To the Editor:
The men’s basketball program at VCU had an interesting offseason. Plenty of people are labeling this year to be a “rebuild year,” which gives sports fans tons of grief.
There’s no timetable when it comes to a rebuilding phase. The season may start out rough with miscommunications, teammate miscues and conflicting ideas, however, this rebuild shouldn’t be a major concern to fans at the beginning of the season.
First, there was the surprising departure of head coach Will Wade after his second year as coach for the program to leave for Louisiana State University. Then, there was the departure of eight of the then 13 man roster because five of them graduated and three transferred to different programs.
It was unknown what was going to happen to the program that has seven consecutive appearances in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. It seemed that the program would be going through a massive rebuild phase for a while, however, that may not be the case.
Shortly after the departure of Will Wade, VCU chose to bring in Mike Rhoades from Rice University as head coach for the Rams. This addition would spark a sign that the program would not go through a massive overhaul after all. Prior to Rhodes’ time as head coach of the basketball program at Rice University in Houston, Texas, he was an associate head coach for the Rams under then head coach Shaka Smart from 2009-2014. While coaching at Rice University, he would help the program earn their first 20 win season in more than a decade.
The coaching staff this year has more of a connection than it may appear to the eye of the average fan.
Joey Rodriguez, former point guard for VCU (2007-2011), is now the Director of Player Development for his alma mater. Rodriguez during his career helped VCU notch two NCAA tournament appearances (2009, 2011). Not only were Rodriguez and Rhoades together at VCU, but also at Rice. Rodriguez was Video Coordinator for the Owls under Rhodes during their 2016-2017 season. As a result, the Owls earned their first 20 win season in more than a decade.
Another returning face for the Rams would be associate head coach Jeremy Ballard, who was another product of the Shaka Smart coaching tree. During his first stint with VCU, he helped the program appear in three straight NCAA Tournaments and the Rams were 79-28 during that span. Prior to his current tenure as associate head coach, he was assistant head coach at Illinois State and University of Pittsburgh.
First year Director of Operations Jimmy Martelli, first year assistant coach J.D. Byers and first year assistant coach, Brent Scott were all with Coach Rhodes before, either at Randolph-Macon College or Rice University.
The remaining players that have been with VCU longer than two years are point guard Jonathan Williams and power forward Justin Tillman. The onus of leadership will be put on these two shoulders this year. With the Rams having a plethora of new players, it’s up to Williams and Tillman to instill the “Havoc” mentality that the VCU players are known for on the court.
Redshirt senior, Khris Lane can be expected to provide wisdom as a veteran for the younger players on the team. Though this is his first year on the team, he has four years of college playing experience with three at Longwood and one at Drexel University. Lane is a Richmond native, so he grew up seeing the program rise to the status it is today.
At the moment, it appears the future leaders of this program after these three seniors leave the program will be forward De’Riante Jenkins and guard Malik Crowfield because of their tenure with the team.
A “rebuilding year” or “rebuilding phase” is a term that sports fans worry about all the time. There’s no real time table for when a rebuild year or a rebuild period is officially over. Most fans consider a rebuild phase to be over when there is constant winning.
The question for the fans is: When will VCU fans consider the rebuild phase over? Will it be when the team goes on a big winning streak or will it be when the team strives in the Atlantic 10 tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament?
Growing pains are expected for the team and that’s okay, but fans should not be worried about these growing pains. This team’s coaching staff has a strong connection and experience with each other, including young talented players that are willing to learn. Though the Rams may not start the season the way fans are expecting to see, it won’t be a shock if the Rams play the way fans are accustomed to seeing deep into the season.