The scene was set like any other event at VCU’s Stuart C. Siegel Center.
The VCU Peppas, the school pep band, opened up with their usual set list of songs.
Chants of “You don’t want to go to war with the Rams” were met with silence and echoes off the rafters. The normally sold-out Siegel Center was empty.
With gatherings capped at 250 people in Virginia due to COVID-19, the Rams decided to take their preseason intrasquad scrimmage virtual. Thousands of people viewed the event on YouTube last week, which replaced the scrimmage with skills competitions showcasing both the men’s and women’s teams.
It was more similar to NBA All-Star Weekend than a preseason tune-up. However, the event did give insights on what Ram fans can expect heading into the season.
Takeaway: Josh Banks Has A Silky-Smooth 3-Point Shot
The highlight of the night was the 3-Point Contest, where brackets for the women’s and the men’s teams culminated in a final round between the winners of each.
The contest can be summed up in two words: Josh Banks.
Banks, the freshman guard from North Carolina, beat Vince Williams in the opening round. In the men’s finals, Banks upset sophomore guard Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland in a nail-biter, 16-15. Hyland, last season’s top 3-point shooter, was the favorite to win the contest.
Where Banks excelled the most was in the final round. Facing Banks for the title was women’s bracket winner Taya Robinson. Robinson, a senior guard on a VCU team picked to finish first in the Atlantic 10, is a career 37.8% 3-point shooter.
None of that mattered for Banks, who VCU radio announcer Robby Robinson said was shooting so hot that “you can measure his temperature in Kelvin.” Banks scored 21 points in the final round, making eight consecutive and 21-of-27 total 3-point shots.
The buzz around Banks is real. VCU fans can feel comfortable knowing that more help is on the way from behind the arc. In an offense that prioritizes 3-point shooting, Banks fits right in with the smoothest-looking jump shot on the team.
Takeaway: If You Ever Need Free Pizza, Look For Ace Baldwin and Levi Stockard
The final contest of the night was a bracket-style version of a fan-favorite contest, the Papa John’s Shot. In the gameday version, a fan tries to make a layup, a free throw, a 3-pointer and a half-court shot in 30 seconds. If successful, the entire arena wins free pizza.
If players could play in place of fans, look no further than newcomers Adrian “Ace” Baldwin and Levi Stockard.
The Baldwin-Stockard pair lit up the bracket, defeating their teammates with a blistering 14 second run. Stockard, who has never attempted a 3-pointer in his college career, banked the half-court shot in on his first attempt.
In the finals, Baldwin and Stockard nearly matched their earlier performance, finishing in 17 seconds. Baldwin ended the run with a dagger high-arcing half-court shot. Their opponents, women’s team players Sam Robinson and Chloe Bloom, finished their final run in 35 seconds.
While the Papa John’s Shot does not transfer to in-game scenarios, Baldwin and Stockard now have a unique resume piece to begin their VCU careers.
Takeaway: COVID-19 Will Be The Story of the Season
As hard as VCU Athletics tried, the atmosphere around this modified event could not escape the COVID-19 pandemic. Event host Robby Robinson wore a mask the entire time, as did the coaches and players he interviewed.
The virtual t-shirt toss especially showed our new normal, with players and coaches throwing t-shirts into empty seats.
Playing to near-empty or empty arenas will be something the men’s and women’s teams will have to adapt to. In addition, teams will have to navigate a schedule that is one positive COVID-19 test away from being altered.
VCU was scheduled to begin its season on Thursday with two games in the Volunteer Classic. However, positive tests from Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes and others within the Tennessee program have prompted the event’s cancellation. The Rams are exploring other options to replace these games. VCU’s next scheduled game is a road game against Penn State on Dec. 2.
*Featured image from vcuathletics/Youtube*