HEY, THOSE GUYS LOOK FAMILIAR

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Former VCU star Lanto Griffin (-12) won the Delta Dental Virginia State Open this weekend.

Former VCU star Lanto Griffin (-12) won the Delta Dental Virginia State Open this weekend.

We’ve officially reached summer’s angry phase in Richmond. The heat index is a billion right now, and my lawn melting. Local weathermen and women are warning people with beards – there are a healthy number of bearded folks in this town – against spending time outdoors, due to the high risk of spontaneous beard brush fires.

But it’s not all bad. As I hunkered down inside and reclined on a couch I fashioned from blocks of ice, I was able to follow the exploits of a handful of VCU alums who killed it this weekend.

First and foremost, Lanto Griffin, a former CAA Golfer of the Year for the Rams, ran away with the Virginia State Open Championship by six strokes this weekend. For his efforts Griffin (-12), who turned pro after graduating from VCU in 2010, pockets $6,300. Griffin opened the tournament with back-to-back rounds of 66 and 68 and took a 5-stroke advantage into Saturday’s final round. Griffin briefly saw his lead cut to three strokes Saturday, but recovered to win going away.

Meanwhile, former VCU Soccer standout Nate Shiffman enjoyed possibly the best moment of his young pro career Sunday when he scored the Richmond Kickers’ lone goal in the 84th minute against West Bromwich Albion from the English Premier League. Shiffman’s strike briefly tied the match, but West Brom answered in the 88th minute to secure a 2-1 win.

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Treveon Graham. You’ve heard of him, right? The Rams’ great continues to plug away for the Spurs in NBA Summer League action in Las Vegas. Playing time in summer league games can be all over the map, and Graham’s burn is no exception, but he did pick up 20+plus minutes in back-to-back games this weekend. On Sunday, Graham pumped in 12 points and corralled five rebounds in a summer league semifinal victory over Atlanta.

Graham is still trying to find the range from NBA 3-point range (shooting 22 percent), but his other metrics this summer have been pretty good. He’s averaging 6.2 points and 2.8 boards and shooting 42 percent overall for the Spurs in nine contests. Graham and the Spurs will play in the Las Vegas Summer League Championship Game against Phoenix Monday at 9 p.m. on NBATV.

THE RAM REPORT IS OUT NOW!
The latest edition of the Ram Report is online now! Check out a feature on VCU Basketball Coach Will Wade, not to mention stories on Olivia Sutton, the first lacrosse player in VCU history, and baseball’s connection to Puerto Rico. READ HERE.

‘I WAS THE WORST ONE THERE’: FORMER VCU WALK-ON SIGNS FIRST PRO DEAL

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Janelle Sykes (left) prepares to sign a professional volleyball contract with Azeryol Baku earlier this month.

Janelle Sykes (left) prepares to sign a professional volleyball contract with Azeryol Baku earlier this month.

RICHMOND, Va. – The early days of Janelle Sykes’ foray into serious volleyball didn’t exactly foretell a bright future.

The Clifton, Virginia native largely muddled through three years of volleyball at Trinity Christian School, and when she finally found her way into the development-friendly club program at NVVA in Sterling, Virginia, she didn’t come bounding out of the blocks.

On the first day of practice with NVVA’s 17-1s club, the 6-foot-3 Sykes dislocated her thumb blocking a ball during a scrimmage, in large part, she says, due to poor fundamentals. She didn’t get near the game floor again for weeks as she worked almost exclusively on footwork.

Today, five years removed from her underwhelming club debut, Sykes can call herself a professional volleyball player. Two weeks ago, the 2015 VCU graduate signed a one-year contract (with an mutual second-year option) with Azeryol Baku of Azerbaijan’s Super League.

Azerbaijan, which is located on the Caspian Sea, east of Turkey, isn’t widely known in the United States, and even Sykes admitted she had to locate the country on a map, but the country’s Super League is well-regarded in Europe. Sykes will depart later this summer.

“Right now I’m pretty excited,” Sykes, a middle blocker, said. “I’m sure as it gets closer, I’ll be more anxious about it.”

Sykes’ transformation from an awkward gym-class plodder to a professional volleyball player in five years is remarkable. She was a walk-on during her first two years at VCU. This season, she was named First Team All-Atlantic 10 and First Team All-State. She ranks sixth in school history in blocks (345).

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RAMS GET HOT IN NBA SUMMER LEAGUES

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VCU alum Troy Daniels led Charlotte with 16 points and 14 rebounds Tuesday.

VCU alum Troy Daniels led Charlotte with 16 points and 14 rebounds Tuesday.

