Monday nuggets: Banquet recap, recruiting rumors and returnees

If there’s one thing we do at VCU it’s exciting offseasons. Shaka Smart packed his bags for Austin, ushering in a new era at VCU this offseason, one that has taken Ram fans on a roller coaster the last couple of weeks that appears to be pulling into the station.


Justin Tillman's dunks during this year's men's basketball banquet received some of the loudest applause of the evening. The rising sophomore briefly considered leaving VCU after the departure of Shaka Smart but decided to stay, citing the "brotherhood" among Ram players.
Justin Tillman’s dunks during this year’s men’s basketball banquet received some of the loudest applause of the evening. The rising sophomore briefly considered leaving VCU after the departure of Shaka Smart but decided to stay, citing the “brotherhood” among Ram players as a main reason for returning.

With rumors of a Smart defection last offseason I hoped the fifth-year coach would remain at VCU long enough to get his 2014 recruiting class to broad street. Why? Because I believed then as I believe now in my heart of hearts that VCU’s 2014 class is a special group. The foursome of Johnny Williams, Mike Gilmore, Terry Larrier and Justin Tillman has sky-high potential and is a group that will comprise 4/5ths of a starting roster one day. That group looked in danger of breaking up following the shock that their one-year head coach, Shaka Smart, the man who brought them all to Richmond, was gone. Justin Tillman was the only one to officially request a release from VCU but after discussions with his family, new head coach Will Wade and former VCU point guard turned Rollins College point guard turned VCU point guard again (turned VCU Final 4 legend), Joey Rodriguez, decided to remain with the Rams, stating in an official VCU release, “After taking some time to think it over, my ultimate decision came down to the fact that a special brotherhood, which we have here at VCU, cannot be duplicated.” In the end the brotherhood of this special group won out over the shock of losing a big-named coach and that is great news for not only Ram fans and Will Wade, but also for the 2014 foursome that I am convinced is destined for greatness at VCU.


Unlike VCU’s 2014 class the Rams previously signed 2015 group appears headed elsewhere. Tevin Mack, Jordan Murphy and Kenny Williams have been granted releases from their letters of intent to VCU and are most likely all headed elsewhere. I think there’s still an outside shot Kenny Williams elects to stay at home and plays his ball with the Rams but would not bet the mortgage on it. That said, I’m hearing there are a number of guys lined up to fill those spots including at least one top-100 transfer. VCU technically has four open spots (the three 2015 decommited spots plus one spot left vacant from when Antravious Simmons transferred) but the Rams could elect to reserve that fourth spot to add to a 2016 class that would have only one opening due to the graduation of Melvin Johnson in May of 2016.


Michael Gilmore accepted this year's Appreciation Award from new head coach, Will Wade.
Michael Gilmore accepted this year’s Appreciation Award from new head coach, Will Wade.

VCU celebrated a successful 2014-15 season Sunday night in the black and gold’s annual men’s basketball banquet. On hand was the entirety of VCU’s A-10 Championship roster as well as the majority of VCU’s new coaching staff including new head coach Will Wade who seemed loose and excited for what could be another big season on Broad St. Below is a list of award winners from this year’s banquet:

Academic Award – Mo Alie-Cox
Most Assists Award – Briante Weber
Most Improved – Mo Alie-Cox
Most Rebounds Award – Treveon Graham
Ram Strength Award – Jarred Guest
Defensive Player of the Year – Briante Weber
Leadership Award – Torey Burston
Appreciation Award – Michael Gilmore
Team MVP – Treveon Graham

Other highlights include stories told by Melvin Johnson on Will Wade and Will Wade on Melvin Johnson. To paraphrase, Wade as an assistant followed Melvin to one particular class for some two weeks when Johnson was a freshman. Melvin joked that he hated Wade that year but Wade went on to say he (Wade) got an A on the exam for that class. Johnson added that Wade has talked to Mel’s mother nearly every day and that Melvin called Wade as soon as the head coaching position opened WillandMelup to see if he’d have an interest. Wade joked that his UT Chattanooga team jokingly referred to themselves as the “UTC Rams” because of Wade’s obsession with VCU during his two-year coaching stint with the Mocs, saying he’d flip to the VCU games in the locker room following Chattanooga games. I also briefly spoke with rising sophomore Johnny Williams and graduating senior Treveon Graham after the event. Williams told me the 2014 class looks forward to finishing their careers together at VCU. Graham, who just finished his, told me he’ll be looking for an agent soon and will go through the process of trying to make the leap to the NBA (Graham recently won MVP at this year’s Portsmouth Invitational Tournament featuring some of the nation’s top college seniors). Graham is being projected as a mid-second rounder but told me his favorite team is the San Antonio Spurs.


A two-time graduate of VCU (School of the Arts '07, Center for Sport Leadership '10), Mat is a co-founder of VCU Ram Nation and a longtime fan as the ...