This July has been a July like no other in my VCU basketball history. Early last summer I fell in love with a new basketball tournament that had hit the scene called simply “The Basketball Tournament”, knowing I had to talk to my VCU player connections to get a group together to rep Ram Nation and VCU basketball in the following year’s event.
Over the following months Bradford Burgess, Joey Rodriguez and myself would strategize a roster that we felt could not only compete in the TBT, but even win the entire tournament (roster note: current NBA players were ineligible while NBA Summer League players would basically be forced to miss due to scheduling conflicts, thus leaving them off our targets list. Think Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic, Troy Daniels, etc).
While we ultimately did not win, I think we made it clear that Ram Nation was a legit contender after two wins followed by a close loss to the defending TBT champs.
We will be even better next year.
BIGGEST LESSON: DEPTH IS EVERYTHING
Let’s be honest, VCU has had much more backcourt talent than frontcourt talent over the years. That’s frankly just a reality of not being a blue chip program. Talented uards are more likely to climb under the radar than high level bigs.
Looking skyward at the Siegel Center, you’ll notice the names Henderson, Duncan, Warren, Burgess and Maynor. Only Warren stood taller than 6’6 from that group (6’8) and he last played in the early 90s. So when attempting to make a roster of currently active basketball professionals who are both very good and in top physical condition, there were much more options at the guard and small forward positions than there were at power forward and center.
Being VCU — a school that has thrived playing small ball — made the reality of having a smaller lineup less of a total handicap, but still, one can’t help but notice the -17 rebound margin in team Ram Nation’s 11-point loss (a game much closer than the final score indicates, Ram Nation led late). Ram Nation outshot Overseas Elite on the night, 44.8% to 42.5%, including an advantage beyond the arc, but that minor shooting disparity made little difference thanks to Elite’s 15 additional attempts.
This is where Larry Sanders comes in and while his absence perhaps proved critical in our final contest.
Ram Nation was down one Reggie Williams (who’s a BIG 6’6) due to a groin injury (Williams however did make the trip with us and acted as coach). Jamie Skeen was coming off a knee injury, making his play valiant but slowed, leaving Michael Anderson at 6’7 and Bradford Burgess at 6’6 to do the majority of the heavy lifting down low for Nation.
I can’t help but wonder how our game against Overseas Elite would’ve finished if Sanders had simply showed up. His absence was honestly a bit of a heartbreaker as a huge fan of his, but also ultimately hurt our team due to having one more unused roster spot, a spot Ram Nation desperately needed due to the injury situation of our frontcourt.
I am of the opinion that Ram Nation wins that game against the defending champs with Sanders in the lineup.
APPLYING THAT LESSON
Here’s the good news: we’ll be back. Not only will we be back, but we’ve already received interest from a few very talented bigs that could have made a major difference for our team this season.
Juvonte Reddic is an obvious addition and one who has expressed such an interest.
Reddic was a target of this year’s team but ultimately missed due to agent’s decision, passing on the TBT for NBA Summer League (not a terrible decision by any means). The 6’9 250 former Ram played in four Summer League contests with the D-League Select team, averaging 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds 9.8 minutes of action.
Reddic averaged nine points and 5.3 rebounds in the NBA D-League this past season with the Canton Charge.
Having a current professional at that size who already knows the VCU system could’ve made a huge difference and also makes Reddic a great option for next year’s squad.
Ram Nation has also talked to at least one extremely talented big who played for a bit of a VCU rival during CAA play, making him an extremely promising option, even with Reddic.
And don’t even get me started on Mo Alie-Cox (Mo, if you’re reading this…tell the NBA or NFL you’ll have to get back with them at the beginning of next August).
THIS IS PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL
One way I’ve seen a lot of folks describe this TBT tournament is one of “old timers” getting back together to give it another shot (hey, let’s see if the old guy still has it!).
Yes, there are some sprinkled in old school ballers in this tournament, but for the most part the TBT is just professional basketball. Besides, some of those old schoolers, guys like Mike Bibby with almost 20 years of NBA experience, would make an embarrassment of a D1 college freshman or sophomore.
The guys making up the rosters of the successful teams in this tournament aren’t old timers, but current pros (and even look at the rosters of the teams that went down early in this tournament, including alumni teams from Memphis and Kentucky). These guys are no longer balancing school work with practice. They are full time ballers. They shoot, they workout, they make money to shoot and workout.
Let that be a lesson to future GMs. Bring out-of-shape guys and hacks into this at your own peril (assuming you can collect the votes to compete in the first place).
NOT JUST GREAT PLAYERS, GREAT PEOPLE
Covering VCU for VCURamNation.com over the years, I come in contact with players all the time. The longer those players stick around the better I get to know them and in some cases even strike up a friendship or two.
Heading into this experience I had solid relationships with the likes of Bradford Burgess and Joey Rodriguez, but in acting as team GM, really got to know all of these guys over the last few weeks.