Two former VCU standouts tore it up in NBA Summer League action Tuesday. As if we had any doubt. You and I know what guys like Troy Daniels and Treveon Graham can do on the basketball court, but it’s nice for them to remind NBA eyeballs from time-t0-time.

Daniels and Graham are in very different situations. Daniels, who is open more often than 7-Eleven, has a guaranteed contract for this season and has a fairly secure roster spot. During Tuesday’s game with the Nets, Hornets’ GM Rich Cho said that Daniels would get minutes this season. Graham, on the other hand, is trying to channel his inner Troy Daniels by going from undrafted rookie to NBA veteran. He certainly helped himself Tuesday.

Daniels, who never averaged more than 3.3 rebounds per game in his VCU career, grabbed 14 caroms against the Nets in Orlando and scored 16 points in a 64-55 win. You might not have expected that, but you certainly counted on Daniels to light it up from 3-point land, and he did, knocking down 4-of-6 triples on the way to a 16-point effort.

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In three summer league games, Daniels is averaging a team-best 15.7 points, while shooting a robust 55 percent (11-of-20) from three. He’s also pulling down 7.7 rebounds per game, which is, if you don’t mind me saying, very Treveon Graham-like. Here’s Daniels’ postgame interview.

Just because, here’s a Troy Daniels highlight mix. Spoiler alert: copious amounts of 3-pointers.

Meanwhile, Graham, playing for the Spurs in the Utah Summer League, got busy Tuesday against the Jazz with 17 points in 21 minutes of burn. In two summer league games, Graham is averaging 10.5 points, while shooting 64 percent (7-of-11) from the field.

San Antonio already has a deep roster, especially with the additions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, but Graham certainly has the kind of attributes that seem to work in that organization. Right now, he’s trying to convince the Spurs that he either deserves a spot on the team as the third shooting guard behind Danny Green and Manu Ginobili (both established) or that he can hold his own as an undersized small forward amid a group that includes Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Anderson and Reggie Williams. Of that SF group, only Leonard is a lock. Marco Belinelli’s departure to Sacramento certainly opens the door a crack. Also, food for thought, this is probably Ginobili’s last season.

Graham and the Spurs will play again Thursday at 7 p.m. EST against the Celtics. That game will be broadcast on NBA TV.

 

 

TWO TALKS – MELVIN & WILL

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Melvin Johnson addresses the audience at his VCU Criminal Justice TED Talk earlier this year.

Melvin Johnson addresses the audience at his VCU Criminal Justice TED Talk earlier this year.

We have two videos to share today, both educational, but with very different lessons. The first, the most important is Melvin Johnson’s criminal justice TED Talk from earlier this year. It’s important to remind everybody sometimes there’s more to the guys on the basketball court than just basketball. I love seeing student-athletes take part in things like this, and applaud the VCU Criminal Justice Program – which is terrific, as far as I can tell – for challenging these men and women.

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Today’s second video is a little more straightforward. Mike Litos sits down with Will Wade to discuss next season’s rule changes. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing Wade talk about basketball.

WILL VEGAS SPUR GRAHAM TO NBA?

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CIb7jZCWoAA7wswTreveon Graham, the second-leading scorer in VCU Basketball history, is hoping to find a home in San Antonio, via Las Vegas.

Graham, who was not selected in Thursday’s NBA Draft, will play for the San Antonio Spurs NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas July 10-20. He hopes to follow a path to the similar to that of former Ram Troy Daniels, who was not drafted in 2013, but managed to garner the attention of teams while playing for Charlotte during the Las Vegas Summer League. Daniels, currently a member of the Charlotte Hornets, has also played for the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s unclear if Graham will also play in either the Orlando or Utah summer leagues, although it is not uncommon for a player to compete for multiple organizations during summer league season.

Below is the Spurs’ Vegas schedule, which strangely does not include the Carrot Top show at Luxor. But there’s still time. Meanwhile, NBATV will broadcast tons of summer league action again this year. The network has not published a schedule beyond July 11, but expect most, if not all, of Graham’s games with the Spurs to be broadcast.

UPDATE: Juvonte Reddic has announced he’ll play for the Brooklyn Nets’ summer league team in Las Vegas. I’ve updated the schedule with Brooklyn’s games. Reddic spent last season playing for two different teams in Italy.

UPDATE #2: I can’t update this post quickly enough. Bradford Burgess, who has been playing professionally in Belgium and Italy the last few years, as signed on to the Miami Heat’s summer team. He will play in both Orlando and Las Vegas.

The schedule below has been updated. Again.

