VCU’s Final Four Run

Virginia Commonwealth is a university in Richmond, Virginia. They have always had a good basketball program, and I have always been a fan of them. I was one of the hundreds of people who rushed the Richmond Coliseum court in 2009 when they earned a trip to March Madness (also known as the “Big Dance” or formally known as the NCAA Tournament) after winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) title. 2010 was a rebuilding year; they had lost their all-time leading scorer, Eric Maynor, to graduation, and their head coach, Anthony Grant, to Alabama. VCU hired first-year coach Shaka Smart, a former assistant at Florida, and were not expected to make it to the dance in 2010. They ended up in fifth place in the 12-team CAA, and got an invitation to a minor postseason tournament, the College Basketball Invitational. The Rams would go on to win the championship of that tournament, a crowning achievement in a season of rebuilding. 2011 held high hopes for a possible CAA title. This is the story of how the Rams went from fourth-place in the 12-team CAA, to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) “First Four” round, to the NCAA Final Four, and how an entire city was brought together by basketball, and how three weeks changed the city’s reputation in the sporting world.

The VCU Rams’ 2011 season started out very well: They finished third place in the National Invitation Tournament Season Tip-off, only losing to Tennessee, and then defeating UCLA in the third place game. At one point in the season, they were right on the brink of being a Top 25 team. They held first or second place in the CAA for most of the season, before completely collapsing in one of the worst Februarys in program history. At the end of the regular season, they stood at fourth place in the league of 12 teams, and had lost their last four conference games of the season, against Old Dominion, George Mason, Drexel, and James Madison. They had beaten Wichita State by one point in the ESPN Bracket Buster game, which gave them a little bit of hope for an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament, had they not won the CAA Tournament. Most likely though, they would have to win all three conference tournament games to get into the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Friday, March 4, 2011

CAA Tournament First Round

Richmond Coliseum

The first day of the CAA Tournament has always been a fun day. There are usually less than 1000 people in the arena and you can sit wherever you want. That morning I woke up early, got a Coolatta from Dunkin Donuts, and went downtown at around 11AM that morning, an hour before the first game started. I walked around inside the Richmond Coliseum and took some pictures. “Magic” by B.o.B. was playing on the loudspeakers, and there were about 50 people in the whole place, including the players/coaches, cameramen, commentators, and stat keepers. The first game of the day began right at noon. It was the matchup between the eighth-seed UNC Wilmington Seahawks and the ninth-seed Georgia State Panthers. GSU won 58-52 and ended UNCW’s season. The second game was between the fifth-seed Drexel Dragons and the 12-seed, last-place Towson Tigers, who hadn’t won a conference game all season. Drexel edged out Towson, 75-69, in what was a close game the whole way thru. I had been hoping that Towson would upset Drexel for two reasons: 1.) They hadn’t won a conference game all season 2.) It would make for a much easier game for VCU in the quarterfinals. Drexel’s big guy, Franz Massinat, was a monster. I left after that game, and I wished I could have stayed around for the evening session. I ended up watching the two evening games on my iPod Touch, and they were more exciting than the two games I had gone to earlier. The seventh-seed Delaware Blue Hens edged out the tenth-seed Northeastern Huskies, 60-58. Northeastern had a chance to tie or win but kept losing their dribble and never even got a shot attempt in the last few seconds. In the final game of the evening, eleventh-seed William and Mary Tribe upset the sixth-seed James Madison Dukes, 72-68. The quarterfinal matchups were set: George Mason, the CAA’s regular season champion, would play Georgia State, VCU would play Drexel, Old Dominion would play Delaware, and Hofstra would play William and Mary, all on Saturday.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

