Next year, third-year VCU coach Will Wade will be largely relying on players he recruited to keep the Rams' success going.
The college careers of five seniors ended with VCU's loss to Saint Mary's in the NCAA Tournament, capping an impressive run for the group: 103 victories, four consecutive seasons with at least 24 wins and four NCAA Tournaments. The quintet is the bulk of what remains from Shaka Smart's six seasons at VCU.
Next year's seniors will include pass-first point guard Jonathan Williams and low post scorer Justin Tillman, both of whom committed to Smart before he left to take the job at Texas. Wade had been involved in the recruitment of both as an assistant, then had to re-recruit Tillman after one season.
Tillman was the Rams' No. 2 scorer (12.2) this year and did it shooting 59.2 percent. He also averaged a team-leading 8.7 rebounds. If he continues to develop, with his length and athleticism, expect those numbers to increase.
But Wade won't have an empty cupboard with the graduation of the five seniors.
The coach this year added shooter Issac Vann, who led Maine in scoring (16.4) as a freshman last year and sat out this year per NCAA rules. He will be a sophomore, but will also be stepping up significantly in competition.
The Rams have high hopes for rising sophomore De'Riante Jenkins and redshirt sophomore Samir Doughty, and will add four players in a recruiting class ranked in the top 25 by several services, but will also be very young.
They're losing a lot of leadership in guard JeQuan Lewis (15.2 ppg) and post player Mo Alie-Cox (9.5 ppg, 71 blocks). They were the team's most vocal leaders. They also are losing accomplished defenders in guards Doug Brooks (5.6 ppg, 56 steals) and Jordon Burgess.
Lewis was the player who took over when the Rams needed it most, and he scored 30 against in the 85-77 loss to Saint Mary's in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday night .
''He's a warrior. I mean he's been wounded and he's been hurt basically the last month of the season here, just banged up,'' Wade said. ''We've ridden him. He's the one guy that's been our most consistent guard.''
Wade thanked his seniors after the loss, and said he hopes the players remaining follow their example.
''I was telling somebody the other day, and I'm not taking a knock on anybody, but this was our seventh straight NCAA Tournament. Next to that team we took to the tournament (the year) after the Final Four, this was probably the weakest of the bunch,'' he said.
''And,'' he added later, ''we've got to get these other guys better so we can try to get back.''
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