No ‘I’ in team: Rams prospering in Rozzell’s sixth-man roll

Adam Stern
Sports Editor
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After Brandon Rozzell gave a unified and dignified declaration of his comfort— acceptance— in his role as VCU’s sixth-man sharpshooter Thursday night, Bradford Burgess chimed in and asked if he could give his two cents on the situation.

Burgess knows Rozzell’s role as first man off the bench isn’t the easiest thing to coalesce to for any cocksure, high quality athlete. But after seeing his fellow Richmond native— who he shares a billboard with highlighting that very fact— thrive alongside him in VCU’s 78-65 dispatching of New Hampshire, he wanted to make his feelings known.

“We definitely commend Brandon for doing that, coming off the bench, because a lot of guys as talented as him would complain about not starting but he’s just embraced it and it’s been a positive for us,” Burgess said.

He was a huge positive Thursday night. Even with his role as sixth man, VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart proved what he was saying the night before, when he said he considered Rozzell a starter, by giving the Highland Springs product 29 minutes; tied for most on the team. The streaky shooter responded with 23 points including a game high six 3-pointers. UNH’s entire team combined only hit five.

“Siegel Center, it’s my place, I don’t even think about it,” Rozzell said in reference to his hot hand. “It’s just a mentality going into the game, I just let it fly; they tell me to keep shooting and that’s what I did.”

So did Burgess. The six-foot-six-inch, 225-pounder was described as a ‘joke’ to try and defend in his current role at the four spot by Smart the night before after the Rams whipped Wofford. Against UNH— his 84th straight start for VCU dating back to his first game as a freshman— he dropped a seemingly effortless, game-high 24 points and an efficient eight rebounds.

“[Smart] has been pressing to get me more aggressive in the offense,” Burgess said. “I’m definitely trying to assert myself more.”

In an odd twist, senior forward Jamie Skeen was the only other player besides Rozzell and Skeen to score for the first 25 minutes of the game. Indeed it was only when freshman forward Juvonte Reddic— whose been seeing a gradual rise in playing time over the last cluster of games— scored on a lowdown layup almost six minutes into the second half that another member of the Rams had digits in the point column.

The stat line was made all the more interesting when looking at that of senior point guard Joey Rodriguez. In a facilitating role, the Florida native finished with an exceptional eight assists and no turnovers. But as a scorer, Rodriguez, who was averaging 10.8 points per game heading into the weekend, finished scoreless.
For his part, Smart seemed cognizant but not overly concerned.

“Joey’s done a really good job passing the ball, really for the year and a half I’ve been here he’s been best passer in the league,” Smart said. “In these two games he’s been looking to pass more; Joey’s a guy we’ll need to make shots and we want him taking shots and getting open looks because he’s proven really since he’s been here that he can score.”

He’ll get his next opportunity when VCU shifts back to the conference slate on the road against Georgia State next Monday. The Rams finished the non-conference portion of their schedule (barring ESPN Bracketbusters) 9-4; a solid record but one Smart has no doubts they need to improve on.

“I think we’ve made some progress,” Smart said. But have a long way 2 go.”

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