When NBA Commissioner David Stern announced the 15th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft in late June, it was former VCU star forward Larry Sanders’ face that was shown on TVs across the country as the selection.
Sanders, meanwhile, was back at VCU, watching his name being called on a big screen while showing off the plush perks of what will now be a $1.5 million rookie contract: two gold earrings, a gold chain and a gargantuan gold watch nearly the same size of the ball that he has proven to be stupefying with.
No amount of highlight-reel dunks and blocks or jaw-dropping jewelry, however, will be shown off and shoved in potential recruit’s faces more than the newest feather that’s now been placed in VCU’s proverbial cap: two first round selections in the NBA draft two years in a row after former Ram guard and godsend Eric Maynor was taken 20th in 2009.
The distinction is no mean feat either; VCU becomes just the fourth school out of the 275 non-BCS universities to ever achieve the accolade (after Memphis, Utah and UNLV) and, perhaps more surprisingly, the first university to do so in the state of Virginia.
“To have back-to-back first round draft picks is something that few schools can boast,” head coach Shaka Smart said after Sanders’ selection. “It shows our young guys that with winning comes these types of opportunities.”
Yet the opportunities and opulence that come from winning are seemingly twofold for VCU: enjoyed by both player and school. Maynor and Sanders utilized the CAA’s mid-major status to stand out to NBA scouts as big fish in a little pond—a near perfect sales pitch for the coaching staff to flaunt to yet-uncommitted recruits swaying between more brand name schools and VCU.
Indeed, after just one season of having the prestige of a player recently drafted in Maynor, VCU already seems to be feeling the positive effects of not just producing a star, but propelling him into the big league promise land. The team’s 2010 recruiting class was virtually the consensus pick as the best in the CAA after landing impressive players including the league’s top recruit, Juvonte Reddic, who turned down former VCU head coach Jeff Capel at Oklahoma amongst others SEC and ACC teams to join the Rams.
“From administration to the product they put on the floor … VCU is a school that values their basketball program and is a class place,” said Dave Telap, national recruiting director for Scout.com. “Let’s not kid ourselves: Kids are attracting to winning and they have a pretty good track record of winning.”
That’s due in no small part to Maynor and Sanders. Maynor graduated just a smidgen under the 2,000 point mark with 1,953, the most in VCU history, the most assists in program history with 674 and his fabled buzzer-beater over Duke in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. Sanders, on the other hand, finished second all time in blocks (277), fourth in rebounds (776), and stole storylines last summer first with a peerless performance in the CAA Championship game before impressing pro scouts with his play at Lebron James’ Skill Academy.
Those same sagas and statistics, however, might point to a real reason why such a feat should not be expected to be repeated anytime soon. Before Maynor, no player from the state of Virginia had been taken in the first round of the NBA Draft since Old Dominion’s Cal Bowdler in 1999. The University of Virginia has had seven players taken in the first round but has not had one to boast of for 15 years; Virginia Tech has had only one player taken in the first round: Del Curry in 1986.
“These guys are college basketball players at mid-major school, there’s no way to put that kind of pressures on kids,” said Telep when asked about VCU’s future prospects in the draft. “Probably none of them will play in the NBA; they’re not supposed to.”
If the feat is as daunting as it seems, VCU’s current crop of players can at least rest on the words of their former teammate, who is now bound for the Milwaukee Bucks, when it comes to trying to fufill their own pro pursuits.
“Coming to VCU was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Sanders said. “This place is the main reason I am able to take this next step.”