VCU Rams vs. Drexel Dragons

CAA Quarterfinals

Richmond Coliseum

Early that morning, I went up to the local elementary school to play basketball with some people from the forums. We had planned this a few weeks before since they would all be in town for the tournament. We had a great time, even though it was still chilly outside. My team won the first two games and then lost the last game I played. I had to leave around 8:30 to go to the airport to get my aunt, who was coming into town for the tournament as well. My whole family loves college basketball and we’ve had a really good time over the last few years of going to the tournament. That afternoon we went to Short Pump Town Center and watched the first half of the VCU-Drexel game at the Apple Store. George Mason had beaten Georgia State prior to this game. I watched until halftime and then left. We went to Penn Station East Coast Subs for dinner that night, and listened to the end of the VCU game on the radio. Drexel came back to tie the game at 60, and I started to panic. I knew a loss for VCU would end any chance of going to the NCAA Tournament. They dribbled the ball down the court, and Jamie Skeen put up a layup as time expired to win the game for VCU. What a scene it would have been back in the Apple Store if I had stayed to watch the second half! I breathed a sigh of relief (after yelling for a few seconds) and we went in to dinner, then down to the Coliseum for the nightcap games. Old Dominion beat out Delaware 59-50 to advance to the quarterfinals. This whole time I had been rooting against Old Dominion, as they are VCU’s biggest archrival. Plus, if VCU could upset Mason the next day, and ODU had lost, it would make for a much easier path to winning the tournament title for VCU. Didn’t happen though, and it turns out, it all worked out for the best. In the final game off the evening, Hofstra came back to beat William and Mary 72-56. The semifinals were set: George Mason, on the nation’s longest current winning streak, would play VCU, and Old Dominion would play Hofstra. At this point, I was just thrilled that VCU had advanced to the final four teams in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

VCU Rams vs. George Mason Patriots

CAA Semifinals

Richmond Coliseum

I had church that morning and couldn’t make it down to the semifinal games, but I had called my friend Ethan a while back and asked him if he wanted to go to the Championship game on Monday night. Worst case scenario was for George Mason and Old Dominion to both win and go to the championship game. I had been to the regular season meeting between VCU and George Mason, and I left early; I had seen enough of Mason’s 71-51 win at the Siegel Center. Somehow though in the tournament semifinals, VCU dominated the #25 team in the country, to advance to the Final. I was at Bellacino’s Pizza watching the second half and even in the last few minutes with VCU up by about 20, I was nervous. But they got through it and upset the #1 seed George Mason Patriots, ending the nation’s longest current winning streak. Afterward, instead of staying around for the second semifinal game, we went over to Regency Square and walked around a bit. I tried to not worry about who was winning the ODU-Hofstra game. I would have preferred to play Hofstra, since they would be an easier opponent in the final, but on the other hand, beating Old Dominion would be even better. It was really hard to care who won that semifinal game, because VCU had just beaten a Top 25 team by 16 points, and was capable of beating anyone. Turns out, Old Dominion beat Hofstra, so the final was set: second seeded Old Dominion vs. fourth seeded VCU, for the CAA Championship and an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament. The loser would have to wait until Selection Sunday to find out if they would receive an at-large spot. I figured George Mason would get in anyway, regardless of today’s loss.

