RICHMOND, Va. – Christmas is celebrated in December by nearly every person around the globe. However, in Ram Nation, Christmas arrives a month earlier when the VCU men's basketball team hits the court for the first time.
This year, that is next Thursday, Nov. 4 when the Black & Gold host Division II powerhouse and intracity rival Virginia Union in the U.S. Army Downtown Showdown at Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
Just a few city blocks separate the two campuses that both sport rich basketball traditions. Next Thursday's meeting will mark the 21st meeting between the two schools with the Rams holding a 16-4 record against the Panthers. Half of those contests were exhibition games with VCU going 8-2 in both exhibition and regular season games against VUU.
For the Black & Gold, it will be the first time to showcase Havoc 2.0 which sports four returners from last year's 27-9 squad that captured the 2010 CBI Championship with five straight wins over 20-win teams. Leading the way will be Preseason All-CAA First Team point guard Joey Rodriguez who led the CAA in assists and steals per game last season.
A player to watch this year for the Rams will be junior Bradford Burgess, who is sporting a new 6-6, 225 frame that will allow him to torture the opposition both down low and out on the wing.
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"Bradford has been unbelievable so far this preseason," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "There isn't anything new to his game, but his new body has allowed him to really become more consistent. We saw flashes of his ability last year, like the game at Drexel, but as a coaching staff we're working with Bradford so he can do that every time he steps on the court."
Along with the returners for the Rams will be six newcomers, including junior college transfer Toby Veal. The Savannah, Ga. native comes to Richmond after spending one year at NW Florida State, where he nearly averaged a double-double.
"Toby's just a physical specimen that is just a force down low," Smart said. "He has a toughness and physical style of play that I think we lacked at certain points last year. We're very excited to have him here."
The Panthers return three starters from last year's team that went 19-9, but fell in the first round of the CIAA playoffs to Shaw. Leading the way is the senior duo of Braxton Byerson and Greg Redford, who combined for over 20 points and 12 rebounds per game for VUU last season.
Head Coach Willard Coker will be suiting up six newcomers, including shooting guard James Theus, who just happens to be the cousin of sophomore Darius Theus, the Rams' backup point guard.