New Rams finding own identity

Fred Jeter | 1/25/2024, 6 p.m.
It’s not too unusual for a basketball team to repeat as league champion or top contender. But with a nearly ...

It’s not too unusual for a basketball team to repeat as league champion or top contender.

But with a nearly all-new cast?

VCU is a story of “lost and found.” Last year’s Rams won the Atlantic 10 regular and tournament titles, but lost most of their roster to graduation — Brandon Johns, David Shriver and Arnold Henderson. Others were lost to defection — Ace Baldwin, Jalen Deloach, Jayden Nunn, Jamir Watkins, Josh Banks and Nick Kern.

The team also lost Coach Mike Rhoades to Penn State.

The current edition, now on a three-game winning streak, is looking more and more like an A-10 contender with a lineup bearing slim resemblance to a year ago, and a new coach, Ryan Odom.

The Rams are winning games and their fans must like what they see. VCU drew 7,637 for its Jan. 19 win over St. Louis, and has averaged 7,119 crowds in 13 Siegel Center contests.

There was no time to cry over spilled milk last spring, following all the unexpected departures, which brings us to the “found” part.

Arriving from Utah State, Coach Odom brought two players with him: Max Shulga (leading the Rams with 15.2 points a game) and Sean Bairstow (11.6 points).

Coach Odom traveled to London to sign Michael Belle, and lured transfers Kuay Kuay (California), Roosevelt Wheeler (Louisville), Jason Nelson (Richmond) and Joe Bamisile (Oklahoma) to The Fan.

Bamisile and Bairstow were not immediately eligible, which likely accounted for some early season losses.

VCU entered this week 11-7 overall and 3-2 in the A-10. Next up is a trip to the Charlotte area to play Davidson on Saturday at 8 p.m. with CBSSN televising.

Bamisile, a 6-foot-4 senior guard who played locally at Monacan High, has added plenty of life to the Rams party since becoming eligible.“Bam the Ram” averages 12.8 points with a high of 29 in just 23 minutes versus St. Louis, when he swished seven of 10 three-balls.

The top returning player thus far has been senior guard Zeb Jackson (12.4 points per game) who missed the St. Louis game with a back ailment. Adding plenty of sizzle is Tobi Lawal, averaging eight points and six rebounds with 21 blocked shots and more than 30 dunks.

The Rams won the 2023 tournament in Brooklyn and hope to do so again this March, also in Brooklyn.