Monday, March 7, 2011

VCU Rams vs. Old Dominion Monarchs

CAA Championship Game

Richmond Coliseum

VCU and ODU are the biggest rivals in the CAA, and so it was only fitting that they play each other for the league’s championship. They had already played each other twice in the regular season; VCU won the first meeting in Norfolk, and ODU won the second meeting in Richmond. The rubber match was sure to be a good one, and it was. Stephen and I went to go get Ethan at his house and then went downtown for the game; we got there just in time for opening tipoff. The arena was loud and our seats were great; four rows up on the first level, behind the VCU student section. If VCU won, we would have a very easy path down to the court to celebrate with the hundreds of other fans. The first half started off well, as VCU nailed a three-pointer to take a 3-0 lead. Then something really weird happened. VCU got the ball back on a fast-break, and Ed Nixon took it to the other end for an easy layup, but he slipped, and the ODU player took the ball and the Monarchs made a three-pointer in transition to tie the game. Then there was a delay for about 10 minutes. We didn’t know what was going on; was it water again (back in 2001, during a nationally-televised ACC-Big Ten Challenge game between Virginia and Michigan State, the condensation from the hockey rink below came up onto the court—the game was stopped in the second half with UVA leading, and was never resumed or made up)? What could have caused Ed Nixon to slip that easily? Turns out, Big Blue, the ODU mascot (and Capital One Mascot of the Year defending champion), before the game, had tossed up some baby powder like LeBron James. The powder settled on the court and formed a slippery film. The referees and ballboys worked to try to clean it up while music such as “(Single Ladies) Put a Ring On It” by Beyonce played on the PA. The rest of the first half was a disaster; VCU went down by a score of 39-26 at halftime. They needed to come out smoking in the second half or else it was most likely the National Invitation Tournament where they would be headed after this. It got even worse in the second half, though, as ODU jumped to a 44-26 lead with 17:36 left to play. The chances were slim, but the fans weren’t going anywhere. The Richmond Coliseum was still packed and loud. Then, VCU started a rally. With 13:03 left, VCU had cut the deficit to single digits, 46-37, after making a three-pointer from the wing. With 7:11 left, it was 51-46 in favor of the Monarchs. At this point everyone was standing and cheering; the arena was rocking. With 4:27 left to play, VCU nailed a three-pointer to make it a one-point game, then got the ball back with a chance to take the lead. It was unbelievably loud, and I just thought, “If VCU takes the lead here, it’ll blow the roof off of this place;” I watched the ESPN broadcast of the game on tape later on and found out that the commentators had said the same thing on TV. I told Ethan and Stephen that this would have to be one of the biggest wins in VCU history if we ended up winning. All the momentum was there. Then, all of a sudden, ODU got the momentum back. They missed a layup and got the rebound and put it in to go up by three. Then they missed a free-throw, but Joey Rodriguez had committed a foot-fault, resulting in another free-throw attempt, which ODU made. The commentator said to “remember that free-throw,” because it might cost VCU the CAA Championship. And it certainly may have. A few more fouls and free throws and the game was over. VCU had run out of time, and the ODU students and fans stormed the court in celebration of the 70-65 victory and their second straight CAA Championship. As Ethan, Stephen, me, and the rest of the VCU fans left the Richmond Coliseum, our heads hung low and hearts were broken. We knew that this was probably our only chance at getting into March Madness. I saw the guy who always wears the Ram horns at the games, leaving the Coliseum, and I pointed at him and he pointed back at me. I tried to manage a smile but it was hard. Ethan, Stephen, and I walked back down to the J. Sargeant Reynolds parking lot and listened to the postgame show with Robby Robinson and Mike Ellis on RamRadio, 107.3 WBBT. Robby and Mike discussed the possibility that VCU may still get an at-large spot in the tournament (because four more teams were added this season, making a total of 68 teams in the dance), although the chances were very slim and we would need a ton of help from “bubble teams” losing in their conference tournaments. The postgame show ended with a glimmer of hope. The song that came on the radio station afterwards was “Give Me Just A Little More Time” by Chairmen of the Board. Whether they did that on purpose or not (the year before, VCU had won the championship of the College Basketball Invitational tournament, which is even below the NIT, and RamRadio played “We Are the Champions” by Queen as soon as the postgame show ended), I don’t know, but it was certainly an appropriate song; VCU just needed a little more time. I posted on facebook that night, as my status, “Thank you, Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell, Jamie Skeen, and Ed Nixon. Going to miss all of you. Good luck in the NIT.” It was sad because I had gotten to know this group of players better than any other Rams team in the past; I had listened to games on the radio when they weren’t on TV, and watched them when they were. Sometimes I would just stay in my room from about 6:30 PM until the games ended, with few breaks, just listening to Robby Robinson and Mike Ellis call the game on the Oldies station here in Richmond.

The next day, my friend Trent (from Michigan) commented on my facebook status and told me that he had watched VCU’s previous two games on TV (including the CAA Championship game), and really enjoyed watching them play, and that he became a fan after watching for about 20 minutes, cheering until the game ended. He knew I had been there that night and I told him the atmosphere was incredible. It certainly was nice to have a new fan from all the way in Michigan.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Selection Sunday

