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Opening Night Approaches

Hard to believe hoops season kicks off next week, especially since it seems as if last season has yet to end.

Rams fans are no doubt still riding high after a magical Final 4 run and the endless amount of media coverage of the black-and-gold this offseason. Take a look at VCU’s ESPN page alone and the amount of ESPN Insider articles that now exist on the page — we are definitely living in a new era of VCU basketball.

That era starts next Thursday, and is garunteed to look brand new.

Gone are seniors Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon, Jamie Skeen and Brandon Rozzell. In there place are a group of four true freshman, two redshirts, a trio of sophomores that showed flashes of brilliance this past season, and two juniors who will play a major roll in filling the leadership void.

The Rams will also be geared up in flashy new Nike uniforms,  the Siegel Centered blinged out with a gorgeous new luxory suite addition.

VCU does have a couple of major returnies, most notably Head Coach Shaka Smart, who unlike previous rising coaches before him, actually returned to try and do what has been said before him… make VCU a top program nationally on a yearly basis.

Also returning is senior swingman Bradford Burgess who will look to take over the on-court leadership duties previously held by point guard Joey Rodriguez. In Burgess’ sites are also a somewhat reachable all-time scoring record at VCU, as well as an ever increasing NBA draft stock.

This new look VCU squad will take on a familiar face — at least to Coach Smart — in former mentor Bill Brown’s California University of Pennsylvania Vulcans.

Brown coached Smart at DIII Kenyon College before eventually leading Shaka in his first-ever coaching gig with the Vulcans.

Cal U returns most of their scoring from a 15-12 2010-11 season.

The 5-7 road team from this past season will find their most hostile crowd in some time, all be it in exhibition fashion as the Siegel Center has added a slew of new fans — 700 new season ticket holders — and a couple hundred new seats.

The last time Cal U visited Richmond they found themselves on the wrong end of a 66-73 final, that time just across Lombardy at Virginia Union this past November. The Rams defeated that same Union team in last year’s exhibition, 71-56, outscoring the Panthers by 22 in the fist half.

The Vulcans return  3 of their top 4 scorers from this past season, junior Quintin Harding (6’5 195 G/F 11 points, 5.4 rebounds), and seniors Steve Swiech (6’9 260 F 12.2 points 5.3 rebounds) and Chad Tipton (6’5 215 G/F 9.9 points, 41% 3-point shooter).

There’s no telling what the Rams starting lineup might look like, but the odds-on favorites at this point seem to be point guard Darius Theus, Burgess at small forward, sophomore’s DJ Haley and Juvonte Reddic rounding out the front court, and either junior marksman Troy Daniels or sophomore scorer Rob Brandenberg at the 2.

Outside of Burgess, VCU’s returning players averaged a mere 10.52 minutes per game this past season, so Ram fans should expect a lot of different looks from this young team in next Thursday’s exhibition.

 

 

 

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VCU School of the Arts (BFA ’07) and Center for Sport Leadership (M.Ed. ’10) alumnus, Mat has followed VCU basketball since the Sunbelt days when he’d attend games with his father. Worked as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department for the ’09-’10 season, but has covered VCU basketball for VCURamNation.com since 2007.