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The eight players that comprise VCU men’s basketball’s returning corps have had plenty to get used to as the dawn of the new season approaches.
There’s the loss of the defensively dominant Larry Sanders and the addition of this season’s five fabled freshman and junior transfer Toby Veal. There’s the new, extra emphasis on a half-court defense that’s set to become a staple for Havoc 2.0. And for the team’s two Richmond natives, senior Brandon Rozzell and junior Bradford Burgess, there’s the small matter of having a new billboard on Interstate-95 featuring their faces.
The billboard – which sits right before the Belvidere exit on the southbound side of the interstate – shows the two guards with words stating “our city, your team,” followed by the years they graduated from local Richmond high schools. For his part, and per his average excitement level, Rozzell seemed sprightly about it.
“It’s a great thing being on there with another Richmond guy in Bradford Burgess,” Rozzell said with a smile. “It’s an honor to be on there and to have two Richmond guys on it.”
Burgess, on the other hand, was a bit more reserved.
“I mean it’s cool, and it is what it is, but we’re just here to play basketball.”
That’s finally going to happen Thursday. The team kicks off their season Thursday night in the U.S. Army Downtown Showdown against cross-town rival Virginia Union in what will be the team’s first and only exhibition of the season.
“Every day in practice our guys go against each other and beat up each other up but now in a game against Virginia Union we get to work together against another team,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “Of course Union is going to be highly motivated and they’ll come in and give us their best shot.”
That wasn’t much of a shot last season. In last year’s corresponding fixture, VCU raced out an insurmountable lead and never looked back behind Larry Sanders 22 points and Rozzell’s 14, all of which came in the first half. The match marked Rozzell’s second season in a row putting up big numbers against the fellow Richmond school, and the Highland Springs product thinks he knows why.
“Union is a team from Richmond like me so it’s just a team I want to play extra good against,” Rozzell said. “We’re not looking at last year; we’re looking at this year to come out and play VCU basketball.”
Just what VCU basketball is remains a constantly evolving answer with Smart entering only his second season and continuing to mold the program into his own. Along with the new recruiting class, there’s also the addition of the team’s new, intense focus on defense, particularly in the half court.
“The coaches are being really strict on defense,” senior guard Ed Nixon said with a smile. “We had an emphasis on it last year but this year it’s especially on our half-court defense.”
Another notable emphasis has been placed on the coalescing of the older members of the squad with the younger. Off the court, that appears to be no problem; it’s on the court where the adjustments are still being made.
“They’re all quick learners, competitors and humble guys,” Rozzell said. “They look up to me, Joey (Rodriguez), Brad, Ed; the forwards look up to Jaime (Skeen) and Dave Hinton so we all have guys to learn from and they are taking advantage of it.”
For his part, Nixon seemed to agree.
“(The new players are) fit right in and they’re like my little brothers,” Nixon said. “On the court they’re freshman and transfers getting used to the system but as far as chemistry wise everybody’s gelling pretty good.”
What: U.S. Army Downtown Showdown
Who: VCU vs. Virginia Union
When: Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010
Tipoff: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center
Ticket info: 804-828-RAMS
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