All week after the CAA tournament ended, there was speculation of a slim possibility that VCU could still get an at-large bid to March Madness. I kept checking the scores from other conference tournaments around the country; some “bubble” teams lost, which was a good thing for VCU’s chances, but it certainly didn’t help that Connecticut won the Big East Championship despite being the #9 seed in that league. The Big East would most likely get 10, maybe even 11 teams into the dance, out of 16 teams in the league. Anyway, my family took me to dinner at Carrabba’s for my birthday, since we had been busy in February and thus had to put off the birthday dinner for a few weeks. I taped the Selection Show and tried as hard as I could to not find out anything about who made it to the dance while I was at dinner. When we got home, I told everyone to not check the news or anything that would indicate that VCU was in or out of the Tournament. I rewound the tape and we watched the Selection Show from the beginning. About half the teams were announced, and then came the Southwest Regional. I knew that most likely if we made it in, we would be playing in the play-in round, and that there were only four play-in games, two of which had already been announced, and another one which I knew was set to be a matchup of two 16th seeded teams. When it was announced that the “First Four (play-in round)” would feature eleventh seeded VCU against eleventh seeded Southern California, I just couldn’t believe it; VCU was going dancing! The feeling of doom turned to joy and I called all my friends who were VCU fans. Some of them hadn’t heard either; they just assumed VCU was going to the NIT. I then got on facebook and everyone was talking about it. On the CAAZone boards, people were thrilled that the CAA had finally gotten three teams into the Big Dance (Old Dominion as the auto bid, George Mason, and VCU as at-large entries). VCU would play on the Wednesday night in the “First Four” round in Dayton, Ohio. The winner of that game would play sixth seeded Georgetown in the Round of 64, with the winner playing the winner of third-seeded Purdue and 14th-seeded St. Peters. I turned to ESPN to see what they had to say about it. Dick Vitale couldn’t believe it; he said VCU wasn’t even on his radar for an at-large possibility, and that there were more deserving teams such as Colorado and Virginia Tech who deserved a spot ahead of VCU. Jay Bilas said that these were bad decisions by the Selection Committee, saying that this one failed “the laugh test.” This criticism would be the chip on VCU’s shoulder the rest of the season.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

VCU Rams vs. USC Trojans

NCAA First Four

UD Arena, Dayton, Ohio

VCU took the lead and never looked back, although it was tied 22-22 at halftime. It wasn’t a really exciting game to watch (to be honest). The final score was VCU 59, USC 46. Many people say that a team isn’t actually IN the Tournament until they are in the Round of 64. So now VCU was into the Round of 64, against a tough Georgetown team, one of eleven teams to get in from the Big East.

Friday, March 18, 2011

VCU Rams vs. Georgetown Hoyas

NCAA Round of 64

United Center, Chicago, IL

VCU not only beat Georgetown, but rather, absolutely smoked Georgetown. The Rams led by 20 or more for a good portion of the second half, en route to a 74-56 win. There was no doubt; they were headed to the Round of 32 to play against Purdue, for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

VCU Rams vs. Purdue Boilermakers

NCAA Round of 32

United Center, Chicago, IL

Just when I thought the Rams couldn’t dominate any more than they did against the Hoyas, they did against the Boilermakers from the Big Ten. It seemed like VCU could not miss from behind the three-point line, just as it was against Georgetown. The nationally-ranked Boilermakers were stunned, and with a final score of 94-76, VCU was now a legit contender. They had just won three games in five days to reach their first Sweet Sixteen in school history. On the radio after the game, Robby Robinson called it the Rams’ biggest win ever. This team, who was not, according to the “experts,” even supposed to be playing in this tournament, was now in the Sweet Sixteen. My uncle Leon, an ODU graduate, called me to congratulate me near the end of the game. He said he was just really surprised at how well the Rams had been playing, and all congratulations. Old Dominion had never reached the Sweet Sixteen, and the fact that they are VCU’s biggest rival, made it even sweeter that VCU was still playing and ODU was not.

Advancing to the Sweet Sixteen was nice, however, the excitement in Richmond wasn’t totally about VCU; the University of Richmond Spiders, the Atlantic-10 Champions, and who had beaten VCU in the regular season, upset Vanderbilt in the Round of 64, then defeated Morehead State in the Round of 32 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen as well. And the two teams were in the same regional. Twelfth-seeded Richmond would play first-seeded Kansas, and eleventh-seeded VCU would play tenth-seeded Florida State (who had upset Notre Dame in the Round of 32). The two winners would play each other for a spot in the Final Four. The scenario was played out in the minds of everyone in the city of Richmond: If Richmond beats Kansas and VCU beats Florida State, it’s VCU vs. Richmond, in San Antonio, to go to the Final Four. The city of Richmond was about to enter basketball apocalypse. I couldn’t even imagine what the city would be like if that happened. The fact that VCU and Richmond were both two wins from the Final Four, and only one of them would be able to go, it was just unreal to think about. Dick Vitale kept praising the City of Richmond on Twitter, calling it the “College Hoops Capital of the World.” Only two other times had two teams from the same city advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. And knowing the sports history in Richmond, made it incredibly unlikely that this city would ever have accomplished that. Almost instantly, the city of Richmond was put on the map. Hoops fans around the country now knew where Richmond, VA was on a map because of VCU and University of Richmond’s successes. Earlier in the season when VCU advanced to the Season Tip-off tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden, Dick Vitale had requested more information about VCU. And he got it. And now he couldn’t get away from it. An article appeared in the Times-Dispatch that week, about how VCU was only four wins away from winning the National Championship. It was something no one ever, in their right mind, imagined becoming a reality. One coach said that if the tournament was reseeded going into the Sweet 16, that VCU would be a #1 seed, because they had played better than anyone else in the tournament up to this point. One of the VCU players even said they were out to win the whole thing. It was absolutely unthinkable. Even with one more win, the city would go into pandemonium.

