We’re slowly creeping toward basketball season, just 33 days until college teams officially begin team practices (as if they haven’t been doing something similar all summer) and the closer we get, the clearer some things become for predicting this upcoming season. Here’s what my ball is telling me based off some summer reporting following VCU’s tour through Spain.
GETTING TO THE POINT
One thing you can be sure to expect this season is a ton of handles in the backcourt for the Rams. VCU opted to roll with Johnny Williams in the starting lineup late last season alongside JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson, giving the Rams essentially two point guards and a shooter, so expect more of the same this year and an increased roll for Williams with Johnson’s departure. Will Wade has raved about Williams’ growth this offseason, growth the Richmond native flashed toward the latter parts of last season where he played some of his best ball (particularly in February). Wade likes this look because his two ball-handlers bring ball security, meaning less turnovers. The duo is also cat-quick with great vision, both with the ability to easily beat defenders for layups or assists to the likes of Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman.
“A lot of it is on me,” Wade told the Richmond Times Dispatch. “I probably should have given him a chance earlier last year. I screwed him up last year with how I played him. I learned from my mistakes, and I’m not going to make the same mistakes twice. He’s a great kid. He’s what we’re about. He’s tough, and he’s a worker. Johnny is one of our best leaders.”
Williams averaged 12 points in VCU’s four-game Spanish tour but saw that average with Lewis shelved while recovering from a minor injury.
The duo both posted steals percentages of 3% or better last season, both checking in behind only Doug Brooks who easily led the team with a 6.8% mark (steals percentage = percentage of possessions a players steals the ball from their opponent while they are on the floor).
CROWFIELD COULD SURPRISE
De’Riante Jenkins came to VCU as one of the Rams’ highest rated recruits in the history of the program and led VCU’s freshmen in scoring this summer with a 14-point average in four games in Spain, but here’s some advice: watch out for Malik Crowfield.
Earlier in the summer Wade commented that Crowfield was an even better shooter than they thought they were getting, which says something considering the 6’4 guard came to VCU with the reputation of a knockdown shooter.
While the freshmen did not have his best shooting performance in Spain, he did earn rave reviews from Will Wade on being exactly where he needed to be at all times.
I trust the shots will fall, so knowing Crowfield has earned Wade’s confidence in his ability to help the team when those shots aren’t falling tips me off that Crowfield has the potential to be a bit of a breakout star for the Rams.
Crowfield was a state Player of the Year in Louisiana and a three-time state champ who posted big-time numbers. He received several high major offers but in many ways flew perhaps further under-the-radar than he probably should have.
Having never seen Crowfield myself outside of highlights, but having gained a solid ability to read into Will Wade’s quotes after a season of interviews, I’m very confident in Crowfield ability to contribute on next year’s team, and perhaps contribute even more than some fans might’ve expected when he committed to the black and gold earlier this year.
IMPROVED FRONT COURT SHOULD MAKE VCU A PROBLEM
It’s hard to read too much into the numbers of Ahmed Hamdy this summer without having a better understand of the teams VCU faced, but you can’t help but be a bit excited about what he did against the Spanish pros.
Hamdy’s 15-point, 10.5-rebound double-double average in Spain is a promising sign of what should be an improved frontcourt for the Rams this upcoming season. An improved Hamdy plus increased minutes from last year’s A-10 leader in field goal percentage, Justin Tillman (72.7% shooting in A-10 play while also rankings top-three in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage), not to mention man-mountain, Mo Alie-Cox, could give the Rams a bigger look team than the unit that relied heavily on 6’4 210-lb Korey Billbury and 6’5 225-lb Jordan Burgess alongside Alie-Cox down low.
Granted, there’s still a shot Wade goes with another Billbury type at the three, be it a De’Riante Jenkins, Samir Doughty or dare I say…Andrew White III, but I am of the opinion the Rams benefit most with a lineup that includes Alie-Cox and Tillman at the four and five, with perhaps Burgess at the three.
*Note: VCU’s two most used lineups the last five games of last season included both Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury. Their next two most used lineups both included Tillman, meaning there’s a great chance he stands to get the promotion this season.
Either way, there’s a good chance VCU sees improvement from one, two or even three of the Rams’ primary frontcourt pieces in Alie-Cox, Tillman and Hamdy, and I’m here to tell you right now that that could be a problem for VCU’s A-10 and non-conference opponents. Hamdy’s Spanish success combined with Tillman’s 22-point, 10-rebound double-double in VCU’s final European contest, should hint that the Rams’ fontcourt players are most definitely heading in the right direction.
ANDREW WHITE PREDICTION
For those unfamiliar with the situation, here’s the quickest of breakdowns: VCU has one open scholarship for this upcoming season. Richmond native, Andrew White III, decided to transfer from Nebraska where he recently graduated from (he spent his first two seasons at Kansas) after originally flirting with the NBA Draft. Grad transfers are immediately eligible.
All reports have White’s final decision coming down to VCU (who could use an experienced three-point shooter) and Syracuse (ditto).
What I’ve been told from a very reliable source: Cuse is and has been the favorite, but for whatever reason, White has not pulled the trigger on a commitment to Boeheim’s boys and is still most definitely being pursued by the Rams.
Cuse “media” (meaning mostly fans and part-time bloggers) have reported almost daily that White was going to commit to the Orange on this day or the other, but so far, that has not happened.
My advice? Be pleasantly surprised if he decides to stay at home and finish his college career in front of his family, but don’t bank on it. Either way, this saga basically has to end this week due to late registration periods ending at both schools by Sept 6.
UPDATE: Almost immediately after I published this, White’s commitment to Cuse was announced.