It’s onward, upward for Smart, VCU
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
RICHMOND, Va. — Senior guard Darius Theus knows that more people have heard of Virginia Commonwealth after the program’s Final Four run in 2011 and NCAA third-round appearance last season.
He just didn’t know the full extent of it — until the Rams’ international trip last summer.
“When we went to Italy this summer, we saw people with VCU shirts on,” Theus says. “We were like, ‘Wow!’
“I believe the brand is getting out there and people are noticing VCU.”
It’s hard not to.
A lot of credit for that goes to the passionate 35-year-old coach who says VCU took a chance on him when it hired him in the spring of 2009.
Charismatic Shaka Smart is one of the game’s youngest and brightest coaching minds. His style is unique, aggressive and designed to wreak “havoc” on opposing offenses.
That, Theus says, helped put VCU on the map and make the program easily identifiable.
“Coach Smart just changed it with the whole ‘havoc’ thing,” Theus says. “He brought a style here, his style, really attacking on defense. I really think he changed the program, made us more known.”
So did the 2011 Final Four run, which began with the Rams as one of the tournament’s First Four teams in the first year of a 68-team field. VCU lost to Butler, another midmajor tournament darling, in the national semifinals.
The Rams are often now brought up in the same sentences as Butler, Gonzaga and Xavier — programs that have cemented themselves as annual postseason threats. Teams like these prove that anyone — not just those with larger budgets and higher profiles — can win big in college basketball.
New conference boost
Junior guard Rob Brandenberg monitors the program’s growth like most news media critics or television executives would — with his eyeballs.
“My freshman year before we went to the Final Four, we weren’t on TV a lot,” Brandenberg says. “This year, we’ve already been on TV four or five times. There’s a lot more access to see me. I’m from Ohio, and I have more friends and family hitting me up after games — Twitter, Facebook. More exposure.”
With the exposure and success come … [For more on It's onward, upward for Smart, VCU, click here.]