I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Thanks to you and your teammates, it was a little brighter than usual for the RamNation, and that had nothing to do with the sun-splashed beach nor ballroom-lit arena. We appreciate the effort and focus you all displayed to grab two victories in the Bahamas. Success in an event like this has been a long time coming.
I’m writing to you for one simple reason, for one not-at-all simple directive. It became very clear as I reviewed the trip on my flight home: make this your team. Be the leader you can become.
Honestly, to me, your leadership is the galvanizing force for this season’s team. It could very well be the difference in good and great. How do I know this?
It was 10 years ago when we saw what great leadership can do for a basketball team—before the 2011 run that obscured, obliterated, and obfuscated every expectation when it comes to VCU basketball. It was 2006-07, and it led to The Dagger and a close, double-OT loss to Pitt. That moment in VCU basketball history didn’t just happen because of talent, though talent is necessary. It occurred—and this is by far the most important part—off the court.
“We had to get our guys’ attention. I thought we had a team, and I specifically remember a meeting with them,” Anthony Grant told me this October, emphasizing the word team. “Going into the year we didn’t know what we had with Eric (Maynor), but somewhere early in conference play I told the assistants ‘man, this guy is different. He has great leadership qualities. He can run the team.’
“Like most teams your seniors are your voice. But at this meeting I told everyone ‘Eric this is your team. You need to lead the guys and I know you are a sophomore but I’m telling you it is your team.’ I knew that for us to get where we needed and wanted to go it was going to be Eric that led us. I also have to give credit to the seniors. They never took it as ‘this guy can do it and you can’t.’ They envisioned that this guy right here could lead and they could play, and he needs to start acting like that. He basically took over.”
That season, VCU had its tough guy, it’s glue guy, in Jesse Pellot Rosa. He was a senior. He understood. Jordan Burgess is the same way. Burgess will set the tone and the character, and if anybody steps across the line Jordan sets Jordan will handle it. That season, VCU had a scoring combo guard who had experienced everything college basketball offers in BA Walker. He was a senior. He understood. JeQuan Lewis is the same way. He will score and/or dish and provide production. That season Mike Anderson used his athletic 6-7 frame to rebound in space (Justin Tillman), and Matt Coward provided defensive spark when needed (Torey Burston).
That team, and this one, was deep when it came to roles. Somebody needs to ensure everyone understands those roles and plays to their strengths. Someone needs to be that clarifying voice. That includes taking care of your own business and setting an example for the others to follow. Like Eric Maynor that season, that’s what you can provide. Sure, that means sometimes you need to be unpopular in the moment. Such is life, and greatness is not easy. In the long run, everyone is happy when you win.
But there are lots of things that go into winning, and someone needs to orchestrate that symphony. Jonny, you have the ability to produce and the charisma to bring others along. You have the ingredients.
I feel like I saw a light go on after the LSU game, the 100-watt glow of figuring it out. It burned brightly in that ballroom back room that serves as a kick-start to a great season. Or it could not. The light is fleeting, and can be snuffed out by the shroud of selfishness, a wasted moment of clarity because nobody takes that into their arms and nurtures it. There’s difficulty ahead. Hell, the calendar has not flipped to December. But when those difficult moments arrive, perhaps as early as Tuesday night, strong leadership mitigates the difficulty and allows teams to play more freely.
The 2006-07 team did not lose back-to-back games and won twice on the road after a loss. That’s talent (on the court), and leadership (off the court). First you have to freeze the pond, and then you let the skaters dance.
You can be that leader, Jonny. You can freeze the pond.