Monday, April 13, 2015

Iconic VCU Building Requests Release

(Richmond, VA--April 13, 2015) This morning, reliable sources close to Hibbs Hall on Virginia Commonwealth University's Monroe Park Campus told The Richmonder that the iconic VCU building was requesting a release. Steve Malrire with the AAU (American Architects Union) noted that the building, which has been home at various times to VCU's main dining hall, bookstore, computer labs, and classroom facilities has recently begun to complain about a reduction in playing time.

"Look," Malrire told The Richmonder, "here you have a building that has historically been a utility player, willing to step in and take on many different roles. It's not surprising to me that Hibbs Hall is frustrated that it is no longer front and center in VCU's lineup." Commenting on the building's age, Malrire noted that it had passed inspections with flying colors. "Notwithstanding its age, this building has a lot to contribute to the right team."

"I understand how frustrating this has been for Hibbs Hall," said VCU President Michael Rao. "With the expansion of the VCU Student Commons, the new Shafer Court Dining Center, the VCU Book Store on Broad Street, and the Academic Learning Commons, it's true that Hibbs Hall has been spending more time on the bench lately. We thank Hibbs Hall for all it has contributed to VCU over the years. VCU's unique style would not be what it is today without the contributions of Hibbs Hall."

At the time of this writing it is unclear what Hibbs Hall's plans for the future are, but if the building transfers to another NCAA school, it would have to sit out for at least one year. Hibbs Hall has denied rumors that it plans to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin.

Useful links for VCU Rams fans

As a newer VCU fanatical fan, I am often online looking for information about the team and its coach. I've also noticed other fans on Facebook struggling to make sense of the many rumors floating around the internet. Here's a handy list of websites for VCU fans who want to keep up with Men's basketball news.

Around the Horns is the official VCU Athletics blog and has lots of great information about basketball and all other student athletics at VCU. Because it is the official site, it is the go to site and [black &] gold standard for information about VCU basketball.

VCU Ram Nation is an independent news site dedicated to following news about the VCU Rams basketball program. The operators of this site have built relationships with people throughout the VCU organization and often have better and more detailed coverage than mainstream news outlets.

If you want to get down in the nitty gritty of recruiting, then the Chattering Ram is the place for you. The author of this website takes a deep dive into the stats of anyone the VCU Rams are thinking about recruiting. Every potential player gets the full treatment with links to any coverage concerning their performance and potential recruitment.

Verbal Commits is another useful site for fans who want to follow the recruiting process. Verbal Commits is not exclusive to VCU, it carries information about all NCAA teams, but its VCU page provides links to recruiting news and provides a great chart showing the current status of all of VCU's players.

VCU Basketball , The Rams Review, and VCU Sports are three more blogs that cover VCU men's basketball. While not technically a blog, the Twitter feed of VCU superfan Chris "VCU Pav" Crowley has become an important source of VCU basketball and fan news.

Last but not least is the VCU Sports blog at the Richmond Times Dispatch. A lot of VCU fans don't believe the RTD really gives VCU it's due (preferring to cover UVA and UR) but it is what it is. We are probably biased.

I hope this list helps you find the information you want about VCU basketball. If you think of something I've missed, please leave me a link in the comments below.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Looking for the Next Step: VCU After Smart

The sudden departure of Shaka Smart as coach of VCU's mens basketball team came as an unpleasant surprise for many, but it opens up possibilities for future growth. VCU's current basketball team was recruited and trained exclusively by Shaka Smart to play Smart's Havoc-style of basketball, so coaches having experience with Smart's system are seen as having an inside track to replace him. There is a deep pool of talent for VCU to tap, including these four coaches.

Anthony Grant

There are still many fans at VCU with positive feelings about former Rams coach Anthony Grant. Grant coached VCU for three seasons, 2006-2007 through 2008-2009, before leaving to become head coach at Alabama. Grant led the Rams to the NCAA two out of three of his years at VCU. Grant struggled at Alabama, and on March 15, 2015, Grant was fired from Alabama. Despite some affection for him among some fans, Grant's return to VCU is seen as a long shot.

Jeremy Ballard

Jeremy Ballard is one of VCU's current assistant coaches. At this point it is unclear whether Ballard will stay at VCU or follow Shaka Smart to Texas. Like many of his rivals to replace Smart, Ballard understands Havoc-style basketball, having worked for Shaka Smart.

Will Wade

Will Wade is currently the head coach at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a former assistant coach for Virginia Commonwealth University. Wade is another possible candidate with roots and fans at VCU. He has two seasons as head coach at Chattanooga, and has experience working with a Havoc-style program, have been one of Shaka Smart's assistant coaches. Wade was with VCU during four consecutive postseason appearances, including a trip to the 2011 Final Four.

Mike Rhoades

Mike Rhoades is another strong favorite among VCU fans. Roads is still another Havoc-alumni, having worked for Shaka Smart for several seasons. Rhodes is currently head coach at Rice, and it is unclear whether he would leave Rice after just one season to return to VCU.

