The VCU Rams men’s basketball team has filled all available scholarships for the upcoming 2022-23 season, after an offseason filled with significant movement throughout the college basketball landscape.
Once the smoke cleared, VCU lost four players to the transfer portal, most notably rising senior Hason Ward (to Iowa State) and rising junior Mikeal Brown-Jones (to either UNC Greensboro, UTEP or Pacific).
To replace the quartet of transfers, plus graduating seniors Vince Williams and KeShawn Curry, head coach Mike Rhoades and the VCU program offered scholarships to six players with a wide range of skillsets and experience levels. Three of VCU’s newcomers are freshmen, while the other three arrive to Richmond via the always intriguing transfer portal.
In all, Rhoades and the Rams have appeared to do an exceptional job reloading and have produced a roster capable of competing in an Atlantic 10 that appears to be on the upswing heading into 2022-23.
Meet the newcomers – Freshmen
Alphonzo “Fats” Billups (Varina HS, Richmond, Va.)
One of the most intriguing newcomers to the VCU program comes from the school’s backyard.
After lacking in local or in-state talent in recent years, the Rams secured the commitment of Varina High School star Alphonzo “Fats” Billups on Aug. 24, 2021. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, VCU was the first Division I school to offer Billups a scholarship. VCU beat out 15 other schools, including Clemson, Florida, James Madison and LSU, in the Billups race, according to 247Sports.
Ranked No. 97 in 247Sports’ composite rankings, Billups is the first top-100 VCU commit since Bones Hyland, who went on to earn A-10 Player of the Year honors before being drafted in the first round of the NBA draft in 2021.
In 2022, Billups was named the Virginia High School League Class 4 Player of the Year. Billups averaged 15.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.6 blocks per game on 70% shooting on 2-point field goals.
Last season, Billups and head coach Kenneth Randolph led Varina to the Class 4 state title, the second in Varina’s history.
Listed at 6-7 and 180 pounds, Billups looks to be a long-term, home-town addition to the Rams. Listed as a guard by the VHSL, Billups could play a role as a shooting guard/small forward in Rhoades’ offense and brings loads of potential to a young VCU team.
Christian Fermin (Pocono Mountain West HS, Pocono Summit, Pa.)
The first member of VCU’s 2022 recruiting class, Pennsylvania native Christian Fermin brings size to a roster that, with the departures of Ward, Williams and graduate student Levi Stockard, is in desperate need of exactly that.
Fermin announced his VCU commitment on July 3, 2021, four months after VCU initially offered him. According to Rivals, Fermin received offers from 11 other schools, including A-10 member schools La Salle, St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph’s.
Ranked No. 137 nationally by 247Sports, the 6-10, 200 pound forward is Pocono Mountain West’s all-time leader in career rebounds, blocks, double-doubles, triple-doubles and points per game. Last season, the Pocono Record also named Fermin its player of the year. Fermin is also in the running for Mr. PA Basketball.
In all, Fermin brings much to look forward to as, at minimum, a strong rebounder that could play the 4 or 5 for the Rams.
Toibu Lawal (Lee Academy Prep, Lee, Me.)
A surprise commitment, Toibu Lawal joined the recruiting class after announcing his commitment to VCU on May 7. Lawal played at Lee Academy Prep in Maine this past season after playing at the City of London Academy in his home of London, England.
Listed as a 6-8 center/forward, Lawal is ranked by the New England Recruiting Report as the No. 33 player in the class of 2022 from New England – No. 2 from Maine. In a Jan. 5 article, the site listed Lawal in a compilation of “Risers & New Names.”
According to a highlight tape posted on YouTube by the City of London Academy, Lawal recorded 10.6 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game and 1.8 assists per game at Lee Academy Prep. He also shot 50.4% from the floor and 71% from the free throw line.
The short tape, posted Feb. 4, features numerous bouncy, athletic, thunderous dunks. If Lawal’s dunking prowess can translate to the Division I collegiate game, then Lawal could quickly become a young fan favorite at the Siegel Center.
Meet the newcomers – Transfers
Zeb Jackson (Michigan)
Former Michigan guard Zeb Jackson was the first commit to VCU from this cycle of the transfer portal. The 6-5 guard committed to the Rams on April 2.
Jackson was rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN and was ranked as the No. 96 prospect in the class of 2020 by 247Sports.
In his two seasons at Michigan, Jackson did not get significant playing time. He played 10 or more minutes in a game just three times and has a career-high of eight points. The eight-point outing against Southern Utah on Dec. 18, 2021 was his final game with the Wolverines. He averaged 1.5 points per game at Michigan.
