Enthusiasm is the energy and force that builds literal momentum of the human soul and mind. –Bryant McGill
words to describe this inaugural Atlantic 10 season have come easily.
Winning has a way of making descriptions colorful, sentences flow, and
connecting the feeling and the data seamless. It's been, well, fun.
So it was after Xavier.
And so it was after Butler. And so it was in the hours following the
senior night thriller over Richmond. But somewhere between paying the downtown expressway toll and the James River Bridge, as the words began to again formulate, something was different.
You see, late at night, driving home with minimal traffic and the radio off, it's easy to compartmentalize what we all watched in the Siegel Center. There's time to put two eyes on the road, and one mind on VCU basketball. Ideas flow freely during the drive, and at that moment on Wednesday night the thought bouncing around my brain was that the past couple of weeks have been quite striking in terms of good news.
It hasn't only been victories on the basketball court. By the time I hit the stoplight at the Forest Hill Avenue Wawa, the thought was in full force, and it came in the form of a question: can you believe the past three weeks in VCU athletics?
It's unprecedented, and its impressive. Consider:
6: On senior night the Rams, in front of the 35th straight sellout crowd,
use a 14-3 closing kick to dispatch of crosstown rival Richmond 93-82. Because of the
win, Sports Illustrated moves VCU to a LOCK status for the NCAA
tournament. The sellout increases VCUs single-season total attendance record to 130,781–obliterating the previous record (1987-88) by more than 14%.
6: It was announced during the second half that VCU won the second annual Naismith Student
Section of the Year Award. There's bragging rights, and the award comes with a $10,000 cash prize,
which VCU is donating to the University's general scholarship fund. Those kids get after it, and the honor is well-deserved.
March 5: VCU announces that Health Diagnostic Laboratory, under the leadership of VCU grad Tonya Mallory, has agreed to a $4
million partnership to support the VCU Department of Athletics and its
future capital projects. Each athletics facility will fall under the umbrella of the "HDL, Inc. Athletic Village," including the basketball practice facility.
Matt Lees picks up his fifth save as the VCU nine subdues Pittsburgh 6-4
to win the Charleston Crab House Shootout. The victory brings VCU baseball to
8-0 on the season. The Rams beat George Mason two days later and
currently stand 9-0 in Sean Stiffler's first season as skipper.
2: In front of a national television audience and a cadre of national
sportswriters and personalities, VCU thumps Butler 84-52, locking up a
top four seed and first round bye in the A10 tournament. Longtime Siegel
Center denizens concur it was loudest, looniest they'd ever heard the
building. With 17 steals, VCU broke the Atlantic 10 Conference single-season record for steals with 355.
VCU also celebrated its second Alumni Day, welcoming back and recognizing past basketball team members.
March 1: Freshman Mo Alie-Cox receives recognition for an outstanding start to his academic career when he was given the "Black History in the Making" Award from the Wilder School.
February 28: Shaka Smart advances to the Final Four in the
ESPN/Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge.The challenge pits college basketball coaches from around the country competing for charitable causes. Coach Smart has selected FRIENDS Association for Children, a local non-profit agency that aids Richmond youth.
February 25: VCU announces the largest gift in its history as MeadWestvaco Corporation, a global leader in packaging and
packaging solutions, pledges $3 million to
support the new basketball practice facility.
February 23: VCU rallies from a 17-point second half deficit to beat Xavier on the road. Xavier started the game 52-1 in their home building since 2007. They left 52-2. The Rams wiped out the deficit in a little more than six minutes.
So let me sum the past couple of weeks up, if I may: men's basketball team wins three times and locks up an NCAA tournament berth, our students win a national award, the baseball team gets to 9-0 on the season, and a basketball player earns an academic award.
What's more, we announced two major gifts totalling $7 million worth of corporate partnerships that make the basketball practice facility and a student-athlete village real, not just a dream nor concept. Those critical relationships are part of the building of this program and a sign of our impact locally, and nationally. It shows us that others in the Richmond community see what we see and feel–a bright future.
Every bit of it is part of the success and the vibe, something that has really hit home in the past two weeks. My summary, because sometimes words get in the way: yeah, we've got a great thing going.
Here's one final nugget to keep in mind. If VCU beats Temple and
LaSalle knocks off Saint Louis this weekend, the Rams will win the Atlantic 10 regular
season championship. That accomplishment would make college basketball history.
No program, ever, has moved to a higher-ranked conference and won the regular season title in its first year of competition.
Xavier did not do it when moving to the A-10. Arkansas did not to it
when moving to the SEC. Nevada, Tulsa, nor Utah
State did it when moving to the WAC.
That would be something, wouldn't it? But no matter. Even if it doesn't happen, the momentum of this program–something we've seen with great clarity over the past three weeks–is unstoppable.