RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Mike Rhoades received what felt like a hero's welcome when he returned to Virginia to be introduced Wednesday as VCU's next men's basketball coach.
The popular former assistant was re-introduced to Rams fans Wednesday at the Siegel Center, where his work over five years with Shaka Smart endeared him to the VCU faithful. A crowd of several hundred people, many on their lunch break, welcomed him with a standing ovation and raucous cheers.
''This is a dream come true to me and my family to be the head coach at VCU, to be standing here representing the Rams. I'm truly humbled and very appreciative,'' Rhoades told the crowd.
He had them screaming even louder when he assured them that unlike his predecessor Will Wade, who left after only two years for LSU, he is home.
''We've been on a ride for a long time and the ride stops here,'' he said, drawing perhaps the loudest cheers during the news conference.
''This is home. This is home and I love it here, my family loves it here,'' he said later, adding that when his flight arrived Tuesday night there were more than 20 friends he considers family to greet him, his wife and three children. ''Our roots are already here. We just came back to connect them.''
Rhoades' return was announced less than 24 hours after Wade resigned. Rhoades has spent the last three seasons turning around the program at Rice. The Owls won 23 games this season, one short of their winningest season ever, and played in the CBI Tournament. The year before Rhoades' arrival, Rice finished just 7-23.
At Rice, Rhoades compiled a 47-52 record.
Wade's resignation shook the VCU fan base, but athletic director Ed McLaughlin said he knew immediately who he wanted to be the next coach ''and got right into action.''
The AD said he met with the basketball team Tuesday morning and told them the next time they saw him, he'd be accompanied by their new coach. McLaughlin then flew to Houston, reached an agreement with Rhoades and returned Tuesday night, with Rhoades and his family, for another team meeting.
McLaughlin said Rhoades ''made it clear, from the first two or three minutes we talked, that this is the place he wants to be forever.''
Rhoades takes over a program that has had much success in recent years, joining Kansas as the only teams with at least 24 victories in each of the last 11 seasons. The Rams also have made seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
But VCU also is facing a rebuilding year.
The Rams will have three seniors on the roster next season: past-first point guard Jonathan Williams, forward Justin Tillman and reserve forward Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed, who recently received an NCAA waiver for an extra season of eligibility. The rest of the team will be freshmen and sophomores, mainly because the recruits signed by Smart before his departure for Texas opted out of their commitments.
Wade had recruited a class ranked among the top 25, according to various recruiting services, but the four members of the class could review their options now that he has left. Rhoades said he already has reached out to all four recruits and is hopeful he can keep them on board.
''It's about building relationships and making them feel good,'' Rhoades said. ''They all want to play at a place like VCU.''
The Rams will enter next season with 99 consecutive sellouts, and a style that Rhoades expects will appeal to players and fans alike.
''Fast, aggressive,'' he said. ''Smart with the basketball and really share it, keep that ball hot all the time.''
Defensively, it's likely to look a lot like what the Rams used to refer to as ''havoc,'' a full-court pressing style largely abandoned under Wade.
''We're going to catch teams off guard because we press and we're going to trap, and we're going to do different things,'' Rhoades said. ''I think that's really important. We're going to take great pride in getting stops in the half-court, but we're going to pick up full-court and guard people, and see if they like pressure.''
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