No matter who is chosen as VCU's next head coach this much is certain: a choice needs to be made soon. VCU needs someone who can speak on behalf of the school and team to our recruits and assure them that the program is stable and they are very much wanted.If the process of replacing Smart is allowed to drag on too long, then we may see our recruits drift away, denying our current squad a new wave of talent.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Havoc Lives Here: VCU after Shaka Smart

It's Havoc You Fear!
On Thursday night, April 2, 2015, I was part of a small gaggle of reporters outside Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center waiting for news about whether Men’s Basketball Coach Shaka Smart intended to leave VCU for the University of Texas at Austin. I am not a reporter myself, though I have done political blogging. It was a pleasant Spring night and it was interesting to rub elbows with local reporters trying to get the latest scoop in time for the 11:00 o’clock news. We got the decision at 10:30 PM, and I tweeted the news out and went home.

In considerably less than twenty-four hours I got tired of the “Shaka in Texas” stories. I like Shaka Smart and I wish him well. Smart moved the VCU basketball program forward in many ways and leaves a solid foundation for future growth. All that being said, the VCU story is no longer the Shaka Smart story; these two stories are no longer the same story. The Shaka Smart story is now a Texas story, and what interests me is the future of Virginia Commonwealth University and its basketball program, so let’s take a moment and look at how things stand at the moment.

Havoc Still Lives Here

One of the most common concerns expressed in the wake of Smart’s departure was what would become of “Havoc.” Havoc is many things to many people. It came into being when Smart used the word to describe how VCU would play in an upcoming game. The VCU community seized on the quote and did one of the things it does best: it created a brand. Since then, Havoc has been used as shorthand to describe the style of play taught by Smart.

With Smart leaving, many fans wondered what would become of Havoc and whether they could continue to wear their Havoc shirts and display other Havoc-branded merchandise, and the short answer is: yes you can. That is because VCU owns the “Havoc” trademark. No one really knows what Smart will do at UT, but it is a pretty safe bet that it won’t be called Havoc. Commentators will no doubt continue to describe Smart’s approach as “Havoc-style” play, but don’t look for a wave of “Havoc” merchandise in UT’s distinctive burnt orange and white livery.

I would be surprised if UT were to go that route. Having lived in Dallas, Texas for several years and having known many UT alums, I can assure you that UT has its own proud traditions and brands and I doubt they have any interest in paying VCU licensing fees to use “Havoc” in their merchandising or advertising. UT fans seem to prefer their own “Hook’em Horns” logo and motto.

Havoc as a Style of Play

We know VCU owns the trademark, but what about the style of play? We can’t know what the future of VCU’s distinctive style of play will be until we find out who our new coach will be, but this much is certain: we have a core of talented players who were recruited and trained on the basis of their ability to play Havoc-style basketball. Smart was at VCU six years, so every single one of VCU’s current players is a product of Smart’s recruiting and training. It’s difficult to imagine that VCU’s new coach would attempt to impose a radically different system of play on a group of players who have shown they can play and win using Havoc-style play. More about that new coach later.

It is this group of players, this basketball team of ours, that are the real bearers of the Havoc-style of play, even more so than Shaka Smart. At UT, Smart will be starting over with a team of players recruited by a different coach with his own ideas about how to play basketball. If Smart wants to implement Havoc-style play in Texas, he will have to start over and teach his players and recruit to match his designs. In contrast, our current roster of players already knows Havoc-style play. It will be interesting when we meet Smart’s new team in two games during the 2015-2016, a condition of his leaving VCU.

As much as anything else, "Havoc" is a state of mind.
Havoc as a Way of Life

I graduated from VCU twice, once in 1990 with my bachelors degree and again in 1993 with a masters degree. VCU was a very different place back then, with a different outlook, and it was reflected in how we supported our basketball team. Back then, students listened to the Cure and Nirvana and it wasn’t fashionable to show school spirit. Games were played in Richmond’s Coliseum, which could hold more than 16,000 people. When only 4,000 people showed up, that place felt awfully empty. Worse still, the grunge-inflected crowd had a tendency to slump in their seats and not cheer.

I left Richmond in 1995 for California graduate school and then Texas for work. In 2009, I returned and reconnected with a fraternity brother of mine who reintroduced me VCU basketball as it was played and celebrated in the Siegel Center. VCU’s student section had transformed itself from a bunch of sullen people in flannel and artfully ripped jeans into a bunch of cheering, rowdy fanatics. The Peppas and the Gold Rush Dancers had emerged as a big part of the school’s spirit effort, and the cheerleaders, always great, were still excellent. And the student fans and spirit groups weren’t just enthusiastic; they were creative—always introducing some new song or some new twist. Distinctive costumes and characters appeared.

What has become apparent to me is that the idea of “Havoc” at VCU goes much deeper than the style of basketball play taught by one man. Havoc is rooted in the much deeper soil of VCU’s “Rowdy Ram” attitude, which brings enthusiasm and creativity to its support of our university’s student athletes. Havoc is really just a subset of Rowdy. It’s no coincidence this approach to fandom has grown out of one of the world’s best art and advertising schools. VCU students are quite literally trained to create brands, so it's no surprise that they were able to take a comment by a basketball coach and turn it into a slogan, an attitude, and a swaggering approach to life, not just basketball.

What the future holds for VCU basketball after Shaka Smart is hard to tell. A lot will depend on who our new coach will be and where he decides to take the team in terms of style of play. This much is true though; the new coach will inherit a great group of talented and well-trained players, a solid basketball infrastructure (staff, the Siegel Center, and a new training facility), and the best fan base in the NCAA. VCU has a great foundation to build upon.