The calendar has flipped to September, and the cascade of fall products has arrived. Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin air freshener, pumpkin Oreos, pumpkin pumpkins, pumpkin everything, crowding the grocery store in a familiar shade of orange.
Outside, school buses are beginning to rev up their diesel engines to carry the future of the nation to school. Every morning, the sound of diesel motors and air brakes fill the air. School is back in session.
The sun sets a little bit earlier each evening. The NFL and college football take up the weekends. Some mornings have a familiar nip in the air – the chill George Strait sang about when he sang about feeling the chill of an early fall.
Fall has arrived, which means college basketball will be here before we all know it.
For VCU fans, who never got a true ending to last year’s successful campaign, the wait has felt enormous. Ram fans lost out on their March Madness game, the only team of the 68 in the NCAA Tournament to be bumped by a COVID-19 outbreak.
But as the calendar turns to fall and the season creeps closer, VCU can look forward to an optimistic season that should see the Rams compete among the top four teams in the conference. For those who need a recap of VCU’s offseason success, here are three bits of news and notes to hold you over until the Rams tip off later this fall.
1) Mike Rhoades’ Major Contract Extension
The best thing for a mid-major program is to be able to lock in a head coach for the long haul. VCU did just that earlier this summer with head coach Mike Rhoades.
On July 22, the university announced that Rhoades had signed a two-year extension on his current contract, which locks Rhoades in at VCU through the 2026-2027 season. Should Rhoades stay through the end of that contract, he would become the longest-tenured head coach in the 50-plus year history of VCU basketball.
In four seasons at the helm, Rhoades has compiled an 80-43 record at VCU and has won at least 18 games in each season. Rhoades’ best season thus far is 2019, when he led VCU to a 28-8 record on the way to the Atlantic 10 regular season title and a March Madness berth. For his efforts, Rhoades was named the 2019 Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year.
In all honesty, even without the extension, it seemed unlikely that Rhoades was ever going to leave VCU any time soon. His ties to the Central Virginia region are deep.
In 1996, Rhoades accepted his first coaching job at Randolph-Macon College as an assistant under Hal Nunnally. Located about 25 minutes north from VCU, Rhoades served under Nunnally until his retirement in 1999. After Nunnally retired, Rhoades took over the program and led the Yellow Jackets for 10 seasons. Under Rhoades, R-MC achieved a record of 197-76 and made four NCAA Division III Tournaments, won four Old Dominion Athletic Conference regular season titles and the 2003 ODAC Tournament.
Rhoades took an associate head coach position at VCU in 2009 under Shaka Smart, helping lead the Rams to the 2010 College Basketball Invitational Tournament championship, the 2011 NCAA Tournament Final Four and the 2012 Colonial Athletic Association Tournament championship. Aside from his tenure at Rice University, Rhoades has spent his entire coaching career in Central Virginia, a place that has become home to the native Pennsylvanian.
If any doubt remains about Rhoades’ commitment to the program, look no further than his introductory press conference from 2017.
“We’ve been on a ride for a long time, and this ride stops here, Mom, at VCU,” Rhoades said to the hundreds of fans that attended his introductory press conference. His family has been ever-present at home games, often in the back of the press room following games.
VCU appears to be like home to Rhoades, and much to the relief of fans, it appears he is not going anywhere for a while.
2) Hyland Headed to Denver
What a summer it has been for Bones Hyland, the greatest VCU player of the last Rhoades era.
The reigning A-10 Player of the Year, Hyland declared for the draft in April, foregoing two remaining years of eligibility to attempt to go pro in the NBA.
In the NBA Combine, Hyland shined and elevated his draft stock, virtually securing his place as VCU’s first first-rounder since Larry Sanders in 2010.
Hyland did not have to wait too long to hear his name called on draft night. The Delaware native got to cap off this chapter of his incredible story by hearing his name called by Adam Silver in the first round of July’s NBA Draft. Selected 26th overall by the Denver Nuggets, Hyland jumps onto a roster that looks to contend for the NBA Western Conference title next season with reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and stellar guard Jamal Murray. While there does not seem to be a path for starter minutes for Hyland yet, look for him to play a Jamal Crawford-esque role off the bench early on in his Nuggets tenure.
