The 2015-16 Rams are going to look quite a bit different. There’s the obvious loss of Shaka Smart, the graduations of Graham, Weber and Guest, not to mention the transfer of Terry Larrier, VCU’s highest rated recruit since Kendrick Warren. VCU lost all three Smart recruits but did something in replacing all three of those guys plus the aforementioned graduates and transfer: they got big.
RETURNING PLAYER GROWTH
JeQuan Lewis 6’1 180 – Gained 5lbs
Justin Tillman 6’7 215 – Gained 15lbs
Doug Brooks 6’4 195 – Grew 1″, Gained 15lbs
Jonathan Williams 6’1 185 – Grew 1″, Gained 5lbs
Michael Gilmore 6’10 215 – Grew 1″, Gained 10lbs
Mo Alie-Cox 6’7 250 – Grew 1″, Lost 5lbs
Torey Burston 5’8 180 – Gained 15lbs
Jordan Burgess 6’5 225 – Gained 10lbs
Melvin Johnson 6’4 190 – Grew 1″, Lost 5lbs
TEAM SIZE INCREASE
2014-15 Avg Height/Weight – 6’4 197lbs
2015-16 Avg Height/Weight – 6’4 206lbs
2014-15 6’7+ Players – 4
2015-16 6’7+ Players – 6
2014-15 230lbs+ Players – 1
2015-16 230lbs+ Players – 3
It’s one thing to add size, it’s another thing to use it. Coach Smart favored smaller lineups last season at VCU, playing only one traditional big 20 or more minutes: Mo Alie-Cox. To be fair, the talented big duo of Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore were both freshman, but still, both received far fewer minutes than one might expect from two top-100 players out of high school. Tillman led the way with 12.3 minutes as a backup for Mo Alie-Cox while Gilmore logged just 6.3 minutes per contest, failing to step on the court during game time in 11 contests including VCU’s final three of the season. On the other hand 6’8 Terry Larrier who played as a guard (Larrier took 122 three-pointers compared to just 91 two-point attempts and hovered outside the arc most possessions) saw 18.5 minutes per contest despite having the second worst effective field goal percentage on the team (41.8%).
FRESHMEN MINUTES BY TOP-100 RECRUITS UNDER SMART
Jordan Burgess (2013-14) – 21.6
Terry Larrier (2014-15) – 18.5
Melvin Johnson (2012-13) – 17.3
Justin Tillman (2014-15) – 12.3
Mike Gilmore (2014-15) – 6.3
For some perspective, consider the fact Jamie Skeen averaged just 20.7 minutes his first season at VCU after transferring from Wake Forest, his fourth year removed from college and just a season prior to earning NCAA All-Tournament honors en route to VCU’s first ever Final 4 appearance. Add to that that Mo Alie-Cox was used just 15.5% of VCU’s possessions with him on the court, a number that ranked 10th on last year’s team, making him the least used primary big of any starting center under Shaka Smart.
Point being, Smart had a bias toward smaller lineups. And with that, six traditional bigs transferred out of VCU under Smart during his six season’s on Broad St. (effectively one per year): Terrance Saintil, Toby Veal, DJ Haley, Justin Tuoyo, Terrance Shannon and Antravious Simmons.
That’s not a knock on Smart or his style, that’s simply stating a preference of his, one that worked quite effectively at VCU.
Will Wade may ultimately opt for more of the same but both his recruiting and actual words have suggested otherwise. Wade has mentioned developing a close relationship with Mike Gilmore early on upon becoming VCU’s head coach, has said he expects big years from Tillman and Gilmore and commented that he wanted to get Mo Alie-Cox “early seals and punches” and the he wants the 6’7 bruiser to “bury people at the rim.”
Wade has also mentioned incoming JUCO transfer Ahmed Hamdy as someone who will help VCU at center, especially in the rebounding department where VCU ranked 11th in the Atlantic 10 in rebounding margin.
VCU is capable of a big upcoming season, one that’s ceiling may be determined by some very big people.
Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman know how to finish.