One evening a few weeks ago I had a couple easygoing hours and a fresh supply of Stella, and the combination unsurprisingly sent me to twitter to openly wonder who the most underrated VCU players were in program history. I mean, what else would you do? The idea took off and I got a ton of great feedback, names, and information. I knew I’d turn it into a full-fledged post one day, and since it was approximately 463 degrees, Celsius, outside, Sunday was that day.
You must know a couple things. The first is that the list is limited to guys I’ve seen play. Anyone before 1986 is not included. Several players from earlier times, notably Michael Brown, received support. I am sure they are deserving and this is not a slight to them; however I have no true frame of reference and no way to compare them. Second, a big factor for me is importance. Important to winning. Important to his teammates. Important to productivity. Important to the coach. That takes on many different forms from glue guy to all conference performer. However the bedrock for me that a guy was far more important than he was credited for.
So here you go, my list–with your help–on the first team All Underrated VCU Players. I added four others that were under strong consideration:
Jordan Burgess (2013-17): 4.9ppg, 3.7rpg. Burgess is listed first because he is probably the most underrated player in VCU basketball history. It was impossible to avoid comparisons to his older brother in Jordan’s first couple of seasons, and Bradford cast a loooonnnggg shadow. However once people got past that, they still did not see the value because they tend to focus on shooting percentages and scoring average. Burgess did everything that made the stars, stars. He set screens, blew up defenders as they crossed the lane, and boxed out. He was the toughest SOB on the floor—nobody really knew how well Jordan could fight, because nobody really wanted to find out. Ed McLaughlin loves to tell the story of the Saint Joseph’s game when Burgess’ finger was broken, a full 90 degrees, but Jordan wanted someone to pop it in place so he could go play. I remember Jordan on the right side of the free throw lane, tracking down a missed free throw on the left hand side of the floor—saving a key possession that helped VCU come from 10 down with seven minutes to play to win. I also remember Jordan hitting the game-tying three at Saint Louis in his sophomore season. Treveon Graham made a layup with less than a second to play to win that game, but Burgess’ sack-up three put VCU in that position.
Michael Doles (2002-05): 11.3ppg, 3.9rpg. It’s difficult to include a guy who has an entire game named after him, but Doles fits the bill. Doles went to Meadowbrook High in Richmond and spent his freshman season at Wright State. Jeff Capel brought Doles home and both spent their first season at VCU together. Nobody really knew what we had, but the 6-6 Doles could fill a number of positions and that’s exactly how Capel utilized him. Doles was one of those guys that could do a little of everything—he could mix it up like the tide coming in, but was as smooth with the ball as the tide going out. Doles is a little like the offensive version of Ed Nixon. Headlines went to Domonic Jones, Nick George, BA Walker, and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, and all Doles did was quietly produce. Did you know he averaged 11.2ppg on that 2004 NCAA tournament team? Doles remains a key cog in what would build to what we have today.
Elander Lewis (1989-91): 12.2ppg, 4.6rpg. Lewis was the first high-level transfer to come to VCU, heading south to Richmond from St. John’s. We only had Lewis for two years, and neither team he led was a big winner in what was then a rugged Sun Belt conference. I think Lewis gets lost because he bridged the gap from Phil Stinnie to Kendrick Warren. Make no mistake, Lewis was a player. I remember Lewis, in Blacksburg, single-handedly carrying VCU into overtime against Virginia Tech. Remember how Eric Maynor would get into those zones where he would score from everywhere, and the defense knew he was going to shoot but was helpless? Lewis had that kind of ability, and it was on display that night.
Ed Nixon (2007-11): 5.4ppg, 1.9rpg. Nixon would make Jon Rothstein’s All Glue Guy team. He always drew the opposing team’s most explosive wing but Nixon could guard four positions effectively. He kept the ball moving on offense and was trusted by his more headline-grabbing teammates on the 2011 Final Four squad. Nixon had his moments, too. Late in a game against William & Mary, Nixon slashed down the lane and was fouled while finishing a dunk. He made the free throw to tie the game at a critical juncture. VCU lost, but the moment was never too large for Nixon. Side note: people forget Nixon shot 43% from three his junior season, and was a career 73% foul shooter.
Tyron McCoy (1991-95): 12.6ppg, 4.1rpg. Pull up a chair, young folks, and let me tell you a story about a bucketmaker. McCoy played alongside some of the most explosive offensive players in VCU history—Warren, Sherron Mills, Kenny Harris—and still is the school’s 15th alltime leading scorer. McCoy made 143 threes in his career, but it was his effortless drives through traffic that made the most noise. He was part Treveon Graham, part Willie Tayor. In McCoy’s final two years, Sonny Smith needed him 35 minutes per game and McCoy was up to the task, averaging more than 15ppg each season. Because of this, McCoy never got the credit he deserved defensively. Like Lewis, McCoy toiled in the mid-1990s for some mediocre teams, but he was the real deal.
Antoine Willie (2001-03): 10.4ppg. We only had him two seasons, but Willie was the consummate team player. A harassing defender with boundless energy, Willie also gave up his starting role his senior season and never complained—the kid just kept working, making his teammates, those who would with the 2004 CAA tournament, better. Willie is with Jordan Burgess on the all tough guy team.
LF Likcholitov (1998-2002): 7.1ppg, 5.4rpg. Likcholitov is the poster child for how a kid can develop in college. He came in a gawky 6-10 with no real skillset other than being 6-10, and by his senior season Likcholitov was a fortress down low. Traditional big men were a huge part of those CAA days—guys like Robert Battle, Kenny Adeleke, and Ricardo Marsh. Likcholitov could play with all of them, and that was important. People forget how effective of a jump hook he possessed.
Jamal Shuler (2004-08): 8.7ppg. I know what you’re thinking—how could one of the most loved players in VCU history make this list? Easy. Shuler’s 500-watt smile and easygoing nature made him a fan favorite, but his versatile skills tend to be overlooked. Shuler was a sharpshooter. A high level defender. Underrated passer. He was one of those guys who impacted winning on both sides of the floor. He was also the guy calling for the ball when Maynor’s Dagger went down. Do yourself a favor and look again at The Dagger, but focus on Shuler.
Sherman Hamilton (1994-97): 9.8ppg. Hamilton gets lost in the great point guard discussion, but know this: he had 417 assists in three seasons. If he continued that assist rate for a fourth VCU season, he would’ve finished fourth alltime, behind Joey Rodriguez. Hamilton directed the show and averaged 11.0ppg for the 1996 CAA championship team.