When jersey numbers were announced, it was revealed that Hyland will wear #3 for the Nuggets this season. Perhaps no number has better fit a player more – the 3-pointer is a form of art to Hyland. VCU will surely miss how he made the impossible deep 3-pointer seemed possible, as well as the pure joy Hyland brought onto the basketball floor each and every game. No player in recent VCU history has played the game with as much free-flowing joy as Hyland has the last two years.
Best of luck to Bones Hyland, who will make his preseason debut for Denver sometime next month.
3) Welcome to campus, freshmen!
Much has been written about the many players returning to VCU for the 2021-2022 season. However, the Rams have made several new additions to the roster, including a trio of freshmen looking to make an early impact.
The first of the trio to commit to VCU was forward Nicholas Kern, who signed with VCU on Aug. 11, 2020. Kern, a two-star recruit on Verbal Commits and a three-star on Rivals, hails from Saint Louis. A-10 rivals Saint Louis University gave an offer to Kern, who elected not to attend his hometown university.
VCU’s website calls Kern a “fearless, dynamic combo guard who possesses a ‘high motor.’” Kern led Vashon to three Missouri state championships and four district titles during his high school career. As a senior, Kern averaged 18.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. For his efforts, he was named Missouri Class 4 Player of the Year. Kern will wear #24, a number he said he chose in middle school because of Kobe Bryant.
Georgia native Jalen DeLoach committed to VCU on Sept. 8, 2020. A three-star recruit on Verbal Commits and 247Sports, DeLoach chose VCU over interest from numerous Power 5 schools, including South Carolina, Kansas and Georgia.
VCU’s website calls DeLoach a “versatile mobile forward who fits well into VCU’s up-tempo system.” A 6-foot-9 forward with positional versatility, DeLoach averaged a double-double in a post-graduate year at The Skill Academy in Georgia last year. Prior to that, DeLoach led Berkmar High School in Georgia to a regional title and Gray Collegiate in South Carolina to the 2019 state title. DeLoach will wear #4, his favorite number, for VCU this fall.
The most recent commit from this class for VCU is Jayden Nunn, who signed with VCU in April. Prior to that, Nunn planned to go to Iowa State, but decommitted in March.
A native of Flint, Michigan, VCU calls Nunn an “aggressive point guard with a knack for scoring the ball.” Nunn, who was ranked the 13th best player in Michigan by 247Sports, averaged over 21 points last season for Dream City Christian in Arizona. Prior to that, Nunn led Carman-Ainsworth High School in Flint to a 57-11 record in three seasons, which included a 2019 district championship game appearance and a 2018 state quarterfinal appearance.
Nunn hails from a strong basketball pedigree: his father, Tim, won the Michigan state title in high school in 1984 and played collegiately at Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Prior to embarking on a basketball path, Nunn was an accomplished youth bowler, once climbing as high as seventh in the national rankings. However, Nunn elected to pursue basketball and follow in his father’s footsteps. Look for Nunn to wear #23 this fall in honor of two of basketball’s all-time greats, LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
Nuggets of note:
- Corey Douglas (Class of 2021) has accepted a role with VCU Athletics as an Assistant Academic Coordinator at the VCU Center for Sports Leadership. Douglas completed his master’s degree earlier this year and chose to forego his extra COVID year of eligibility.
- Larry Sanders (Class of 2010) won BIG3 Defensive Player of the Year earlier this month. His team in the 3-on-3 basketball league, Tri-State, won the third-place game.
- De’Riante Jenkins (Class of 2020) signed with BC Luleå in Sweden on Aug. 4.
- Mo Alie-Cox (Class of 2017) is entering his fifth NFL season as a tight end on the Indianapolis Colts. Listed second on the team’s tight end depth chart, Alie-Cox will likely have a significant role in the Colts’ offense this season. In his career, Alie-Cox has tallied 620 yards and four touchdowns.
- Assistant Coach Jamal Brunt was elevated to associate head coach earlier this summer. Brunt has served under Rhoades since the 2018-2019 season and played under Rhoades at Randolph-Macon College.
Be sure to stay tuned to A10Talk once the season starts for coverage of all your favorite A-10 schools and players!