VIDEO: VCU TOPS WOFFORD 72-57

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HIGHLIGHTS!

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SHAKA SMART!

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JEQUAN LEWIS, JORDAN BURGESS, TREVEON GRAHAM!

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WOFFORD COACH MIKE YOUNG!

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VCU-EASTERN KENTUCKY NOTEBOOK

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Freshman JeQuan Lewis scored 13 points Thursday in VCU's 71-68 victory.

Freshman JeQuan Lewis scored 13 points Thursday in VCU’s 71-68 victory.

RICHMOND, Va. – As pure entertainment, VCU’s 71-68 overtime win over Eastern Kentucky Thursday at the Verizon Wireless Arena was terrific. There was practically March intensity in an early December game, the score was close, it was, for the most part, well-played, and the pace was often dizzying.

But Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart can invest very little emotionally in the basketball on the floor as a consumable product. As a coach, he’s got to be more clinical. For Smart, there’s likely more value in the victory as a progress report of sorts.

On that level, there was much for him to see. Some things, he’ll like, others, he won’t. But for the second straight game, his team provided a window through which to view how good it could be. On the other hand, Smart knows the Rams have plenty of work to do.

While the fans and media were bullish on VCU from day one, Smart has never sold the Rams as being a finished project. Sure, he’d like them to be, and Smart wants the Rams to be as good – and even better – as that top 10 ranking they once held, but we live in a world of college basketball where North Carolina can lose to UAB and then beat top-ranked Michigan State. The game is unpredictable, and teams don’t always realize their potential when coaches want. VCU certainly has moments of greatness. Capturing it and honing it is a skill in and of itself.

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GAME CHANGE; RAMS SHOW GROWTH, VERSATILITY IN UVA WIN

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Treveon Graham hit the game-winner, as VCU wrestled a Virginia-style victory away from the Cavaliers.

Treveon Graham hit the game-winner as VCU wrestled a Virginia-style victory away from the Cavaliers.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Treveon Graham has scored 832 points in his 74 games as a Ram, and he’s a safe bet for many, many more, but VCU fans are going to savor these three for a while.

Graham scored 22 points Tuesday night, including a lightning bolt 3-pointer from NBA range with 1.4 seconds left to give the 14th-ranked Rams a 59-56, meat grinder road victory at 25th-ranked Virginia.

It’s a shot, and a win, that will likely echo for years in Richmond. But beyond where the moment ranks for VCU fans in the annals, it has immediately become an important victory for this team; one that showcased the Rams’ potential, and one that could pay dividends down the road.

In a season where already much has been expected of the Rams (see their No. 14 national ranking), this was an early delivery on that promise. Although just the second game of the season, this contest, played before a crowd of nearly 14,000, held March-Madness, title-fight intensity. Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart may try to pump the brakes on the excitement over what is a single, November victory, but regardless, Tuesday’s win will remain notable.

This is the type of game critics said VCU couldn’t win. They said that the Rams’ up-tempo, chaotic Havoc style couldn’t translate against a team like Virginia. The Cavaliers, with their Pack Line defense and deliberate motion offense, were the kind of match-up problem that was supposed to be able to stop Havoc. And it did, for the most part.

But that’s kind of the point.

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VIDEO: SHAKA SMART UVA POSTGAME

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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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BLACK AND GOLD GAME SCRIBBLES AND OBSERVATIONS

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Sophomore Melvin Johnson led all players with 25 points Sunday.

Sophomore Melvin Johnson led all players with 25 points Sunday.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU held an intra-squad exhibition Sunday night before 3,187 excited souls at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. It was many people’s, myself included, first chance to get a look at the 2013-14 Rams. While the Gold team came away with a 72-56 win, the score was little more than a matter of academics.

Here are some observations from courtside.

1-Guards, guards, guards and guards
To any fan who has followed this team of late, this is no surprise. VCU was expected to be deep in the backcourt this year. But until we got a chance to see a Jairus Lyles no-look pass or one of Doug Brooks’ four steals, it was hard to know how deep. If Sunday is any indication, uh, the Rams are insanely deep at the wings.

