VCU men’s basketball set to kick off

Last night, VCU’s men’s basketball team gave us our first look at the ’08/’09 squad. The three games of the Black and Gold scrimmage were taken by Black 11-17, 18-8, 22-18 as the team prepared for another exciting year of CAA basketball. The start was a bit shaky, and it’s hard to tell much from a scrimmage, but I had some of the most fun watching basketball that I’ve had in a long time. And with only one senior on the squad this year, there’s plenty of talent on the roster to keep VCU reloading in the post-Maynor era.

The scrimmage was played in an interesting format. Rather than playing an entire 40-minute game, the team plays 3 ten-minute games which allows them more practice with end-of-half and end-of-game scenarios. Each squad was coached by a different assistant, with head coach Anthony Grant watching from the scorer’s table and providing intermittent but brief advice to each team. In between games, the teams swapped a few players. It turned out that no single player was on the winning or losing side of all three games.

The best show of the evening was also the most frustrating. For a tantalizing 10 minutes in the second game, senior standout Eric Maynor ran the offense with transfer sophomore Jay Gavin as his kick-out three point option. The result: an explosion of 11 points in 10 minutes by Gavin, most of which came on wide open shots in the second half as the defense collapsed on a warmed-up Maynor. But because Gavin played his freshman ball for Marist last year in the MAAC, he’ll be sitting out for all of what will be Maynor’s senior season. Gavin finished the evening with a team-high 17 points in the three games.

Sophomore guard Joey Rodriguez (maybe 5’10” if you measure him with those sweet-looking low-top sneakers on) played well on defense and in transition, but had trouble orchestrating his team’s offense. His team was responsible for the 11 and 8 point efforts in the first two games, until primary ball-handling duties were wisely shifted to Gavin in the third contest. With Gavin sitting out all year, though, it’ll be interesting to see who distributes the ball on offense whenever Maynor takes a seat.

The performance of the big men were where I got some of my most pleasant surprises of the evening. Team giant  Larry Sanders (6’10” with arms longer than human arms have any business being) showed off his outside shot and passing, and made me write notes like this:

“Sanders misses 10 footer, gets own rebound because he’s so damn tall, then lays it in.”

He’s going to be fun to watch.

Junior Kirill Pishchalnikov (an intimidating 6’8”) was the evening’s second leading scorer with 15, partly because of his success rebounding and playing tough in the paint, but also because he was calmly earning and sinking foul shots near the end of the third scrimmage to ice that game for Black. A big man who can draw the whistle and then capitalize from the stripe is going to be an incredible asset in a close game.

We already know that Gavin is going to be a star for the Rams when his eligibility returns next year, but I also expect big things in the future from freshman forward Terrance Saintil (6’8” and at 230lbs, the second heaviest Ram). His size makes him look more like a sophomore or junior than a freshman, and I can only imagine what a few years in the VCU weight rooms will do to this guy. Meanwhile I saw a few freshman mistakes, like dropped passes, but some opportunistic and smart play as well, like taking an opening tip unchallenged to the house to open the scoring in the third game.

With the kinks ironed out, the Rams now prepare to face Virginia Union on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at home in the first of two exhibition games.

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Justin Morgan

Justin Morgan knows that there is no problem an Excel spreadsheet, a sweet tea, and a pass to the tight end won’t solve.

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