VCU IN THE NBA SUMMER LEAGUE (All times listed as EST)

ORLANDO
Saturday, July 4
Miami vs. Indiana, 9 a.m. – NBATV

Sunday, July 5
Miami vs. Brooklyn, 5 p.m. – NBATV

Monday, July 6
Miami vs. Detroit, 5 p.m. – NBATV

Wednesday, July 8
Miami vs. L.A. Clippers, 5 p.m. NBATV

Friday, July 10
Championship

LAS VEGAS
Saturday, July 11
New York vs. San Antonio (Thomas & Mack Center), 4:30 p.m. – NBATV
Brooklyn vs. Cleveland (Cox Pavilion), 10 p.m.
Miami vs. Utah (Thomas & Mack Center), 10:30 p.m. – NBATV

Sunday, July 12
Milwaukee vs. San Antonio (Thomas & Mack Center), 6:30 p.m. – NBATV

Monday, July 13
New Orleans vs. Brooklyn (Thomas & Mack Center), 4:30 p.m.
Miami vs. Denver (Cox Pavilion), 8 p.m.

Tuesday, July 14
Portland vs. San Antonio (Cox Pavilion), 3 p.m.
Brooklyn vs. Chicago (Cox Pavilion), 5 p.m.
Miami vs. Boston (Cox Pavilion), 7 p.m.

July 15-20
Playoffs

FORMER RAMS STILL GET THEIR KICKS IN RICHMOND

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Matthew Delicate (center) is the leading scorer in both VCU and Richmond Kickers history. (Photo credit: James Loving)

Matthew Delicate (center) is the leading scorer in both VCU and Richmond Kickers history. (Photo credit: James Loving)

RICHMOND, Va. – On Wednesday, the Richmond Kickers will host the Columbus Crew in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the country’s oldest ongoing soccer competition. In all, 91 amateur and professional teams vie for the right to call themselves the best team in America.

The VCU Soccer program has long been intertwined with the USL’s Kickers, who began play in 1993. When the Kickers take the pitch Wednesday in search of an upset, VCU will certainly have a hand, or a foot, in the effort.

A number of former VCU stars have suited up for the Kickers over the years, including Andrew Dykstra as part of a loan agreement with D.C. United. Against Columbus on Wednesday, three former Rams, Matthew Delicate, Owusu Sekyere and Nathan Shiffman will wear Kickers red.

The Kickers represent something different to all three players, who find themselves at different junctures of their careers, but they all agree that the organization has allowed them to keep playing their beloved game, while finding a home in Richmond.

THE STAR
Matthew Delicate knows moments like Wednesday’s match aren’t unlimited. They are to be cherished. Events like the U.S. Open Cup and the opportunity to chase another USL Championship, like the one Richmond captured in 2009, keep him coming back.

“Once you get a taste of that, you want to continue that, and there’s a lot of guys that will go their whole career without winning things like that,” he said. “I don’t have many seasons left, so time is running out, and that’s why I want to bring another one back to Richmond. That would be nice.”

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CAP TIP TO BASEBALL & CATCHING UP WITH FORMER RAMS

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Lefty Heath Dwyer was 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA for VCU this season.

Lefty Heath Dwyer was 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA for VCU this season.

In case you missed it, VCU Baseball saw its season come to an end over the weekend after dropping a pair of games to No. 5 Miami in the NCAA Super Regionals. It was a heckuva ride, and we enjoyed every minute of it. The Rams went on a late-season tear – winning 13 straight games at one point – to win their first conference title since 2010 and reached the Super Regionals for the first time.

Looking ahead to next season, the Rams return nearly all of their starting lineup in the field, save starting shortstop Vimael Machin, who hit .339. The pitching staff, which posted an outstanding 2.92 ERA, will look completely different next season. Heath Dwyer, JoJo Howie, Matt Lees, Matt Blanchard, Daniel Concepcion, Tyler Buckley and Thomas Gill – seven of VCU’s most-used eight arms – all graduate. Look for right-hander Sean Thompson, who was outstanding as a freshman this year, to anchor that staff next season.

But your opportunity to cheer for some of those seniors may not be over. The 2015 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft begins tonight. The first and second rounds, plus compensation picks, will be held Monday beginning at 7 p.m. Although no Rams are expected to be called tonight, Tuesday’s action will include rounds 3-10, and Wednesday will include rounds 11-40. Hopefully a number of these guys will spend the rest of their summer playing Rookie ball somewhere.

