Christmas In July…
Ho. Ho. Ho. Get freaking ready.
It’s invigorating to be writing about VCU basketball. It’s a rejuvenating and energizing errand, similar to your wife asking you to start the grill, and definitely not remembering you promised to vacuum the house . It’s the first bit-champing activity as we roll towards #STDGA season.
I’m thrilled, and a little bit drunk. But I have to be honest up front.
If you’re expecting this to be some sort of summer update, you’ll be disappointed. There’s nothing to learn in July. There is no relevant progress. All players from all teams are “getting up shots” and they are “in the lab” and in the middle of the “summer grind.” If you read something into Marcus Santos-Silva running the parking deck mile four seconds faster than last year, you are desperate for VCU basketball and that’s awesome and I toast you.
But really, it doesn’t matter.
Don’t get me wrong, what happens in the summer is very important—Mike Rhoades has said in the past championships are won in the summer. But this time of year belongs to the players, coaches, and Don Brown. For them, the bedrock of success is a physical labor, the conglomeration of the superstructure we will see in November, pushed by the moulting of mental individualism and tested by heat indices. For us, it’s fairly irrelevant. Somewhere, someone is overseeing another batch of Stella being bottled. This is not mine to oversee, but I will appreciate that work when I open the next one.
We got that feeling back, didn’t we? That swag. Not the fake, phony swag that arises from individual accomplishment. It’s the real thing, where a single moment of success bursts, in front of all to see, whose origin is rooted in a college basketball Greek tragedy, a mythology of ice boats and shell drills and lonely nights rehabbing injuries. You did something for your guys. It’s Eric Maynor waving off his coach and drilling The Dagger and subsequent “that’s for you.” Brandon Rozzell agreeing with Kansas assistant coaches that on no uncertain terms they should get someone out there to get a hand in his face.
I think it happened when Marcus Santos-Silva earned a technical foul for blowing a kiss to the Duquesne students. This wasn’t about Santos-Silva or one of his least-thunderous dunks. It was a lubricated student section that afternoon, and they had been giving anyone in back-and-gold the business most of the game. Heck, De’Riante Jenkins had scored the last seven points for VCU preceding the dunk.
At that moment there was a feeling. The VCU defense was beginning to take over the game, and the players were out running the lanes. It wasn’t even an insurmountable advantage. Santos-Silva’s dunk only gave VCU a six-point lead, and Duquesne would even rally to tie the game for a brief time. But it was the WAY they were playing, with an unselfishness and joy and like basketball was meant to be fun. Santos-Silva, in that moment and with that two-hand smooch, announced VCU basketball.
It wasn’t back because it never went anywhere. We just had to find it. And we did in that moment. It’s worth noting VCU won 12 straight games to close the regular season beginning with that game, and I’m saying it was because Marcus Santos-Silva blew a kiss to the Duquesne students.
People often quote Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm” and it’s a great quote. But you never hear what Emerson said before that hammer line: “When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object.”
That’s VCU basketball and that’s what resurfaced. Keep smooching, Marcus.
And it’s time to move forward.
You should be a kid on Christmas Eve. This is July, so we are focusing on arc and approach, not BDC workouts and weight room pics. We’re not talking about health, nor reps, nor a random advanced metric with no context, nor overwritten clichés like “taking a step forward.” There is a time and place for overanalysis, and it’s months away. Here’s what matters: the gifts under this tree are bountiful. It’s that simple.
We’re going to unwrap some dress socks and get enrolled in the jelly-of-the-month club at varying points next season. It’s inevitable. I will preach until my dying day that the other guys are trying to win, they practice, they scout, and they have good players. They will win games against VCU.
But this team, in July, has That Look. It checks boxes. Scoring. Rebounding. Defense. Depth: nine players averaged more than 14 minutes per game last season. This group carries three important Cs: chemistry, camaraderie, and cantankerousness. These Rams are built for achieving lofty goals.
If the old coaching saw that seniors win championships holds true, then Rhoades is licking his chops. VCU has five seniors, including its three most potent weapons. Jenkins, Marcus Evans, and Issac Vann are multi-level scorers. Santos-Silva is becoming a full-fledged Godzilla. We saw the best Malik Crowfield we’ve seen the last 10 or so games. One person close to the team told me Vince Williams took 38 charges in his freshman season—even if that’s a little high, I’d bet your mortgage it was more than 30.
Speaking of arc, VCU will have to shoot the ball better if goals are to be realized. Rhoades knows. This summer’s regimen includes shooting in fatigued situations, “huffing and puffing jumpers,” he calls them. “Yeah, we have to shoot a better percentage. We missed too many open shots, too many threes,” he says. “Our shot selection got better and better but we’ve got to make more open threes.”
Rhoades also speaks to his seniors in rhetoricals. “What do you guys want to do? How are you going to be remembered here? Do you want to have regrets?”
So settle in and get prepared. Ask your questions now, because November is too late. The gauntlet is down and it’s going to be a looooonnnngggggg haul to October. Then November.
Then, what comes next?