Friday, March 25, 2011

VCU Rams vs. Florida State Seminoles

NCAA Southwest Regional Semifinals (Sweet Sixteen)

Alamodome, San Antonio, TX

First up was the Kansas-Richmond game. The only other meeting between these two teams was in 2004, when Richmond pulled the huge upset at Allen Fieldhouse. This game would be different though, much different. Kansas ran away with it from the start and there was never any doubt. Richmond’s season ended at the Sweet Sixteen. So regardless of what VCU did in its game, there would be no apocalyptic game between the two schools from the same city.

VCU almost lost its entire season in the last few minutes of this game. They had the lead for a while but the Seminoles slowly chipped away. Florida State tied the game and sent it into overtime, where they led 71-70 with 7 seconds left. Rodriguez would inbound the ball, the Rams in a must-score situation. J-Rod bounced it into Bradford Burgess, who laid it up and in for a 72-71 lead for VCU. Chris Singleton inbounded to Kitchen for FSU, who dribbled it downcourt in a hurry. He drove to the basket and passed it back to Singleton, who attempted a mid-range jumper at the buzzer and VCU’s Rob Brandenburg blocked it, and the game was over. VCU won 72-71 in the biggest game in their history, and they were headed to the Elite Eight. The players on the bench, and Shaka Smart, ran out onto the court to celebrate. My nerves were totally shot from watching this one. I didn’t even start cheering or show any excitement until later on. I listened to the postgame show on 107.3; they replayed Robby Robinson and Mike Ellis’ now-famous radio call of the last play of the game: “Singleton jumper BLOCKED! BLOCKED! BLOCKED! BLOCKED! BLOCKED! BLOCKED! BLOCKED! He blocked it! He blocked it! The Rams win it! They’re going to the Elite Eight! They’re going to the Elite Eight!” Mike was just laughing in the background as Robby screamed into the microphone. “We’re part of the Elite Eight! There’s eight teams left to win the National Championship, and the VCU Rams…are one of them!” On facebook, my friend Lorenzo Bradley posted a picture of outside his apartment in downtown Richmond, showing fans swarming Broad Street to celebrate. It was a great scene, and I wished I could have been there. However, I knew that if VCU could win one more game, there would be an even bigger celebration on Broad Street, one that the city had never seen before. For tonight though, there were eight teams left in the Big Dance, and VCU was one of them. The biggest game in the history of the city of Richmond would be played on Sunday afternoon at 2 PM, against the most powerful opponent VCU had ever played, the #1 seed in the Southwest Region and #2 in the nation, and national championship favorite, the Kansas Jayhawks.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

VCU Rams vs. Kansas Jayhawks

NCAA Southwest Regional Final

Alamodome, San Antonio, TX

The night before, I went over to Paul’s house for a youth group activity. Colton asked me if I’d been following the basketball tournament, and as a joke, I said, “yeah apparently some team from Richmond is doing really well or something?” Afterwards, I asked a few people if they had any plans for the game, and if they’d like to get together and watch it. Sara said to text her the next day, and Daniel said they were watching it on the other side of the city. Paul said he would be available even if no one else was.

A question was burning in my mind: If VCU wins this game, would I rather be in San Antonio, there in person to see VCU advance to the Final Four, or would I rather be right where I was, in Richmond, to partake of the biggest celebration in Richmond’s history? That question would easily be answered later that day.

