Smart: guys have to step up

Alonzo Small
Sports Editor

Senior Briante Weber pictured with head coach Shaka Smart. Ct File Photo

In the days following the men’s basketball team losing a big piece of their identity, there is a new battle cry for the team “HAVOC.” Next man up.

When senior guard Briante Weber went down with a season-ending knee injury, fans weren’t too optimistic about the Rams’ future, let alone a deep run in the tournament. At 18-4 on the season, a team led by the senior duo of Weber and guard/forward Treveon Graham, along with an extensive bench, had many RamNation fans thinking this was as good a shot as any to win big. It would be Weber’s and Graham’s, along with senior forward Jarred Guest’s curtain call and you had to expect those three, along with the team surrounding them, would leave it all on the floor. Although the Rams have lost their best defensive player and team leader, the team still has depth and for that reason alone the Rams are still in a great position to play deep into the month of March.

After the initial shock of the injury, head coach Shaka Smart was questioned about how he envisioned the team with the two-time Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year out indefinitely.

“In terms of our style, we’re not going to change a whole lot, but guys are going to have to step up and play the right way,” Smart said.

“I think your personality changes a little bit anytime you lose a dominant figure on your team,” Smart said. “But at the same time, we’re not going to cancel the season. We’re still going to play the way that we play. There may be some adjustments in terms of some of the X’s and O’s stuff that we do on both ends of the floor but we’re still going to be us.”

The reason Smart’s teams have been so good for the duration of his coaching career at VCU is because the team does not rely on one man. Deep rosters will always lessen the pain of losing a star player. Now, a deep roster will have to be the men’s basketball team’s saving grace. The team works most effectively when ball movement is a priority, open shots fall and getting stops on the defensive side of the play is second nature. Sure, guys like Weber are once in a generation talents, but the team must now move on and accept that the best he can do is be the best teammate he can be on the sidelines.

“He’s still a big part of our leadership team and even though he won’t be on the court, I think he can still have a real positive message for our guys,” said Smart on Weber’s role moving forward.

Graham echoed the same sentiments when asked how Weber’s injury affects the team moving forward.

“It affects him being on the court as a leader, but we know he’s going to be on the sidelines if he can’t come back and be out there for us,” Graham said.

Graham emphasized the nature of the team now is all about the next person stepping up to lead. It’s now a unique opportunity for Smart’s team. The end of Weber’s road may have come sooner than expected, but it was no doubt drawing to a close. The men to take the reins were always going to be his trio of point guards. So now it’s up to the point guards of the future: sophomore JeQuan Lewis, freshman Jonathan Williams and redshirt sophomore Torey Burston to make their mark in the present. With Weber out the first game of the season and Lewis suffering a concussion against the University of Tennessee, we saw glimpses of what Williams and Burston can bring to the team. In stretches of the season when Weber was out, Lewis was the leader at the point and never missed a beat from his predecessor. The Rams are in a great position at the point and Smart is excited about the possibilities.

“We’re going to see how these guys do with a lot more opportunity and it will give us somewhat of a view into the future,” Smart said.

On the court, Smart’s squad still calls one of the nation’s best in Graham, teammate. The leading scorer is as much the heart and soul of the team as Weber is. Graham himself has been plagued by injuries all season, but the 6-foot-6 playmaker has persevered through it all. That determination alone is just another factor as to how the team can rally behind for motivation. Forward Mo Alie-Cox has started to emerge as a low post threat and continues to improve on the offensive and defensive end. Junior Melvin Johnson continues to shoot the ball well and looks every bit as ready to accept the challenge of this bunch becoming his team next year. The pieces are still there for the Rams to do something special, and you have to think seeing No. 4 on the sideline, robbed of playing the game he loves, will inspire the team even more.

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