VCU BASEBALL SIGNS GRAYSON DUTTON

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On Monday, the VCU Baseball team announced the signing of 4-year-old Grayson Dutton, who has rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Grayson has endured rounds and rounds of treatment, not to mention surgery. When he’s feeling well, he’s been a fixture around the VCU Baseball team this year.

VCU ALUM NAMED MVP AFTER BANANAS EUROCHALLENGE BUZZER-BEATER

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Former Ram Jamal Shuler, a fan-favorite for VCU from 2004-08 has carved out a nice professional career for himself overseas, with stops in France, Germany and Ukraine. This weekend, he picked up some nice hardware when his current team, Nanterre of France’s ProA league, won the EuroChallenge (it’s complicated, but it’s essentially the No. 3 championship tournament in Europe) on this crazy buzzer-beater. Shuler is No. 1 in green in this video.

That replay is a little inconclusive, but this angle appears a little more definitive.

To boot, Shuler was named MVP of the EuroChallenge Final Four after he averaged 14.0 points and 4.5 assists. Nanterre wins a promotion to the EuroCup next year.

An All-CAA First Team selection in 2008, Jamal Shuler scored 1,011 points as a Ram and ranks 11th in school history with 170 three-pointers.

An All-CAA First Team selection in 2008, Jamal Shuler scored 1,011 points as a Ram and ranks 11th in school history with 170 three-pointers.

Crazy as that was, it’s still not the nuttiest buzzer-beater Shuler’s been party to during his European career. Check out the absurd winner Shuler hit in 2011 with Vichy.

PERFECT PITCH: VCU HURLERS HAVE RAMS IN CONTENTION

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Closer Daniel Concepcion (2.03 ERA, 8 saves) is one of a number of VCU pitchers enjoying career seasons.

Closer Daniel Concepcion (2.03 ERA, 8 saves) is one of a number of VCU pitchers enjoying career seasons.

RICHMOND, Va. – The VCU Baseball team is loaded with pitching talent, and that includes the dugout.

Head Coach Shawn Stiffler and first-year Pitching Coach Steve Hay, longtime friends and former high school teammates, were both accomplished pitchers in college at George Mason and Webber International, respectively. Stiffler served as a pitching coach at Mason and VCU for the better part of a decade before assuming taking over as Rams head coach in 2012. Hay succeeded Stiffler as George Mason pitching coach and produced eight productive seasons for the Patriots. Combined, Stiffler and Hay boast nearly a quarter-century of experience mentoring college pitchers.

It should come as no surprise that as VCU (24-16, 7-5 A-10) readies for a pivotal series with league rival Rhode Island this weekend, the Rams lead the Atlantic 10 Conference and rank in the top 30 nationally in both ERA (2.93) and strikeouts (338).

Stiffler’s teams have generally pitched well, but Hay’s influence appears to be having an impact this season. Senior left-hander Matt Lees, who pitched hurt and saw his ERA balloon to 5.45 last season, has allowed one earned run in 38 innings this year (0.24 ERA). During the fall, Lees and Hay worked to find a more comfortable arm slot for the senior lefty. The result of those labors has been one of the best seasons by a VCU reliever in recent memory.

Senior starters JoJo Howie (4-4, 3.06 ERA) and Heath Dwyer (5-2, 3.32 ERA) have been their usual, outstanding selves, while hurlers like senior closer Daniel Concepcion (2-2, 8 saves, 2.03 ERA) and classmate Tyler Buckley (2-0, 1.71 ERA) – who threw just 5 2/3 innings last season – have really hit their stride this year.

Earlier this week, VCU limited Maryland, the Big Ten’s highest scoring team, to just two runs in back-to-back wins over the 21st-ranked Terrapins.

“It’s all to their credit,” Hay says of VCU’s staff. “They’re good. It’s recruiting. They recruited good guys for me to walk into. They’ve obviously coached them up for three years.”

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OF BLOCKS AND BOOKS…

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Mo Alie-Cox averaged 7.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and and 1.9 blocks per game in 2014-15. He will receive his bachelors degree in May.

Mo Alie-Cox averaged 7.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and and 1.9 blocks per game in 2014-15. He will receive his bachelors degree in May.

Editor’s note: This feature ran in the winter edition of the Ram Report. You can find the link to the full article below. 

Mo Alie-Cox is only a redshirt sophomore, but it can be said with some certainty that the best comeback of his VCU career won’t come on the basketball court. No, the rally he’s led in the classroom has been much better.

