Following the hire of Mike Rhoades in March, this marked the third head coach for the Rams in four seasons. With yet another coaching change, the Black and Gold will look to veteran leadership from senior guard Jonathan Williams and senior forward Justin Tillman to guide them to an eighth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
“On the court, I’ve gotten a lot better with my leadership,” Williams said. “I’ve learned from some of the best to come through here about leadership.”
Williams has nurtured his leadership capabilities under other strong willed VCU floor generals such as JeQuan Lewis and Briante Weber. During his junior season, Williams set career highs in points (8.3) and assists per game (3.1) on nearly 45 percent shooting. Williams will be taking on a bigger role offensively this season with the departure of former floor general JeQuan Lewis.
Photo by Ali Jones
Shooting was a focus for Williams during the summer.
“I feel like some teams still play me under a little bit,” Williams said. “But if I get better at shooting, people are just going to be scratching their heads on what to do.”
With his athleticism and ability to attack the rim, a consistent jump shot from the field would render Williams an imposing opposition to guard and will add another weapon on offense for the Rams. Williams gives the Rams an impressive inside-out threat with Tillman working down low.
The journey for Tillman and Williams while at VCU has been similar.
“It’s been great because he’s been through everything that I’m going through right now,” Williams said about his relationship with Tillman. “He’s been through the change from not playing a whole lot sophomore year to playing a lot junior year, and that’s the same thing that happened to me.”
Tillman averaged career highs in his junior season with 12.2 points per game on nearly 60 percent shooting and 8.7 rebounds per game. Tillman elevated his level of play against conference opponents. In the A-10, the dynamic forward averaged 14.5 points per game on 60 percent shooting and 9.6 rebounds in 18 conference games last season. Tillman posted 11 double-doubles last season, all against A-10 opponents, and he hauled in 17 rebounds in the A-10 Conference Championship against Rhode Island.
Photo by Ali Jones
Tillman’s superior rebounding and ability to finish plays around the rim will be important this season with the departure of Mo Alie-Cox and the transition of new coach Mike Rhoades. Tillman’s A-10 dominance earned him a selection to the A-10 preseason first team this year.
According to Williams, the goals for the upcoming season haven’t changed for the Rams.
“We want to win the A-10 regular season outright,” Williams said. “We want to win the championship and make a real deep run in the NCAA Tournament.”
Rhoades was an assistant for the Rams during the 2011 Final Four run and throughout the four straight NCAA tournament appearances under Shaka Smart. Rhoades led Rice University to their first 20-win season since the 2003-2004 campaign last year and brings valuable experience to a young, untested VCU roster. In his first season in charge, Rhoades will look to Tillman and Williams to lead his raw youngsters.