My takeaway? Coaches Capel, Grant and Smart, the three coaches that recruited this group (as well as VMI’s Duggar Caucom who recruited Reggie Williams, our one Cadet), found high-character guys with this list of people.
All of the players who represented Ram Nation in both Charlotte and Philadelphia did an amazing job. It was a joy to watch them play but perhaps an even better experiencing spending time with them and their families as just people.
RAM NATION TEAM STATS
ANDERSON – 3 games, 64.3% fg%, 50% 3p%, 4.3 rebs, 7.7 pts, 1.7 asts, 2.7 tos, 0 blks, 0.7 stls, 25.3 mins
BURGESS – 3 games, 54.5% fg%, 42.9% 3p%, 6 rebs, 18.7 pts, 0.7 asts, 0.7 tos, 0 blk, 0.3 stls, 28.3 min
SKEEN – 3 games, 38.9% fg%, 18.2% 3p%, 3.7 rebs, 6.7 pts, 1 ast, 0.7 tos, 0.3 blks, 0.3 stls, 17.7 min
WALKER – 3 games, 56.5% fg%, 45.5% 3p%, 4.7 rebs, 12.3 pts, 2 ast, 1 tos, 0 blk, 1 stl, 28 min
THEUS – 3 games, 61.5% fg%, 71.4% 3p%, 3.3 rebs, 19.3 pts, 3.3 asts, 1.3 tos, 0.3 blks, 1 stl, 30.7 min
PELLOT-ROSA – 3 games, 30.4% fg%, 9% 3p%, 2 rebs, 5.3 pts, 0.7 asts, 1.7 tos, 0 blk, 1 stls, 12.3 min
RODRIGUEZ – 3 games, 66.6% fg%, 50% 3p%, 1.3 rebs, 3.3 pts, 1 ast, 0.3 to, 0 blk, 0.3 stls, 7.3 min
ROZZELL – 3 games, 35% fg%, 35.7% 3p%, 5.7 rebs, 15 pts, 3.7 asts, 0.3 tos, 0.3 blks, 2 stls, 26.3 min
WILLIAMS – 1 game, 0% fg%, 0% 3p%, 2 rebs, 2 ssts, 0 tos, 1 stl, 12 min
SANDERS – DNP
MY TOP MOMENTS FROM THIS YEAR’S TOURNAMENT
Ram Nation erases 20-point second half deficit for first round win
Our team got an early wakeup call when Ram Nation found ourselves down 20 in the second half against a team of North Carolina ballers called the NC Prodigal Sons. But strong second half performances from Brandon Rozzell and Bradford Burgess propelled Ram Nation to the second round where the Rams would dominate an arguably more talented opponent. It was a wake up call, but one that certainly had Ram Nation’s attention throughout the rest of the tournament.
The VCU faithful
Acting as a GM of a team in this year’s event, I spoke often with the tournament’s organizers. Needless to say, the fine folks at the TBT were extremely impressed with the fan support AND band support of Ram Nation, a showing that no doubt won’t hurt our chances at making it into future tournaments.
During the games, VCU fans were sensational. They cheered and brought the level of rowdiness we have all grown accustomed to at the Siegel Center. But after that, at the bars and in the hotel lobbies, they were just as amazing. Ram fans got a chance to watch us at our walkthrough in Charlotte and even toasted with us (a lot) following our loss in Philly.
So thanks to all the fans that made this journey possible. None of this would have happened without the fan who voted, the fans who donated and the fans who cheered us on. Not to mention Dave, the hero of our final night.
The Peppas rock Philly U
Look, I don’t know all the details on the pep band situation but I know this: Ram fans watched Ryan Kopacsi turn it into something special over nearly two decades of dedication.
Working with new pep band director Duane Costin (who helped arrange the the use of the gear) as well as VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin and Executive Associate AD Glenn Hoffman, we were able to get the pep band up to Pennsylvania with the legendary pep leader for our Ram Nation game on ESPN2. I don’t know if we’ll ever see Ryan back on the sidelines in his old role at a VCU game, but it certainly felt great having gotten to know him over the years to have him repping both VCU and team Ram Nation in Philly.
Ryan is a wild child and a superstar. But he’s our wild child and our superstar, so it gave me the chills to see him back doing what he does best.
All the moments I can’t talk about here
From bowling with Troy Daniels to sharing a breakfast table with the core of VCU’s Final 4 team, there are just too many memories to really cover. Following VCU basketball has taken me on truck bed rides down Harrison St. with the pep band, had me playing bocci with Burgess in Brooklyn and has flown me to the Final 4 where I got to ride up an elevator with Bilas and Vitale. This entire trip was loaded with memories and will maybe go down as my all-time favorite VCU experience. I mean, going from starting a podcast with three friends nearly a decade ago to see a team on ESPN2 with our name on their jersey? Nothing like it.