VCU Ram Report

Ram Report - Winter 2014

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.D. Barne techni- cally wasn't running VCU Basketball like a fly by night opera on in 1984. Actually, it was more much literal than that. "You've got to remember what VCU was like back in those days…[we] had a campus that didn't have much to sell. Some mes you'd want to bring a player in at night so he wouldn't see the campus during the day," Barne said in a 2008 interview. The VCU of today, the 32,000-student behemoth, complete with new dorms along Broad Street, sparkling new busi- ness and engineering schools, and the beloved u litarian Stuart C. Siegel Center, is a far cry from the one Barne used to try to hide on recrui ng visits. Barne wasn't around to see the Eugene Trani-led transforma on of the school in the 1990s and early 2000s, a metamorphosis that con nues today under Dr. Michael Rao, who took over as university president in 2009. In 2011, a er VCU upset Kansas to reach the Final Four, students poured out of the dorms that bu ress Broad Street to celebrate. Hours later, the electric mob packed the Siegel Center in the early morning hours to greet the team in its return from San Antonio. That scene would have been unimaginable for Barne back then. "Broad Street was a lot of dilapidated build- ings, it was kind of just there," says Calvin Duncan, who starred for VCU from 1981-85. "It was like an eyesore. Something you ride by. That's basically what it was." While Barne couldn't sell recruits on ameni- es, he managed to en ce them with a dream and an opportunity. What he eventually assembled, along with one of the more im- pressive coaching staffs in the country, was a colorful cast of characters that would redefine the program. VCU had already achieved at an unprec- edented level under Barne by the me the 1984-85 season pped off. In his first five seasons, VCU averaged 21 wins, captured the Sun Belt Championship in 1980 and 1981 and made four trips to the NCAA Tournament. In 1983-84, VCU earned its first na onal ranking when the Rams were 20 th in the Associated Press Top 25 for a week. Later that year, Rolando Lamb hit a buzzer-bea ng jumper to give the Rams a win over Northeastern in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. As successful as VCU had been, the 1984- 85 campaign would eventually serve as the benchmark of the program for nearly 30 years, and it wasn't un l the Rams' Final Four run that fans could again embrace a VCU as a na onal power. By the me it was over, the Rams would win a school-record 26 games, a Sun Belt Cham- pionship and the No. 11 spot in the Final AP Poll – a ranking VCU would not eclipse for a genera on. It's a team many s ll consider the greatest in school history. SUMMER OF REINVENTION Barne 's VCU teams were full of guys who were undersized, under-recruited or both. For example, the Rams' star ng frontcourt during the 1984-85 featured 6-foot-7 forwards Neil Wake and Mike Schlegel. "We took players people thought were too small and thought weren't talented enough, and they molded themselves into a good team," Barne said. While there were all sorts of ver cally, athle - cally or skill-challenged players on that team, Calvin Duncan was not one of them. Duncan, who escaped the rough streets of Linden, N.J., was a smooth operator both on the floor and a take charge leader in the lockerroom. At 6-foot-3, he could score from nearly anywhere on the floor, rebound like a forward, or trigger the offense like a point guard. A magne c per- sonality, Rolando Lamb once joked that during one of his first days on campus, he watched Duncan walk door-to-door on Broad Street, shaking hands with nearly everyone he saw. "Calvin has charisma on top of charisma, and it's go en him through life," Barne says. In 1983, Duncan was named Sun Belt Co- Player of the Year and All-America Honorable Men on a er averaging 17.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. While Duncan had been an established star, his backcourt mate, Lamb, VCU's point guard, had been more enigma c. Although a master- ful defender – his 257 career steals stood as a school record for 29 years – Lamb's quiet, laid-back persona clashed with Barne 's in- your-face style. During his first three seasons, Lamb never averaged more than 7.2 points per game. Barne says his frustra on with Lamb was one of the main reasons he signed guard Nicky Jones – who broke his foot before the 1984-85 season - from Amarillo Junior College in 1983. In 1983-84, Lamb averaged a career-low 24.0 minutes per game. In addi on, Barne started Jones over Lamb the final nine games of that season, including VCU's two NCAA Tourna- ment contests, and Lamb considered transfer- ring that spring. What happened instead served as one of the catalysts for perhaps the best season in VCU history. Lamb says that in January of 1984, he and Duncan underwent a spiritual rebirth and became heavily involved in church and in their faith. Lamb says it was a defining moment in his life. That summer, he and Duncan made a pact. "Me and Cal made a commitment to VCU to be one of the best backcourts in the na on," Lamb said last year. During the summer of 1984, Duncan and Lamb filled their days with Bible study and basket- ball. They o en worked out two and three mes a day, running drills, li ing weights, playing full-court one-on-one inside muggy Franklin Street Gym. Teammates like Don Franco and Andy Black would jump in and out of the workouts, but it was Duncan and Lamb day a er day, week a er week. "They were just like beasts, going at and do- ing whatever they needed to do to get ready for an awesome season," Franco says. "They turned it up a notch." The change in Lamb was drama c. "The light came on for Rolando," Barne said. "So, for the first me in the history of Rolando Lamb, he spent a summer trying to become a be er player. He was the most talented player on the team by far." "That summer Rolando got his priori es together," said Duncan. "It was like the light bulb came on and he realized he wasn't reach- ing his poten al. We worked out every day. Rolando, I'll just tell you, he was determined to be the best he could be…If it wasn't for Rolando and that day, we wouldn't have been able to have that year." It would be hard to find five backcourts be er than Duncan and Lamb that season. While Duncan returned to a form reminiscent of his 1982-83 campaign, Lamb's improvement was nothing short of sensa onal. In 1983-84, Lamb averaged 5.9 points per game. In 1984-85, he started every game and led the team in scor- ing with 17.3 points. He and Duncan combined to score 32.5 points, hand out 9.1 assists and grab 3.7 steals per game. "Calvin and Roland, they felt like we could've won the na onal championship," says Phil S nnie, a freshman on that team. "To them, they were the best backcourts in the na on, and we could beat anyone." "Through the work those guys put in, that was some great leadership," Franco said. "They were just passionate about playing that year." "Calvin and Rolando were just totally con- sumed going into their senior year," says Wake. "You could tell those two had put the work in. They knew what they wanted." EXPERIENCE, TOUGHNESS AND CHEMISTRY Even before Lamb and Duncan set out to take over college basketball, the 1984-85 Rams already had a lot going for them. VCU returned all five starters from the previ- ous year's NCAA Tournament team, not to men on key reserves like Robert Dickerson, Franco, Alvin Robinson and Bruce Allen. It was a veteran group that was used to winning and knew what Barne expected of them. It was a group that included a senior class - Dickerson, Duncan, Lamb, Wake and Schlegel - that was also hungry for a Sun Belt Championship. Bar- ne had captured league crowns in 1980 and 1981, but this class, despite a pair of NCAA Tournament bids and 64 wins in three years, was s ll chasing a conference championship. "The majority of us played together for three

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