In Which We Avoid The Bad “Rhoades To ” Cliche…
Because Robby is a good dude and let me sit in the seats for yesterday’s Black-and-Gold game, I got to take notes and compare those notes with a friend of mine. It was important this season because approximately the entire roster is new. We all wanted to see the actual kids who span all four classes—put reality against the names and videos—play the game with the clock running. The fun factor lived up to billing—me, The Beautiful One, and 4200 of our good friends enjoyed a brief but necessary look at Our Guys.
Fun is fun and the lines that spilled onto Broad Street before most people finished lunch gave us all that familiar feeling of VCU basketball. But there’s a limit to the legit information that comes from these scrimmages. For instance, there’s not one thing Johnny Williams was going to do in his senior season intrasquad scrimmage to change four years of work. What’s more, at the pace preferred by Mike Rhoades and with limited substitutions, guys got tired and play got ragged. And finally, the full team has practiced together with the full staff only about a dozen times. They are still figuring it all out.
To that end I pay attention to—but put limited mental resources against—specific stats. But the afternoon met its expectation because we did see some stuff:
Kris Lane: I can’t decide if he has the best old-man-game we’ve seen around here, or he’s a lion quietly prowling the high grass. Whatever the case, Lane is the kind of guy that goes about his business, and by the time you notice he has the ball in a scoring position, Lane has already scored. Ditto rebounding. “Who grabbed that? Oh, Lane” was the comment after he had already thrown an outlet pass. Lane’s going to stuff a stat sheet without you noticing.
Marcus Santos-Silva: this was the day’s biggest revelation. Yes, there were the points and rebounds. So what. MSS knew where he needed to be on the court and was comfortable with the pace. He was calling out switches on defense and getting guys in the right place—things a freshman does not normally do. MSS will struggle at times, but he will play and be an asset beginning right now. His size and activity level balance the court. His future is bright.
Malik Crowfield and De’Riante Jenkins: these guys go together because they are part of the Johnny Williams Rule of not really learning much, but I did see something worth noting. Both were more aggressive and played with a freedom we didn’t see last year. For instance, Crowfield looked to attack when he received a pass. Last season he simply looked for a shot or somebody to pass to. Jenkins was in constant attack mode. That’s a larger data point to the freedom everyone is playing with this season.
Issac Vann: In the time it takes me to write this sentence, Vann has taken three shots. I love that. Forget makes and misses yesterday, and let Rhoades coach up drive more and stop settling for the three. To me, having a guy the opponent has to react to no matter where he is on the court because he is looking to get the ball onto the rim opens up opportunity for everyone.
Lewis Djonkam: The big guy gives it his all. He is going to make the foul rate of The Experience look soft, but he’s not cheating his teammates. He won’t allow layups in his presence, and has a nose for the ball. Djonkam is a true junk yard dog—or, thanks to a guy named Jacob Warriner on twitter—he is our Djonk Yard Dog. Expect that nickname for four years.
Sean Mobley: It’s obvious Mobley carries a feel for the game and instincts you simply cannot teach. His transition trail three was a personal highlight for me. Mobley is the ultimate in “when he figures it out…” player.
Maye, Simms, and Jackson: they will help us in spots. Simms and Jackson give us versatility and lineup flexibility, and I’m hopeful for Maye. A backup point guard is a critical need.
But caution. All those pretty words above mean very little in the grand scheme. Yesterday didn’t change whatever the final record will be, and we’re not suddenly bound for the Sweet 16. It’s going to change when teams with similarly skilled players try to jump our bones. They are all having the same scrimmage in their gyms in front of their fans and feel the same positive vibes. We’re still going to play 20 or so games that are within two possessions in the final four minutes and pure execution is the difference in a Thursday game in the A10 tournament, and a Thursday game in the NCAA tournament.
But I’ll have a nice Sunday, because two things were obvious:
• The guys are having a lot more fun, which matters.
• We’re hitting the floor every night in the next five months with a chance to win.