VCU fans will have a number of new faces to learn this season, a whopping seven new players having a shot to see their first D1 game action–eight including walk-on, Torey Burston.
Jordan Burgess, a 2012 top-100 player ruled ineligible this past season, will get his first shot a the rims his brother, Bradford Burgess, found so friendly in his four years as a Ram. He’s joined by fellow 2012 ineligible, Mo Alie-Cox, a 6’6 260 Rivals 2-star from Middleburg, Virginia. They are joined by 5th-year FSU transfer, Terrance Shannon, a potential starter for the Rams at 6’8 240 with big-game experience. Outside of those unique situations, VCU will also bring in four freshman to the program.
The last time the Rams saw so many new faces to start a season came in 2007.
VCU had finished their previous season with a dramatic game-winner over the Duke Blue Devils, launching the individual career of Eric Maynor while firmly placing VCU back on the map they had began to fade from since the mid-80s.
Joey Rodriguez – Rivals 3-star
Ed Nixon – Rivals 3-star
Lance Kearse – Rivals 3-star
Larry Sanders – Rivals 2-star
Brandon Rozzell – Rivals 2-star
Myk Brown – Rivals 2-star
Three of which (Rodriguez, Nixon, Rozzell) finished all four seasons with the Rams. One (Sanders) left for a pretty good reason prior to graduation…the 15th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. The others finished their careers elsewhere.
Let the first lesson provided be that, while high school rankings are nice, your college performance is even better. The little known 2-star out of Fort Pierce, Florida in the form of the 6’11 shot-blocking sensation, Larry Sanders, went on to become the highest player ever drafted out of VCU, selected with the 15th overall pick of 2010 by the Milwaukee Bucks (joining another 2-star, Eric Maynor, drafted with the 20th pick the season before). After a slow start to his NBA career, Larry figured it out this past season, finishing second in the league in blocks per game at 2.7, good enough to pick up four 1st-place votes for NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Sanders departure also proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Rams, allowing Wake Forest transfer, Jamie Skeen, to assert himself as the go-to scorer the following season, a role he would thrive in all the way to VCU’s first-ever Final 4, garnering First-Team NCAA tournament honors, the only time that has ever been accomplished by a VCU Ram.
Skeen couldn’t have done that however without key contributions from the three other remaining members of the 2007 class.
Joey Rodriguez etched his name in NCAA tournament lore by averaging 10.2 points and 7.6 assists during VCU’s tournament run to Houston. The diminutive Rodriguez became a college hoops fan favorite as he slashed his way through opposing defenses, often finding wide-open teammates for long range looks. The Rams would hit an eye-popping 61 3-pointers during their magical tournament run that season, many of which came off the assists of Rodriguez.
Joey ended his career as VCU’s No.2 all-time steals leader and third-ranking all-time assists man. He’s currently an assistant video coordinator at the University of Central Florida.
Rodriguez was joined in the backcourt during that run by a red hot Brandon Rozzell. Rozzell averaged 14 points during that tournament run en route to the Final 4, hitting an unconscious 68% of his 25 3-point attempts to make it to Houston.
Rozzell was a prolific scorer out of Highland Spring, earning 2007 state player of the year honors, but didn’t average double figures until his final season with the Rams (coincidentally Rozzell didn’t average 20+ minutes per game until his junior season). Rozzell finished strong however, hitting 41% of his 345 3-point attempts in his final two seasons as a Ram.
Wrapping up the list of VCU graduates from the class is the defensive-minded, Ed Nixon. Nixon never thrived as a scorer for the Rams but did finish the season with an offensive rating of 95 or higher in three of his four years with the Rams, including an impressive 111 rating his junior season. Nixon however was more known for his perimeter defense, receiving votes for CAA’s All-Defensive team but never making the first team.
One of 2007’s highest rated recruits came in the form of 6’6 forward, Lance Kearse. The nephew of NFL defensive end, Javon “The Freak” Kearse, Lance came in with high expectations but fought health issues early as a Ram. When on the floor, Kearse showed massive potential, averaging team highs in shooting percentages, hitting 53.4% from the field including 56% of his 25 attempted 3-pointers his last season as a Ram. Kearse transfered to Eckerd College where he thrived as a DII player, earning team MVP honors and being named Fourth-Team All American as well as Sunshine State Conference Player of the Year. Kearse has continued to thrive overseas despite his ongoing battle against sickle cell trait, starting for Lan Mobel ISB in Spain.
Myk Brown was the other player to transfer out of that class, leaving VCU for more playing time at DII Rollins College. Brown had just 20 attempts his freshmen season, and seeing the writing on the wall, opted for more playing time at a smaller school.
The 2007 group was full of promise that ultimately delivered in a number of ways. Next season’s group comes in with potentially more promise but will have their work cutout for them in matching 2007s overall success, both in NCAA tournament action and now in the NBA.
JeQuan Lewis – Rivals 3-star
Jairus Lyles – Rivals 3-star
Antravious Simmons – Rivals 3-star
Douglas Brooks – Rivals 3-star
*Jordan Burgess – Rivals 4-star (ESPN top-100)
*Mo Alie-Cox – Rivals 2-star
*2012 recruits ruled ineligible last season
Like 2007, this new group consists of a solid mix of players. Three guards in Lewis, Lyles and Brooks, a G/F in Burgess and two bigs in Simmons and Alie-Cox.
Will all graduate as Rams? Time will tell. But history suggests perhaps more than one may wind up elsewhere. Last year’s combo of top-100s in Burgess and Melvin Johnson may have put that class as one of VCU’s best ever (up their with the highly rated ’81 duo of Duncan and Lamb, not to mention the the underrated Schlegel), but this year’s group of new faces to actually hit the court could very well be VCU’s best-ever. Joining a team predicted as high as preseason No.11, this may be great news for Ram fans.