Arrick Wilson, Sports Editor
The VCU men’s basketball team was on a four-game winning streak from late December to January. The Ram’s run was put on a pause, due to COVID-19 cancellations and postponements, three days after their Dec. 15 win, preventing the team from playing for 21 days.
Head basketball coach Mike Rhoades commented on the short hiatus, expressing that the team will not use the pandemic as a justification for not being able to play. Rhoades also communicated the team will take action to play no matter what.
“In regards to COVID[-19] with a basketball team, I knew once one or two guys got it. It might spread like wildfire like it’s doing everywhere,” Rhoades said. “We’re just not making any excuses. If we play with six guys or 15, so be it. We’ve got to be ready to try to win the next game.”
The black and gold’s defense has been key to their success, ranking ninth in the nation in best defense and first in the nation in best three-point defense, according to the NCAA. Rhoades said the program takes pride in its havoc defense, making it an emphasis.
“We work on it [three-point defense] every day, and we take great pride in those numbers because, as we all know a team that makes a bunch of threes — is hard to beat, and it’s been a huge emphasis now,” Rhoades said.
Key players for the Rams have been senior forward Vince Williams Jr. and sophomore guard Adrian “Ace” Baldwin Jr. The pair of teammates are continuing their success from last year, after both were named to their respected All-Conference teams by the Atlantic-10 Conference.
Williams currently leads the team in points and rebounds, according to VCU Athletics. Williams’s trust in his teammates is exemplified through his play, often having assists in games.
“I feel like I definitely pass up a couple shots — I put a lot of trust in my teammates. And I feel like, if I hit them right where they shoot at, nine times out of 10, they’re gonna knock it down.” Williams said.
Baldwin came back after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon injury in early June, according to VCU Athletics. The Baltimore native has led the Rams in assists and won seven straight games since his return in early December. Following his comeback, Baldwin said playing again has “felt great” and he’s enjoying his time playing with his teammates.
“I felt great, to be honest. I’m happy to be out there with my brothers, they’re pushing me every day and I’m just playing by ear by the coaches and the trainer,” Baldwin said in a press conference after the Florida Atlantic win.
Rhoades said he believes that Baldwin’s overall gameplay makes his teammates better. The sophomore guard leads the team by commanding the offense. Rhoades said Baldwin can “set the tone offensively and defensively.”
“Everybody knows he’s a very good player,” Rhoades said. “The greatest compliment you can get in a team sport is you make your teammates better, and I think Ace [Baldwin] does that.”
The point guard has risen to the occasion for the Ram’s becoming a leader on offense and defense. Senior forward Vince Williams believes that Baldwin has the ability to guide his teammates, with the trust of the VCU coaching staff.
“I feel like coach Rhoades and the coaching staff put a lot of trust in him [Baldwin] and he can set the tone on his voice,” Williams said.
Despite the team’s optimism for the upcoming season, Rhoades said he realizes the reality of the pandemic on future games.
“I’ve never been a guy that looks ahead,” Rhoades said. “I’m not in charge of COVID[-19], none of you are in charge of COVID[-19]. None of us are. We have to deal with it — so we’re just not complaining about it.”
The Rams will host a home game against the Saint Joseph’s Hawks on Jan. 22 at 2:30 p.m., at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. For ticket information, visit vcuathletics.com. The game will be televised on USA Network.