ELSEWHERE…
Speaking of VCU Baseball players continuing their careers in the minors, keep your eye on former Ram Kyle Haynes. A 20th-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2012, Haynes, now a member of the Yankees’ system, is throwing very well at Double-A Trenton. As of this writing, he’s dealing to the tune of a 1.82 ERA in 18 appearances. Trenton will be visiting the Richmond Flying Squirrels at The Diamond June 23-26.

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BASEBALL NOTES: RAMS CONFIDENT FOR MIAMI; KEYES LINEAGE A PART OF VCU RUN

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VCU, which boasts the nation's 12th-best ERA, is set to face Miami, the country's highest-scoring offense, in Super Regional play.

VCU, which boasts the nation’s 12th-best ERA, is set to face Miami, the country’s highest-scoring offense, in Super Regional play.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU says it won’t be intimidated when the Rams meet storied Miami Friday in Coral Gables. It’s not for a lack of qualifications on Miami’s part. The Hurricanes (47-15) are the NCAA Tournament’s No. 5 overall seed and have reached the postseason 42 consecutive years.

But VCU, riding a wave of confidence, has won 14 of 15 games. The Rams are fresh off upsets, as the No. 4 seed, of top-seeded Dallas Baptist and Oregon State in the regional round. VCU players say they’re ready to keep the program’s historic run alive.

“Our confidence is as high as it’s been throughout the year,” says VCU third baseman Matt Davis. “We feel like we can compete against any team in the nation.”

The Hurricanes will certainly test that notion. In addition to hosting this weekend’s Super Regional at Mark Light Field, the Hurricanes boast an offense that includes David Thompson, who leads the nation in both home runs (19) and RBIs (85). As a team, the Hurricanes are scoring an NCAA-best 8.5 runs per game and rank fifth nationally in batting average (.314).

Miami’s offense will be an intriguing test for VCU’s dynamic pitching staff, which ranks 12th nationally in ERA (2.86).

“[Miami’s] reputation kind of does speak for itself. We know the numbers down there. We know they were a one-seed, hosting a regional,” says left-handed pitcher Heath Dwyer, who is 10-2 with 2.85 ERA. “But we’ve been an underdog through this whole NCAA Tournament. We beat the No. 1 seed [in our region] Dallas Baptist. We beat them twice, and we really feel like we can beat anybody, and we’re ready to play Miami. We’re not scared. We’re just as competitive of a team, and I think we’re ready to embrace the challenge.

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VIDEO: VCU BASEBALL SET FOR MIAMI SUPER REGIONAL

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The VCU Baseball team was back in town about 24 hours before embarking for Miami and the NCAA Super Regionals. But that was more than enough time for us to get them to talk in front of a camera.

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By now, VCU’s late-season resurgence is common knowledge. But how did the Rams, 26-22 at one point, rip off 14 wins in 15 games?

 

CASTOFF KERRIGAN FIGHTS FOR TOMORROW AT VCU

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Former Temple outfielder Jimmy Kerrigan is batting .290 with 22 RBIs for VCU this season.

Former Temple outfielder Jimmy Kerrigan is batting .290 with 22 RBIs for VCU this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – Jimmy Kerrigan is in a good place.

The chaotic terminals of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, cannot dampen the mood of the VCU outfielder. This time tomorrow, he’ll be in Miami, preparing for the Rams’ unprecedented NCAA Super Regional appearance.

“We’re confident as ever,” he coos in his South Philadelphia brogue.

The source of Kerrigan’s confidence is the aligned arc of his and VCU’s seasons, which have reached historic levels. As he’s found comfort as a Ram, so too has this team, which has won 14 of 15 games to capture both the Atlantic 10 Championship and an NCAA Regional for the first time.

Kerrigan certainly played his part in VCU’s stunning turnaround. The junior transfer is batting .290 this season with three home runs and 22 RBIs. He leads the team in on-base-percentage (.429) and has cemented himself as the team’s starting right fielder. He batted .417 (5-of-12) in four games to help spur VCU to the Dallas Regional crown.

A month ago, Kerrigan wondered if the Rams would even qualify for the A-10 Tournament before summoning a 13-game win streak. But that’s nothing compared to how Kerrigan felt last December, when a red balance sheet and a shift in philosophy killed the first Division I program to believe in him.

Kerrigan grew up within walking distance of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, a concrete sprawl that hugs Route 95 and serves as home to the city’s holy quartet of professional teams, the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers.

Although a hard-nosed standout for Neumann-Goretti High School, Kerrigan was lightly recruited. When new Temple Head Coach Ryan Wheeler dangled a scholarship, Kerrigan’s only Division I offer, he was happy to accept. A home-cooked meal was only 20 minutes from campus.

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