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When VCU head coach Shaka Smart sat down with the university’s student reporters at CAA Media Day this season, before the first games had tipped off, he let the assembled media in on a little secret.
“Every kid who comes to VCU to play basketball,” Smart said, “has dreams of going pro.”
It hasn’t always been that way. Before Ram ruler Eric Maynor got drafted 20th in the first round to the Utah Jazz in 2009, the university had gone 16 years without a player gracing the stage at Madison Square Garden. The last time a player from the Rams had made it into the Association was 1993, when the Minnesota Timberwolves selected forward Sherron Williams as the 29th pick in the second round.
But after Maynor in 2009 came Larry Sanders in 2010, drafted even higher than Maynor at 15th and thus pushing VCU’s glass ceiling ever higher. And now after Sanders — following an incredible, even unimaginable run in the NCAA tournament — should come Jamie Skeen in 2011.
The Charlotte native certainly enjoyed a solid career at VCU after transferring from Wake Forest following his sophomore season, but many did not regard Skeen as an NBA draft picking heading into March. A month and a half later, Skeen is being spoken about as a near certain second-rounder, and one that has a shot of going even higher at that.
Skeen shredded his way through the NCAA tournament, both in the palm of the post and on the edge of the arc, with the highlights coming in 26- and 27-point performances against Kansas in the Elite Eight and Butler in the Final Four respectively.
In helping the Rams to the Sweet 16 with an 18-point pulverizing of Purdue, he may have done enough to draw the keen interest of an NBA team or two. In carrying the Rams to a Final Four berth, Skeen merely put the cherry on top.
“A guy who can play big in big situations, that’s a huge plus for a player,” said NBADraft.net owner Aran Smith. “And he played so well, even in the Final Four game against Butler, so that helped solidify a likely spot in the second round.”
In NBADraft.net’s latest Mock Draft, released last week, Skeen was projected as being the 44th pick, which is in the middle of the draft’s second and final round.
Could he go even higher? What’s for sure is the Rams would have skyrocketed their stock even more if they could have beaten Butler and potentially even Connecticut. But regardless of where Skeen falls, he certainly was given all the TV time he needed.
“You can see a guy 10 times, you can see a guy 100 times, eventually you’ve seen a guy enough,” said DraftExpress.com owner Jonathan Givony. “So whatever happens with any of their players, it’s not going to be through a lack of exposure.”
Both Smith and Givony, who are in constant contact with NBA scouts, said they hadn’t heard much chatter about VCU’s senior point guard Joey Rodriguez, and that while getting a workout with a side in the NBA is definitely doable, the chances of turning that into a contract are slim and he’s likely looking at a career overseas.
What does Rodriguez have going for him? If anyone can defy the odds, it’s him.
Another Ram who made noise for himself in the tournament was junior renaissance man Bradford Burgess. The Richmond native — whom Smart said is so versatile he can play four out of the five positions on the court for the Rams — lived up to his nickname of Big Shot Brad in the Big Dance.
Burgess poured in double-digit points in four of VCU’s six games in the NCAA tournament, including the game-winning bucket in overtime of the Sweet 16 match up versus Florida State.
“He had a really good tournament, and he has good size for his position on the wing,” Smith said. “I think he has a real chance (of getting drafted in the NBA draft).
If he does next year, and Skeen does as well this go-round, the Rams will have put four players in the NBA draft for four years running.
That’s quite a feat for a team that, according to some experts, didn’t even belong in tournament itself.
“It’s crazy how much stock is put into winning,” Smith said. “But I think playing really well when it matters so much, that’s big. It sort of shows what a guy’s made of.”