A SMART MENTOR, BROWN AN OPPONENT VCU FANS CAN CHEER FOR

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Shaka Smart with California (Pa.) Head Coach Bill Brown at the 2011 Final Four in Houston.

Shaka Smart with California (Pa.) Head Coach Bill Brown at the 2011 Final Four in Houston.

RICHMOND, Va. – You could argue that VCU fans owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Brown.

It was Brown, the longtime California (Pa.) coach, who discovered Smart as an undersized Wisconsin high school point guard who played with “classy arrogance”. It was Brown who recruited Smart to Kenyon (Ohio) College. Although Brown coached Smart for only a year, he left a lifelong impression. Brown encouraged Smart to pursue coaching and promised the future VCU coach a graduate assistant position on his staff. It was Brown who housed Smart under his roof for two years, and who shared lessons on basketball and life.

“We’d stay up until 12 or 1 o’clock in the morning talking basketball,” Brown said.

It was Brown that decided early on that Smart wasn’t like every other basketball recruit, even at Kenyon, which holds a sterling academic reputation.

“I saw him in the Wisconsin All-Star Game,” Brown recalled. “There were several D-I guys in the game, and he blended right in because they listened to him. He got in the big guys’ ears, he got in the All-American’s ear, and everybody listened to him. He has the personality to draw people in. I saw a man who was going to go places and at that time I needed a guy who I could hand the ball to right away, and he didn’t disappoint.”

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SHAKA SMART MEDIA MINUTES (NOV. 4)

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Here are highlights from Shaka Smart’s first weekly presser of the season. The Rams are preparing for an exhibition contest with Division II California (Pa.), coached by Smart mentor Bill Brown.

CALIFORNIA (PA.) EXHIBITION NOTEBOOK

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Despite the offseason chatter, fouls slid into the background of VCU's 92-54 win.

Despite a lot of offseason chatter fouls slid into the background of VCU’s 92-54 win.

BOX SCORE

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s a bit of a fishing expedition to find a reasonable narrative in these mismatched Division I-Division II exhibition games.  There’s a desire to look at the scoreboard, which showed that VCU earned a 92-54 win over California (Pa.) Saturday night, and extrapolate 100 superlatives from the wreckage of the box score. More often than not, it’s fool’s gold.

But Saturday, even as I waded through some impressive, if not gaudy, statistics, I was still struck by the depth of talent on this VCU team. If Shaka Smart truly desires a 10 or 11-man rotation, it sure looks like he’s got the horses to do it.

Smart essentially rotated 11 players in the first half and 10 in the second after Rob Brandenberg exited with back spasms. While there were moments of youthful frustration, there was hardly a dramatic drop-off in ability.

Freshman Doug Brooks led VCU in scoring with 14 points in 13 minutes of play. For most of those 13 minutes, he looked like Briante Weber with a better jumper and a disinterested barber.

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BRANDENBERG, GUEST HOPE EUROPE TRIP IS A PASSPORT TO SUCCESS

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Rising senior Rob Brandenberg averaged 10.4 points per game and sank 49 three-pointers last season.

Rising senior Rob Brandenberg averaged 10.4 points per game and sank 49 three-pointers last season.

RICHMOND, Va. – The passports of Rob Brandenberg and Jarred Guest will pick up a couple more stamps this summer, but they hope that’s not all they bring home with them.

The VCU duo is set to participate in a nine-day exhibition tour of Germany and the Czech Republic Aug. 11-19 with the Global Sports Academy (GSA). The team will be coached by Bill Brown of California (Pa.), a mentor of VCU’s Shaka Smart. For Brandenberg and Guest, it’ll be their second straight summer abroad. Both players were members of the Rams’ exhibition tour of Italy last August.

While there will be plenty of sights along the way, Brandenberg and Guest won’t exactly be singing “Holiday Road”. They say their primary focus is the same as every offseason, to become better players.

“Jarred and I have been working real hard, extremely hard for the season, so I think it’s going to be a chance for us to assert ourselves and show what we’ve been practicing and work on it in game form,” Brandenberg said.

Each player will have his own goals, his own checklist things to work on during the tour. For Brandenberg, who started 28 of 35 games last year and averaged 10.4 points, it means a focus on the intangibles. A rising senior, he’s aware that his teammates will look to him during the 2013-14 season for more than just his blazing speed or scoring punch.

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CALIFORNIA (PA) NOTEBOOK

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VCU’s 71-48 exhibition win over California (Pa.), and the days that lead up to it, were hardly business as usual. Bill Brown and Shaka Smart, and by extension, VCU and Cal (Pa.), are intertwined, which led to some unusual preparations and emotions.

Brown recruited Smart out of high school to play at Kenyon College in Ohio. Although Brown left for Cal (Pa.) after Smart’s freshman year, the two remained close. Smart would later spend two seasons on Brown’s staff from 1999-2001. Smart, whose father has not played a major role in his life, views Brown as a father figure and a mentor. That added an emotional component both men relished.

“It really meant a great deal because he’s family,” Brown said. “He’s a young man that, first time I laid my eyes on him, I knew he was special. Someone asked me earlier if it was going to be awkward if I looked across and saw him on the opposite bench. It was not awkward, it was a great feeling.”

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