All-male practice team helps women’s basketball at VCU

Practice players gather together to talk strategies during a women’s basketball practice. Photo by Guy Enkh

Bersabeh Kemaw, Contributing Writer 

The all-male practice team at VCU, also known as The Squad, helps the women’s basketball team during practices.

Although The Squad are not Division I players themselves, they are a huge part of the program and show up everyday to help the team and players get better, according to VCU women’s basketball head coach Beth O’Boyle.

“It gives us an advantage,” O’Boyle said. “They can run their offense and their defense and really help our players build confidence of what the game plan is.”

Most guys are bigger, faster and stronger, so having an all-male practice team allows for the players to compete against high level athletes everyday, which helps them get better overall, according to O’Boyle.

The practice team has been present since O’Boyle took the job nine years ago, she said. 

“There was a little break while we were in COVID with all of the protocols,” O’Boyle said. “But we have always utilized the male practice team since I’ve been here.”

Along with being great players, the practice team is filled with great students who are pursuing a variety of careers while also dedicating their time to help the team, according to O’Boyle. 

Paul Akilo, the team’s junior small forward and health, physical education and exercise sciences student, stated that being a part of The Squad has helped him improve his own basketball skills.

“When I go shoot, I’m a lot more confident in the gym,” Akilo stated. “It helps me expand my game.”

The Squad has positive impacts on the team, such as pushing them everyday to work harder, which benefits them for their games, according to Akilo.

“Our strength and speed makes them push themselves more,” Akilo stated. 

Jovannie Arroyo, the team’s point guard and health, physical education and exercise sciences student, said if the player is a driver, they will drive, if she’s a shooter, they will shoot. It’s kind of like a cheat sheet.

“Let’s say we’re playing George Mason, we would act like we’re the girl players,” Arroyo said. “We’ll study them and then we’ll act like them.”

The Squad also plays in-game scrimmages with the team, according to Arroyo.

“We also sometimes do cone work,” Arroyo said. “So instead of having a cone, you would have a moving player with you.” 

Other times, The Squad will join the team and be mixed in with the women, according to Arroyo. 

The Squad improves their game during practices and helps them prepare for their future opponents confidently, according to Arroyo.

“Sometimes you’ll play against more athletic males than you would females,” Arroyo said. “If you can do that against them, it’ll make it easier in the game.”

To be part of The Squad, there is a two-day try out process in the beginning of the year, where prospective members try out in front of both the coaches and players, according to Arroyo.

Although there are tryouts, if not many people show up, The Squad will scout people from VCU Cary Street Gym and bring them in, according to Arroyo.

Members of The Squad do receive benefits for their participation, according to Arroyo.

“You get gear, they feed you after practice and you get to watch the games courtside,” Arroyo said. “If you’re a major like me [HPEX] you could get internships, shadow the personal trainers here and get a good recommendation.” 

Balancing school along with being a member depends on the player as well as their schedule, according to Arroyo.

“A good thing that they [the program] do is they allow early registration if you’re part of the team,” Arroyo said. “They’ll let you pick your schedule around the practice … You’re not required to show up [to practice] so it’s not like you’re in trouble if you don’t.”

The Squad is open to all-male VCU students and it is a fun experience, according to Arroyo.

“I recommend it for a lot of people,” Arroyo said.

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