VUU has reinforcements in the house

Fred Jeter | 5/4/2023, 6 p.m.
There were two groups of basketball players at Virginia Union University this past season – the ones you saw and …
Kaylen Vines

There were two groups of basketball players at Virginia Union University this past season – the ones you saw and the ones you didn’t see.

Behind the scenes, four different players were sitting out on game nights but regularly practicing with the Panthers.

Coach Jay Butler has high hopes for this group who will join the roster for 2023-24.

Ashton Pratt, 6-foot, from State Class 6 state champion Hayfield High in 2021-22; will have freshman eligibility.

Kaylen Vines, 6-foot-3, from Douglass High in Clinton, Md., played briefly with VUU in 2021-22; will have sophomore eligibility.

Tyrice Fowlkes, 6-foot-6, from Nottoway High in Crewe; will have freshman eligibility.

Joe Allen, 6-foot-4, Douglass High, Md.; will have freshman eligibility.

VUU also sponsored a developmental, J.V. type team this past season that showed much promise.

“We’d like to turn that into a feeder system,” said Coach Butler.

Panthers’ fans also are looking forward to the arrival of point guard O’Maundre Harris from State Class 4 runner-up E.C. Glass of Lynchburg.

Harris, only 5-foot-10, scored more than 30 points each in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of the state tournament.

Recruiting is an ongoing task on Lombardy Street.

“It’s day to day,” said Coach Butler. “We’re working on it all the time and we’ll probably bring in a transfer or two through the portal.”

VUU went 24-8 overall this past season, including 12-4 in the CIAA.

The Panthers defeated Fairmont State, W.Va., in the first round of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region before falling to host Indiana State, Pa, in the second round. VUU expects to lose six seniors off the 2023-24 squad, mostly notable CIAA Player of Year Robert Osborne, conference rebounding leader Raemaad Wright and two-season starting point guard Keleaf Tate. While a long shot, Osborne’s eligibility for 2023-’24 remains a possibility.

The 6-foot-5 forward attended classes for three years at Hampton University, but never suited up for the Pirates.

He has played the past two seasons for VUU, including this past season when he averaged 20 points and nine rebounds.

Many players nowadays are being given a “free year” of eligibility due to the 2020-21 season that was disrupted by COVID.

“We’re trying to figure it out,” said Coach Butler. “If Robbie’s eligible to come back, I’m pretty sure he would.”

If Osborne is granted extended eligibility by the NCAA, VUU would almost immediately be considered a CIAA favorite for next season.