Returnees Rob Brandenberg, Briante Weber, Melvin Johnson and (if we’re calling him a guard today) Treveon Graham were pretty much the guys we knew they were. But JeQuan Lewis, Lyles, Doug Brooks and Jordan Burgess all had moments and illustrated how difficult a choice Shaka Smart will have when doling out minutes.

Lyles was magnetic for long stretches of the second half and he might end up being the Rams’ fourth option at point guard. Think about that. Lyles finished with eight points, six assists (two turnovers) and three steals.

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MEN’S BASKETBALL SUMMER NOTEBOOK: PART DEUX

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Terrance Shannon averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20 games last season.

Terrance Shannon averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20 games last season.

SHANNON ADDS DEPTH, INTRIGUE TO VCU LINEUP
RICHMOND, Va.VCU Basketball under Coach Shaka Smart has been known for many things: Havoc, quickness, speed, creating chaos, high energy; descriptors of a dynamic category. While there are plenty of ways to paint a picture of the Rams’ style of play, “physical” has not been one of the more popular adjectives.

But Smart hopes the addition of Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon, as well as other newcomers, will help change the way the Rams play and, in turn, are perceived.

Shannon transferred to VCU in May and will be eligible immediately under an NCAA provision that allows graduating seniors to transfer and play without sitting out a year. Shannon graduated from Florida State in May and will have one year of eligibility remaining.

A 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward, Shannon averaged 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in 72 career appearances. Last season, he averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds and swiped 23 steals in 20 games. He earned a medical redshirt in 2011-12 after a shoulder injury limited him to just seven games.

Although occasionally beset by injuries at Florida State, Shannon gives the Rams a battle-tested post presence who can spell All-Conference forward Juvonte Reddic or play alongside him.

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VCU BLAZING NEW TRAILS ON RECRUITING FRONT

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Jordan Burgess is one of two top-100 rated recruits in VCU’s 2012 recruiting class.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU’s late signing of top-100 guard Melvin Johnson was the Rams’ first since joining the Atlantic 10 on July 1. The evidence suggests it won’t be the last big splash for Shaka Smart and his staff.

The Rams will welcome a pair of four-star recruits this year in Johnson and swingman Jordan Burgess, as well as highly-regarded forwards Justin Tuoyo and Mo-Alie Cox to complete a recruiting class that has earned much praise.

It’s been a long time since VCU landed a four-star or top-100 recruit that wasn’t a transfer. Now the Rams will have two joining the program in the same year. But it’s not just significant locally. VCU is turning heads nationally.

“This is the first year I can remember where a [non-power six conference] program not named Gonzaga has had two top 100 players,” said Dave Telep, recruiting guru and ESPN senior national basketball analyst.

VCU has undoubtedly benefited in recruiting circles from its Final Four appearance in 2011, as well as its move from the CAA to the A10, but the biggest factor in the amount of talent the Rams are able to put out on the floor stalks the sidelines of the Verizon Wireless Arena.

“I think the personality and real charisma and star power Shaka Smart has really keeps [VCU] alive in a lot of instances,” Telep said.

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SUMMER HOOPS NOTES: WORKOUT RULES CHANGE; GRAHAM EYES 2012-13

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VCU players will be seeing a lot more of this man this summer.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s hard enough to get Shaka Smart to take a vacation, but now? It’s going to take one heck of an advertising pitch to pull the VCU coach away from Richmond now.

In years past, the summer was a steady stream of pickup hoops and loosely-tethered together workouts. Coaches were not allowed to run practices or have much contact with their players.

But this year, thanks to a change in NCAA legislation in January, teams are allowed to run full practices with coaching staffs for up to two hours a day and up to eight hours a week for eight weeks. All returning players in good academic standing and incoming freshmen enrolled in summer school are allowed to participate.

That the changes have been welcomed by coaches should come as no surprise, but many players see the value in them as well.

“I think it’s a lot more fun,” said senior David Hinton. “You get to see the coaches in the summer. You had that big gap before where the coaches worked you out in the spring, but you really didn’t see them again until the fall. [The coaches] won’t be as anxious in the fall. They monitor your progress all summer, and they help you out and improve your game more.”

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MEET JORDAN BURGESS

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They’ll be a Burgess in uniform for VCU for four more years. Jordan Burgess, Brad’s younger brother, signed on the dotted line with the Rams yesterday. Let’s say hello.

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