Arrick Wilson, Contributing Writer
Popcorn is popping, the Peppas are playing and the Stuart C. Siegel Center is filling up with fans. For the first time in almost a year, VCU basketball is back in full force with rowdy Ram fans. Havoc basketball is back in Richmond once again.
“How long have we been waiting for this?” said men’s basketball head coach Mike Rhoades in his season-opening introduction speech to Ram Nation fans in their seats.
On Saturday, the men’s basketball team opened up the season with their annual Black and Gold scrimmage, filled with fans for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main event was six segments of 4-minute scrimmages that involved all players switching teams. The switching allowed viewers to catch up on some of the newcomers to the program.
The game featured newcomers like freshman guards Jayden Nunn and Nick Kern as well as freshman forward Jalen DeLoach, who all made a combined 23 points throughout the scrimmage. Nunn was seen playing the point guard position, running the offense at times for the duration of the game.
“Jayden [Nunn] is a freshman point guard. He can guard the ball and he can make plays. You see him get in the lane and all that stuff, you just got to continue to make the game easier and you’re a student of the game, which he is,” Rhoades said during a post-game press conference.
Nunn will have a big impact on the team in the guard position, as sophomore guard Ace Baldwin is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon injury from early June, according to VCU Athletics. Baldwin is making progress, as he was seen getting up shots before the scrimmage, and is scheduled to be back in action in early January, according to Rhoades.
“He’s done a good job of following the plan. He’s been working really hard and I’m very proud of him,” Rhoades said of Baldwin’s progress with his injury.
The Rams also lost key contributors sophomore forward Jamir Watkins and redshirt-sophomore guard Jarren McAllister, on account of ACL injuries. Rhoades explained how the freshmen are getting used to the “next man up” mentality with the three players out.
Rhoades said he believes that his younger freshmen players have realized that they have to step up and play in response to the injuries.
“Those guys have done a good job of finding where they fit in and how they can help impact winning and help the team,” Rhoades said.
Another key newcomer is transfer and junior guard Marcus Tsohonis, who had five points in the scrimmage. Tsohonis transferred from the University of Washington, where he averaged 9.2 points in his first two seasons. Tsohonis played both the point and shooting guard positions during the scrimmage, running the offense with Nunn.
A returning key player observed during the scrimmage was junior forward Hason Ward, who had 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block. Last season, Ward was named to the Atlantic 10 Conference All-Defensive Team.
Senior forward Vince Williams Jr. had 15 points, four assists, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Williams was the second-leading scorer for the Rams last year and was named to the A-10 All-Conference Third Team.
Senior guard KeShawn Curry also had an energetic 16 points and five rebounds. Curry played aggressively at the rim, throwing down two massive dunks for the Rams. On many occasions, Curry scored off-the-dribble and finished with ease in the paint.
Along with the scrimmage game, there was a 3-point contest between the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The winner of this contest was junior guard Arnold Henderson VI of the men’s program, who outscored everyone else from downtown for the win.
The Rams will try to bring their 10th all-time conference tournament championship win, as well as their second A-10 championship win since their first in 2015.
Rhoades wants the most out of this upcoming season with respect to conference play goals.
“Win the [A-10] league, man. How about that? You know, let’s go win the league,” said Rhoades.
The Rams will have a chance this season to showcase their work from the offseason, playing some of the top teams in the A-10 lineup, such as reigning conference champions St. Bonaventure, who defeated the Rams in the A-10 tournament final last season.
The Rams will officially start their regular season with an exhibition game on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. against Virginia State. The game will be played at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. For ticket information, visit vcuathletics.com.