Once ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA, Alie-Cox was forced to sit out his entire freshman year. This summer, he’ll earn his bachelor’s degree from VCU in just 3 ½ years. Alie-Cox, who has quickly become a shot-blocking maven and fan favorite, also has two years of athletic eligibility remaining, and he’s exploring the possibility of using that time two earn not one, but two master’s degrees, one in criminal justice and the other potentially in coaching. It’s a remarkable success story for a student-athlete whose VCU career was marked by an early false start.

A conversation with Alie-Cox will reveal many things and sharply dismiss a number of misconceptions. A chiseled, 6-foot-6 giant with long, floppy dreadlocks, Alie-Cox is an imposing, physical presence on the basketball court. Off the floor, he is affable and unassuming. Unfailingly polite and matter-of-fact about his business, he’s as low-maintenance as they come. Despite his early academic misstep, it’s abundantly clear that he’s bright and articulate.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE

FROM SMART TO WADE: INSIDE THE VCU MEN’S BASKETBALL COACHING SEARCH

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Ed McLaughlin (left) introduces VCU Head Coach April 8 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Ed McLaughlin (left) introduces VCU Head Coach Will Wade April 8 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Thursday, April 2
The call from Richmond reached Ed McLaughlin’s cell phone at Mo’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis at 10:28 p.m. McLaughlin, in Indianapolis for the Final Four, was expecting the call, but the message was still a mystery. He was either going to enjoy a nice evening with colleagues or a long night of planning for the biggest decision of his professional career.

He was out the door within five minutes.

On the other end of line was VCU Men’s Basketball Coach Shaka Smart, who informed McLaughlin that he’d decided to accept the same position at Texas. Smart had just told his team of his plans and would be in Austin by the following day.

Despite the emotional demonstrations in Richmond, where fans gathered outside the Siegel Center in an attempt to convince Smart to stay, McLaughlin’s conversation with his now-former coach was businesslike.

“I congratulated him and said, ‘good for you’, and we talked about some logistical things,” McLaughlin said.

It was a quiet end to a week of rampant speculation in the media, a week where guesswork outpaced actual work. McLaughlin knew better. The real action lay ahead, not behind.

McLaughlin began organizing for what promised to be one of the busiest weekends of his life. Back in Richmond, Executive Associate Athletic Director Glenn Hofmann started calling VCU donors to inform them personally of the news. Meanwhile, Deputy A.D. Jon Palumbo, essentially in standby mode as Smart weighed his options, prepared to fly to Indianapolis to help McLaughlin conduct interviews.

The search to replace Smart, the most successful coach in VCU history, would begin the next morning in earnest.

While there was little certainty about Smart’s decision until late Thursday, McLaughlin and his staff had been preparing for this contingency for days, and in some ways, years.

‘The plan was in place,” McLaughlin said.

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LEARNING WILL WADE – MEDIA ROUNDUP

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New VCU Men's Basketball Coach made the rounds in a whirlwind 24 hours.

New VCU Men’s Basketball Coach made the rounds in a whirlwind 24 hours.

It was a whirlwind first day for new VCU Head Men’s Basketball Coach Will Wade. He completed the media car wash that included a throng at his press conference, then his own coaches show, plus in-studio appearances at other locations. He was truly a man about town. What did we learn on day one? Well, I listened to a bunch of his interviews in case you didn’t have the time. Some nuggets.

  • He’s obviously happy to be back. “One thing that happens when you leave here, you appreciate it more. You take for granted when you’re here sometimes the sellouts, how fanatical the fan base is. All those people at the press conference yesterday, half our road games in the Southern Conference didn’t have that many people at them.”
  • Wade originally hoped to become a world geography teacher and was once a substitute teacher.
  • One of his favorite memories from his first VCU stint was beating Drexel in the 2012 CAA Championship, one year after the Rams reached the Final Four with a senior-laden team. “I thought that really jump started the program in terms of consistency. That season we started out….we were on the bus on the way back from Charleston. I told one of the assistants on the bus, we’re going to be lucky to win 20 games with this crew.”
  • On keeping Havoc: “I think it gives us a national brand. When people think of VCU Basketball, they think of Havoc.”
  • He had plans to meet with incoming recruit Kenny Williams on Thursday.
  • His coaching staff will take shape quickly. If Wes Long, one of his assistants at Chattanooga, doesn’t get that school’s head job, he’ll join Wade in Richmond. Long, like Wade, is a Clemson grad. He served five seasons as head coach at Queens University in Charlotte.
  • In addition, Wade on plans on bringing a math student from Chattanooga that handled much of the team’s analytic data, likely as a graduate assistant.
  • He loves the food in Richmond. It sounds like Comfort is his favorite restaurant. Good choice.

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WADE’S WILL: A LITTLE CHAOS, A LITTLE HAVOC

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Will Wade was 40-25 in two seasons as head coach at Chattanooga.

