‘It’s blue collar’: Current and former VCU men’s basketball players, coaches remember Franklin Street Gym

Franklin Street Gym is set for demolition this spring. CT file photo

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

Driving down West Franklin Street, a gym bearing its name on the right-hand side has been a mainstay since its construction in 1952. That facility’s days are numbered as it is slated for demolition later this spring. 

VCU will build a six-story STEM building on the land where Franklin Street Gym currently sits.

The gym was home to Richmond Professional Institute’s basketball program and housed a 500-seat gym for the Green Devils. In 1970 — a year after VCU was formed by the merger of RPI and the Medical College of Virginia — the building got a new gym with 1,500 seats. 

Men’s basketball played games at both Franklin Street Gym, where the final game of the 1978-79 season was held, as well as the Richmond Coliseum. The team mostly used Franklin Street as a practice gym until the Basketball Developmental Center was built on West Marshall Street in 2015. 

The Commonwealth Times asked current and former players and coaches about their memories of playing in Franklin Street Gym:

Anthony Grant, Head Coach — 2006-09

“I love Franklin Street Gym. I love going in there, you walk in and you break a sweat. When I first got here, Dr. [Richard] Sander gave me a tour of campus and we went over there and I think we had some faculty that were just using it. My eyes got real big and I was like let me just ask ‘is there a chance that we could have this as a practice facility?’ I think he kind of laughed, like ‘you really want this?’ With the ceiling tiles falling off and who knows if there was asbestos in there or not, and it was hot as dickens. 

We made a makeshift locker room of a hallway, we put some air freshener in the bathrooms over there and we made it home. Our guys really embraced it. I’ve got a lot of great memories from in there. We used that place for three years and it was a lot of fun.”

Mike Rhoades, Assistant Coach — 2009-14, Head Coach — 2017-Present

Coach Mike Rhoades coached in Franklin Street Gym during his time as an assistant coach at VCU. CT file photo

“It’s one of my all-time favorite places that I’ve ever coached in, played in, sweated in. It epitomizes to me VCU, not just VCU basketball, but VCU. It’s blue collar. It’s an old-school gym, no air conditioning, at times a little dirty and grimy, but it built a lot of character. A lot of great players were built in there, a lot of great teams worked together in there, and I just absolutely loved it. I loved walking across campus, I loved the energy on campus and I knew I was going into practice to coach guys that loved being in there and loved being a part of VCU. I would love to play one more game in there, let alone a practice.”

TJ Gwynn, Forward — 2006-10

“From 6 a.m. runs and workouts to very hard and intense practices in a sauna, it’s the hottest gym I’ve ever been in in my 32 years of life. That’s probably the hottest place I’ve ever been in. It was a sauna, man. You ain’t go in there and lose 20 pounds right off the bat, I don’t know what you were doing in there.”

Calvin Duncan, Guard — 1981-85

A photo that hangs in Duncan’s office from his playing days at VCU, left to right: Michael Brown, Calvin Duncan, Mike Slagel, Rolando Lamb. Photo by Megan Lee

“Back then it was different, now we have the developmental center and these days the players are kind of off limits. The only time you all see them is when they’re on the court or maybe on campus walking by, there’s no interaction for the most part. The thing that I loved about West Franklin Street is back then the students had an ID to come and shoot hoops. That was the only place they could play. You had an opportunity to get to know the students, and then they used to have the people that were from the City of Richmond and the surrounding counties. They would come by and sneak in the gym and play.

No air conditioning, we in there playing, sweating, balling. People watching the game, and that’s one of the ways I became very popular in the city was because I was touchable. Not just to the students but those that live around, and then they started supporting VCU. When you meet people or you’re around people, there’s a connection there that’s more than just basketball, even though it came from basketball. That’s one of my best memories because I was able to be around the students and those in the city and play basketball, talk, laugh and have fun.”

Rolando Lamb, Guard — 1981-85

“My first practice at VCU, we are getting ready to practice and all of a sudden the managers are bringing out these chains and these padlocks and they chain the doors up. I’m like ‘what are they doing?’ That was legendary, that was something that [coach] J.D. [Barnett] would do. At the beginning of the year, he would lock us in there and work us as hard as he could work us. I remember that like yesterday, them bringing out the chains and putting padlocks on the doors and there was no way we could get out. We had to work hard.”

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