With the loss of Curry and Tsohonis, minutes for a guard like Jackson are available for the taking. As a highly-sought after recruit, Jackson has plenty of talent that fits well into Rhoades system. Look for Jackson to inherit the Tsohonis role amongst a talented group of VCU guards.
Jackson is a rising junior and has two years of traditional eligibility remaining.
Brandon Johns Jr. (Michigan)
The pipeline between Ann Arbor and Richmond remains strong.
Brandon Johns Jr., a 6-8, 240 pound forward, followed Jackson to VCU and committed to the Rams on April 20.
A native of East Lansing, Michigan, Johns played four seasons with the Wolverines, ending his Michigan career with two rebounds, one assist and two blocks in Michigan’s Sweet 16 loss to Villanova in March. In four seasons with Michigan, Johns appeared in 117 games and averaged 3.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 52.9% shooting. He started in 25 games, nine last season, and has appeared in 10 NCAA Tournament games.
In his junior year, Johns started Michigan’s final five games due to an injury to Isaiah Livers. The stretch included four NCAA Tournament games, where he averaged 10 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. As a senior, Johns started Michigan’s first six games before moving to a reserve role.
Johns brings two critical needs to VCU: size and experience. Johns will enter the team as among the program’s oldest, after graduation and transfers left walk-on Arnold Henderson VI as the only senior or graduate student on the roster.
The departures also depleted VCU’s frontcourt, leaving a large amount of minutes open for a player like Johns. In a way, Johns’ move to VCU is similar to former VCU player Levi Stockard, who left a Power 5 school (in Stockard’s case, Kansas State) for a greater role at a mid-major.
Rhoades recruited Johns out of high school, where he was rated as a four-star recruit by 247Sports. The site also ranked Johns as the No. 70 player in the class of 2018, a class led by Duke stars R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish.
Johns is using his fifth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This season will be Johns’ final in college basketball.
David Shriver (Hartford)
On an offense that often lives and dies by the 3-pointer, securing a sharpshooter was key for Rhoades’ system, especially with VCU ranking 316th in 3-pointers per game in 2021-22. The Rams may have found that in David Shriver.
A transfer from Hartford, Shriver is a 40.8% 3-point shooter in his collegiate career, which includes three seasons at Division II Alderson Broaddus and one year at Hartford.
Shriver, who is listed at 6-6 and 220 pounds, committed to VCU on April 29.
In his season at Hartford, Shriver shot 41% from 3-point range and 55.6% overall. The Phillipi, West Virginia native played 32 games for the Hawks, starting 18 times. He was fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 10.7 points per game, helping lead the Hawks to the semifinals of the America East tournament.
As a high schooler, Shriver set the school record for career 3-pointers at Philip Barbour High School with 190 and was named to the West Virginia Class AA First Team All-State in 2018. As a senior in 2018, Shriver averaged 21.6 points per game, helping lead Philip Barbour to the semifinals of the West Virginia Class AA State Tournament.
At Alderson Broaddus University, Shriver started 63 games and appeared in 74 contests, averaging 12.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. His career-high of 31 points came in his final game at the school, in the 2021 Mountain East Tournament game against Wheeling. For his efforts, Shriver was named to the All-MEC Honorable Mention Team in 2021. He left Alderson Broaddus with the second-most career 3-pointers in school history.
With a resume as deep as Shriver’s, VCU fans have much to look forward to in offensive production. Like Johns, Shriver also brings much-needed experience to a young Rams team.
Shriver is using his fifth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This season will be Shriver’s final in college basketball.
VCU’s full roster
Fats Billups (Guard)
Christian Fermin (Forward)
Toibu Lawal (Center/Forward)
#4 Jalen DeLoach (Forward)
#23 Jayden Nunn (Guard)
#24 Nick Kern (Guard)
#0 Jamir Watkins (Forward)*
#1 Ace Baldwin (Guard)
#21 Jarren McAllister (Guard, Redshirt)**
#33 Josh Banks (Guard)
Zeb Jackson (Guard)
#15 Arnold Henderson VI (Guard)***
Graduate Students (2):
Brandon Johns Jr. (Forward)
David Shriver (Guard)
*Jamir Watkins did not play in the 2021-22 season due to injury. Assuming he is granted a medical redshirt, Watkins has three more years of traditional eligibility
**Listed as a redshirt sophomore last season, Jarren McAllister has not appeared in a game since the spring of 2020, having missed two seasons due to injuries. He is presumed to have three more years of traditional eligibility.
***Arnold Henderson VI is a preferred walk-on and does not count against the 13-scholarship limit.
Featured image: Jason Boleman