Will Wade was 40-25 in two seasons as head coach at Chattanooga.

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.

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WILL WADE PRESSER HIGHLIGHTS

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Will Wade was introduced as the 11th coach in VCU Basketball history Wednesday.

Will Wade was introduced as the 11th coach in VCU Basketball history Wednesday.

Say hello to the 11th coach in VCU Men’s Basketball history, Will Wade. Great turnout at the Siegel Center today for Wade’s introductory press conference. There were somewhere around 1,200 in attendance, and it was more of a celebratory atmosphere than anything else. But that’s what we’ve come to expect out of this fan base. A great day for VCU Basketball.

Check out some highlights from today’s presser, plus thoughts from Melvin Johnson and Jarred Guest.

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Edit: The full press conference is now available as well.

TOTAL COMMITMENT: WILL WADE (REPOST)

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Will Wade, a VCU assistant from 2009-2013, will be introduced as the 11th head coach in Rams history Wednesday.

Will Wade, a VCU assistant from 2009-2013, will be introduced as the 11th head coach in Rams history Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: This feature on Will Wade originally ran in April of 2009. Wade was named VCU head coach Tuesday. 

Distance from Boston to Richmond: 555 miles.

Approximate cost of one-way flight on Jet Blue: $200.

Time to pack: Five hours.

Chance to work with Shaka Smart at VCU: Priceless.

On April 1, the day before his introductory press conference, Shaka Smart gave Will Wade, an assistant coach at Harvard, the opportunity to join his staff at VCU. Wade didn’t need long to think it over.

“He called me around noon and said, ‘It’s done’, and I was on an 8:40 flight that evening,” Wade said. “I think I landed about 11 p.m., and then we met until 3 a.m.”

It wasn’t completely a blind leap of faith. The 26-year-old Wade and Smart had known each other for years. Although they had met previously, Smart and Wade forged a close friendship during the 2006-07 season at Clemson. That year, Smart was serving as an assistant coach, while Wade was the director of operations on Oliver Purnell’s staff.

“We hit it off,” Wade said. “We were both very involved with our players, so our paths just crossed a lot. We have a lot of the same core beliefs and many of the same ways of doing things.”

For Smart, the decision to make Wade his first hire at VCU was a no-brainer.

“There’s that saying, ‘don’t work harder, work smarter.’ Well, Will works harder and smarter,” Smart said. “He struck me as the hardest working guy I knew. His attention to detail is second to none, and he’s really good at developing relationships. I knew that Will was someone we had to have on staff here.”

During their days at Clemson and in the years since, Wade and Smart would occasionally kick around the idea of working together again if one of them secured a head coaching job.

“We’d joke about stuff like that, but I don’t think we’d ever take it seriously,” said Wade. “This is a crazy business. You never know what’s going to happen down the line. But we had a mutual respect for what each other did.”

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A LASTING IMPRESSION

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Shaka Smart won 163 games and led VCU to the 2011 Final Four, but his tenure was about much more than wins and losses.

Shaka Smart won 163 games and led VCU to the 2011 Final Four, but his tenure was about much more than wins and losses.

“Who the hell is Shaka Smart?” I asked.

This was back in the wild days of 2009, when we talked about basketball in “94 feet, both ways” terms and Eric Maynor’s Duke Dagger was still freshly firing through our synapses.

I was conversing with Jeremy Shyatt, VCU’s then-director of basketball operations. Chaka? Shaky? Shaka Smart? Never heard of him. I wasn’t the only one. This was the heir apparent, some 32-year-old Florida assistant with a funny name? Shyatt assured me that this surprise hire – and it was a surprise – was a good one. His father, Larry Shyatt, worked alongside Smart at Florida.

“Shaka’s awesome,” he declared with nary a tinge of doubt.

When there’s a coaching search going on, a parade of names is trotted out, everybody from the high-major retreads to the hotshot recruiters. I hadn’t heard this Shaky Smart dude’s name all week, and it felt like a leap of faith. Was then-Athletic Director Norwood Teague trying to outthink the room?

We were riding pretty high on the hog those days. Three NCAA bids in six years? There was a feeling in the hallways that we’d arrived as a program. The man at the top, Anthony Grant, didn’t just resemble a statue. People were actually ready to build one of him outside the Siegel Center. How much better could we expect to do? We were mid-major darlings, and we were pretty darn happy about it.

It’s not like Smart immediately inspired confidence from afar. This is why your mother lectures you about reading books by their covers, that sort of thing. Grant looked like he’d been genetically engineered. Intense, laconic, sonorous, 6-foot-5 and sculpted from stone, he commanded attention. You could’ve mistaken Smart for the UPS guy. I just hoped he could keep VCU near the top of the CAA.

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