Fifth-year backcourt fuels VCU hoops hopes for new season

Fred Jeter | 6/13/2024, 6 p.m.
If an experienced backcourt is the key to success, VCU’s Rams have reason for optimism.

If an experienced backcourt is the key to success, VCU’s Rams have reason for optimism.

Coach Ryan Odom’s Rams will have four guards — all arriving as transfers — entering their fifth season of college hoops.

photo  Coach Odom

This became possible when Max Shulga, All Atlantic-10 a season ago, returned to the Rams’ roster after transferring to Villanova.

The other fifth-year Rams guards are returnees Zeb Jackson and Joe Bamisile and newcomer Phillip Russell.

The NCAA created this fifth season of eligibility by giving all players a “bonus season” due to the problems associated with the 2020-21 pandemic-plagued campaign.

Here’s some background:

Shulga: The 6-foot-5 Ukrainian native played three seasons at Utah State before transferring to VCU a year ago. He came to VCU along with former Utah State Coach Odom.

Shulga averaged 14 points with 86 three-pointers, 135 assists and 141-for-2161 free-throw accuracy. He looms as a candidate for A10 Player of Year. He logged 33 minutes per game.

Jackson: Following two seasons at University of Michigan, the 6-foot-4 transferred to VCU (under than Coach Mike Rhoades) where he will be entering his third season as a Ram. Jackson, a Toledo native, averaged 11.4 points with 119 assists in 29.6 minutes per contest.

Bamisile: A product of Monacan High in Chesterfield, the versatile 6-foot-4 athlete came to VCU after one season each at Virginia Tech, George Washington and Oklahoma. “Bam” averaged 13.1 points with 64 treys in 23.2 minutes per.

Russell, 5-foot-10, arrives after stops at St. Louis, Southeast Missouri State and Texas-Arlington. The St. Louis native averaged 15 points in 29 minutes, shot 38% on 3-pointers and 85% at the foul line.

Freshmen guards are Brandon Jennings, the Metro Player of the Year from St. Christopher’s, and Terrence Hill Jr. from Portland, Ore.

VCU also adds 6-foot-9 Jack Clark, who played at La Salle, North Carolina State and Clemson. He’s in his sixth year after a medical redshirt.

VCU was 24-14 last season, reaching the A-10 finals and NIT third round. Non-conference games this season include Boston College in Annapolis, Md., on Nov. 8; at New Mexico on Dec. 18; and the Charleston (South Carolina) Classic from Nov. 21-24 against teams such as Nevada, Miami, Oklahoma State and Seton Hall.

Home games so far are Bellarmine (Kentucky) and Loyola (Maryland).

VCU will play at New Mexico in Albuquerque Dec. 18. The Lobos come to Richmond in 2025. Odom’s squad will play three games Nov. 21, 22 and 24 in the Charleston, S.C., Classic. Other entries include Nevada, Miami, Fla, Oklahoma State, Seton Hall and Florida Atlantic.