Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
For Varina High School senior Alphonzo Billups, the college recruiting process was tough. Coaches were in constant attendance at his games — sitting in the stands, watching his every move.
The highly anticipated decision weighed on Billups, so much that Kenneth Randolph, his high school coach, could notice it was draining for the 6-foot-7-inch wing. Randolph said that the possibility of getting injured during play was a constant worry of Billups’.
At a training session on Monday — less than 24 hours before he announced his commitment — Randolph asked Billups if he was glad the recruiting marathon was over. Billups confirmed it.
On Tuesday, Billups sat at a table alongside his parents and Randolph in the middle of Varina’s gymnasium to announce his commitment to the VCU men’s basketball program. His speech was brief, but at the end he put on a VCU hat and later wore a custom-made T-shirt to commemorate the day.
“Definitely some weight lifted off my shoulders,” Billups said regarding his commitment. “All I have to worry about is getting a state ring.”
Antonio Atkins, Billups’ father, said his son’s commitment was a relief, knowing the recruiting process was over.
“Just overwhelming, everybody wanting him, everybody trying to put their hands on him, everybody talking to him was the hard part,” Atkins said. “Now at this point in time, he committed … it can be a relief and he can focus on what he would like to be as a player.”
Billups is ranked No. 90 in the country by 247Sports. He’s also the highest-rated high schooler to commit to the black and gold since Bones Hyland, who was the No. 81-best recruit in the 2019 class.
Billups is also the No. 6-best prospect in Virginia, according to 247Sports.
With Billups’ decision, the Rams outlasted the likes of many schools in the Power Five conference, including LSU, Oklahoma State and Pitt.
Billups said his commitment to VCU stemmed from the familial culture within head coach Mike Rhoades’ staff and the team.
“When he left, he said he felt like family, it felt like home,” Atkins said. “That’s what made him decide what he decided now to commit to VCU.”
VCU was the first Division I offer Billups received and it came one day after his birthday in April 2020. The staff, who Billups said have been in contact with him almost every single day since then, told him he could be the next star inside the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
“They think I can be the next Bones Hyland,” Billups said.
As a slender player in the wing position, Billups thinks he’ll fit in well with the Rams’ playing style, especially with aggressive defense.
“Being long and athletic definitely fits their playing style — fast breaks, steals,” Billups said.
During his sophomore year at Varina, Billups had a breakout season. He was the lone sophomore on the Class 5 All-State team after averaging 17 points. He didn’t play during his junior year, as Henrico County Public Schools canceled basketball during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Billups joins Chrisitan Fermin as the second recruit to join coach Mike Rhoades and company for the 2022-23 season. Fermin committed to VCU on July 3, choosing the Rams over other Division I programs such as Penn State and Temple.
When Billups joins the Rams next season, he not only will fit in on the court, but also on the roster. He, like others on the team, goes by a childhood nickname — Fats.
“When he was a baby, he was a fat little kid,” Atkins said. “He looked like he was so fat that he kept food in his mouth, so we started calling him Fats. It stuck.”
When it came down to it, Billups was ready to choose his landing spot for the next level, located not too far away from home.
“One day, he woke up and said, ‘You know what, I want to go to VCU,’” Atkins recalled Billups telling him. “‘I want to stay home and be legendary in my own town.’”