At church that morning, I was talking to someone about it and Dee came up and said that win or lose today, it had been absolutely surreal, and none of us had ever been more proud of VCU. That afternoon, just before 2 PM, I turned on the radio to listen to the pregame show. I texted Sara and asked if she was watching the game with anyone, and she invited me over to the watch party at Colton and Emily’s apartment. They were all having a business meeting at church, so they wouldn’t be available until the second half. I called Paul and asked him if he still wanted to get together. He said he did, so I went over to his house while listening to the first part of the game on the radio. VCU found themselves in an early 6-0 deficit; I figured to just turn it off until I got to Paul’s house. I even went up to the Siegel Center where the students were having a watch party, but couldn’t get in. I called Paul again to let him know I was almost there so he could let me in, and he said VCU was winning. I went upstairs and he opened the door. He had been watching the game on the laptop; we both sat down and watched. Paul said that Sara, Colton, Emily, and Emery were all still in the meeting at the Chapel. We sat and watched the first half, and VCU could not miss from three-point land. Every time they nailed a three-pointer, we both jumped out of our seats. VCU was ahead by 20 points and it was amazing. Even though Kansas whittled the lead to 41-27 at halftime, VCU was still way out ahead and in complete control of the game. Paul and I walked over to Colton’s house where he and Emily and Sara and Emery and Josie were watching the game. In the second half, Kansas came closer and closer to completing the comeback; there was even one time when Kansas had whittled the lead down to one possession and I thought for sure that they might take over. But VCU wouldn’t give up; they took over the game and never relinquished the lead. Jamie Skeen made the final two free throws with ten seconds left to put VCU up 71-61, and we counted down the last ten seconds and the celebration began; we all went crazy; VCU was going to the Final Four! Colton, Paul, and I took the bikes and rode them down Broad Street where there was sure to be the biggest celebration ever. We rode two miles, and cars were honking at us and people were yelling joyfully out the windows. We got to the part of Broad Street down by the Siegel Center where hundreds, if not thousands of people were on the street in mad celebration. People were climbing up street signs, waving out windows, walking along the tops of buildings; it was insane. I’d never been in anything like it but it was just what I had always imagined. People were everywhere; taking pictures and videos of the event. It was unreal beyond any belief; VCU had just gone from First Four to the Final Four, for the first time ever, against all odds, and going against what all the college basketball experts such as Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale had thought. The party moved from street to street and turned onto Laurel Street into Monroe Park where it continued into the night.

Week leading up to the Final Four game against Butler

The Final Four game against Butler was to be played the next Saturday night. For the next week, the whole city was painted black and yellow; almost everyone who I came across was wearing something related to VCU. The day after the Kansas game, I went to the Barnes and Noble and got my Final Four shirt; that in itself was unreal. The Friday before the game against Butler, Jason’s Deli, where I work, allowed us all to wear VCU gear for the day.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

VCU Rams vs. Butler Bulldogs

NCAA Final Four

Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX

I went to Rob’s house to watch the Final Four game. VCU lost 70-62 and the Cinderella run was over. It was a sad night because they lost and the magical run had come to an end, but it was also a wonderful night, because VCU had played in the Final Four.

Conclusion It was the biggest sports miracle I’d ever seen; VCU wasn’t even supposed to be in the Tournament, yet they beat USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas to advance to the Final Four for the first time in school history. To me, it was an even bigger miracle than the Red Sox’ 2004 World Series run. I was so glad and so thrilled to be a part of it; to be there in Richmond celebrating the biggest win in VCU’s history. Because of the Final Four run, VCU’s basketball program gained national recognition, and the phrase “This year’s VCU” became common on Selection Sunday, in reference to teams who could pull off what VCU pulled off in March 2011. Even in the National Spelling Bee later that year, the commentator referred to one of the contestants as a “VCU,” someone who could come out of nowhere to win. Joey Rodriguez went on the George Lopez show, and Shaka Smart became one of the most highly sought-after coaches in the country. VCU’s Final Four run showed us all that anything can happen, even in the sporting world, and that teamwork can go a long way. After the CAA Championship game, we thought that was it, that VCU wouldn’t go to March Madness. No one even imagined the glories that would come, and they were all well worth the heartbreak.

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