VCU. She’s won championships in Europe and played in the 2012 Olympics in London for Turkey. Hollingsworth is still just 26 years old.

This summer, following a one-year WNBA hiatus to fulfill commitments to the Turkish National Team, Hollingsworth returned to the WNBA with the Seattle Storm. She’s averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 rebounds off the bench for the Storm this season, but Hollingsworth, who is fascinated by computers and cuisine, has always been about more than basketball.

We recently caught up with the 2009 VCU graduate.

CK: How’s it feel to be back in the WNBA?
QH: It’s good. I obviously haven’t played back at home in quite a few years, and to just be able to play in front of so many of my friends and family, it’s good because it’s definitely not something you get overseas.

CK: How does the game overseas compare with the WNBA?
QH: Over there game a little slower and more structured, probably less athletic with more shooters more fundamentals. Over here it’s more athletic. Everyone is the best of the best. Sometimes overseas you meet a team or some players that aren’t on the same level.

CK: There’s good money to be made overseas, compared to what most WNBA players make. I’m assuming coming back wasn’t really a question of economics.
QH: For me, I simply wanted to be back in America this summer. I play against most of these players overseas, so I can’t say I was missing the competition, but to be back home is important to me.

CK: How is Seattle treating you?
QH: I’m actually enjoying it. The only thing I was concerned about was the weather, but the weather has been beautiful.

CK: Between your Turkish National Team commitments, the WNBA and European ball, do you ever take a break?
QH: There’s no such thing as an offseason unless you decide not to play. I think as long as you’re taking care of your body, you’re fine. Mentally, it doesn’t get as exhausting as people expect because if you love this, it’s not going to be as draining.

CK: You played for Turkey in the 2012 Olympics. How would you characterize that experience?
QH: In some ways it was overwhelming, but it was like I was dreaming. You’re in the same place with all of the best athletes from every sport in the world. Even some of the best players never make it to the Olympics.

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PEGRAM REALIZES VCU, DIVISION I DREAM

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Sophomore guard Ashley Pegram is VCU's third-leading scorer at 9.3 points per game.

Sophomore guard Ashley Pegram is VCU’s third-leading scorer at 9.3 points per game.

RICHMOND, Va. – You can tell how badly Richmond native Ashley Pegram wanted to play at VCU by the way she talks about it. A smile advances on her face as the soft-spoken sophomore describes the experience in glowing terms. It’s almost emotional.

You can tell how badly Pegram wanted to be a Ram the way she talks about the time it almost didn’t happen. During her sole, outstanding season at Chesapeake Junior College in Maryland, Pegram caught the attention of then-VCU Head Coach Marlene Stollings. It seemed like a perfect fit. But after the season, Stollings, the Rams’ fiery second-year coach, accepted a job at Minnesota. In the wake of Stollings’ departure, Pegram became uneasy as she contemplated her future.

“That really discouraged me,” she said. “Right when I signed, I found out they were leaving.”

It didn’t matter that Pegram had recently finished a season in which she averaged better than 23 points per game and was named a Junior College All-American. There was uncertainty. Beth O’Boyle was hired to replace Stollings. Pegram wanted to be at VCU, but would O’Boyle reciprocate?

“When she called, it was a relief to know that they were still going to try to recruit me,” Pegram said.

When O’Boyle assured Pegram she’d have a place on VCU’s roster, the former prep star was overcome with joy. It was where she wanted to be all along.

“It was one of the best feelings of my life,” Pegram said. “I just felt like my dream came true. I was so excited.”

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THORPE ICES DAVIDSON

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Check out VCU sophomore Isis Thorpe’s buzzer-beater at Davidson from Wednesday night. With the game tied at 63-all, VCU inbounded from underneath its own basket with 2.5 seconds left. Inbounder Chadarryl Clay spies Thorpe over the top and the Pennsylvania native catches and fires the winner. VCU improved to 16-12 with the win, while Thorpe continues to enjoy a terrific sophomore season. She led VCU with 16 points last night.

A BRAND NEW ADAEZE

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Junior Adaeze Alaeze is enjoying a breakout season for the VCU Women's Basketball team.

Junior Adaeze Alaeze is enjoying a breakout season for the VCU Women’s Basketball team.

By Chris Cullum

Coming into this season, VCU’s women’s basketball team was looking at what could only be described as a fresh start. Five players, who had accounted for nearly half of the scoring last year, were departing the program, leaving this year’s squad with just two upperclassmen. A whole new coaching staff was introduced. Growing pains were sure to follow.

Enter Adaeze Alaeze. The junior from Baltimore has seen a spike in her numbers this season as one of the elder statesmen of the squad. This year she’s playing over 10 minutes per game more than she did last season, and her scoring and rebounding numbers have nearly doubled.

The heavier workload was something Alaeze expected to see this season, acknowledging that with a young team, everyone had to step up in different ways. Also, with a new coaching staff came clean slates, and it’s clear that she’s made the most out of the situation.

“I think Coach would agree that most of the time I lead by example,” she said. “In practice I’m always going hard. It was kind of a given to set an example, since it’s my third year here.”

Early in the season, with the Rams in the midst of a six-game road trip, those growing pains made an appearance. However, despite a 2-4 record on the trip, VCU (14-9, 5-5 A-10) rattled off eight wins in its next 10 games. It could be an arbitrary end point, or it could have signified the point when a new coaching staff and a young roster found its groove. Alaeze sits squarely in the latter camp.

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WOMEN’S HOOPS DOWNS GEORGE MASON (VIDEO)

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Isis Thorpe dropped 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Wednesday as the VCU Women’s Basketball team improved to 14-7 overall and 5-3 in the Atlantic 10. The Rams are right in the mix.

PERFECT CHEMISTRY: CLAY FINDS A HOME AT VCU

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Sophomore Chadarryl Clay is averaging 4.7 points and 2.1 assists per game this season for the 10-5 Rams.

By Nathan Heintschel

After transferring colleges, experiencing three coaching changes and living in three different states the last two years, static is not a word to describe VCU redshirt-sophomore guard Chadarryl Clay’s college career.

She’s experienced a career’s worth of adversity, but through it all, Clay has been able to maintain her focus on the court and in the classroom.

The daughter of Ardarryl and Naketa Clay, Clay grew up with her siblings Ardarryl Jr. and Aniyah in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Chadarryl’s father sparked her interest in basketball when she was four years old. Her love for basketball grew each year when her dad would shuttle her to “And 1” tour exhibition games in Chattanooga. She says she admired Allen Iverson growing up because his game resembled those in the “And 1” exhibitions. Clay says she modeled her game after Iverson, and Jason Kidd inspired her to choose the No. 5 for her jersey.

Clay attended Girls Preparatory School beginning in sixth grade. She developed the skills to balance school and athletics early. Her parents stressed grades before basketball, and while she could get away with a couple B’s on her report cards, she needed to earn A’s to continue playing basketball.

It was in high school that Clay developed a love for numbers and the sciences. She excelled in chemistry early, and following an internship at a pharmacy, Clay decided she’d found her career path.

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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: WOMEN’S HOOPS TOPS UT-PAN AMERICAN, IMPROVES TO 7-4

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Sophomore Isis Thorpe led four Rams in double figures with 14 points as VCU Women’s Basketball topped Texas-Pan American 64-43. The Rams are 7-4.

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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