There are certain games you remember. They don’t have to be big games, or important games, but for some specific reason they stand out in your mind for a very long time.
A little more than 11 years ago, I left the office early and jumped into the back seat of a brush-gold Volvo and headed up interstate 95 towards Philadelphia. VCU was set to play LaSalle on a chilly December evening in a random nonconference game. The Explorers featured a smooth-playing big kid named Steven Smith and a freshman who would disappear from LaSalle, then reappear again against VCU at Towson. Gary Neal now plays in the NBA.
I remember it. I remember it well. VCU trailed the entire evening, seemingly out of synch and shooting poorly. But they kept chugging along. There was a grit and determination that night–I don’t remember that team, with Dom Jones and Mike Doles and, yes, Kevin Moore–being particularly tough, but they were tough on that night.
And trailing by a single point with less than 20 seconds to play VCU got three cracks at the rim. Determination allowed that team, on that night, to press the reset button twice thanks to offensive rebounds. The final blow was when Jesse Pellot Rosa–who should be on a toughness poster somewhere–grabbed an airball and laid the ball in the basket for what proved to the winning points.
The job for VCU, as long as a certain high ankle remains sprainsome, is simple: if you don’t have the Freight Train, be the Freight Train.
For four years, Treveon Graham has gone about his business. A big part of the reason I’m apt to shout at Robby “there’s Treveon Graham doing Treveon Graham Things” is precisely because the Freight Train plays his game. He’s never tried to be Brad Burgess, Juvonte Reddic, or Paul Pierce. The man inside the 21 jersey is always true to himself, and that 21 jersey will one day be hoisted to the Siegel Center rafters.
Each VCU player must channel his inner Graham until the star is back. This team is taking on that Freight Train persona, and that Pellot Rosa toughness. Guts, guile, and sonofabitchness. (And sprinkle it with some Weber enthusiasm.) Now, they can’t become Graham, nor can they become Weber. Points, steals–those results–aren’t the goal. Those are the outputs of taking on the attitude.
Go about your business.
Shaka Smart always talks about the process, but you have to understand the coaches are also bound by that process. For them, it’s devising a plan using the players you have, putting them in positions to take best advantage of their talents within the confines of the overall VCU approach. There’s a discipline to that.
The players have to trust that, and that also takes discipline. We may well see a level of trust and discipline against LaSalle, which, when combined with sonofabitchness and the return of Graham, well, gimme.
LaSalle presents an interesting inside/outside conundrum. The Explorers feature guard Jordan Price, who just dropped 30 points on UMass. It was Price’s third 30-point game of the year. Smart called Price “a grown man” the other day, and that’s the truth. Price isn’t one of those explosive leapers. He more trolls the lane area, physically dominating a defense, until he finds an opening. Price has hit 42 threes on the season, so you cannot back off.
Inside, the Explorers feature a two-headed monster of Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright. Zack is a presence. He is one of those 10 points, nine rebounds, three blocks kind of players. However he’s also third on the LaSalle team in assists (46). Wright is their second leading scorer (11.7ppg) and rebounder, and an athletic presence. Cleon Roberts is LaSalle’s best marksman–he is 38-93 from three (41%).
They prefer a defensive style, rock fightish. LaSalle pounds the ball into the paint and goes to get it off the glass. They are second in the A10 in points allowed in A10 games (59.2). La Salle has allowed its opponents to take just 316 threes this season, which ranks 11th nationally.
You will remember last year’s game at LaSalle. VCU trailed by 10 with less than five minutes to play and jumped aboard the Freight Train. Graham scored a career-high 34 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a thrilling double overtime victory.
That’s the effort to channel. Be the ball, Danny.