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Friday, August 1, 2014

Rams enjoy moment as talk of the nation

BY TONY ADAME
The Wichita Eagle

It took Virginia Commonwealth 12 days and five basketball games to turn the NCAA Tournament on its well-coiffed head.

Sunday’s 71-61 upset of top-seeded Kansas in the Southwest Regional final capped a two-week run that saw the No. 11-seed Rams go from a team that some thought shouldn’t have been included in the 68-team field to one making its first trip to the Final Four.

And after cutting down the nets at the Alamodome, VCU had one final order of business to complete.

“It’s somebody’s birthday, you sing,” VCU sophomore guard Darius Theus said. “So ‘Happy Birthday’ it is.”

With senior guard Brandon Rozzell celebrating his 22nd birthday Sunday, the Rams serenaded Rozzell as soon as their locker room doors closed and they were together as a unit. The song could be heard up and down the tunnels of the arena.

VCU coach Shaka Smart likes to call Rozzell the “Mayor of Richmond” because he’s so well-known around town, having grown up in Richmond and then becoming a college basketball star there. He even led his high school, Highland Springs, to the 2007 AAA state title at the Siegel Center, where the Rams play home games.

And after scoring all 12 of his points on four three-pointers in the first half, Rozzell wasn’t looking to change his nickname anytime soon.

“I don’t know what would be better than being called the mayor,” Rozzell said as he tracked down his parents in the stands. “That’s pretty good, don’t you think?”

In the pandemonium following the victory, VCU assistant coach Mike Jones chipped off a large part of one of his front teeth. He proudly displayed his injury to anyone that came around.

“I don’t even know how it happened,” Jones said. “And I can’t say it’s bothering me too much right now.”

VCU forward Jamie Skeen torched the Jayhawks for 26 points and 10 rebounds on Sunday on his way to Most Outstanding Player honors at the Southwest Regional.

When asked what about his team had made them so unbeatable during their amazing run, Skeen, a senior transfer from Wake Forest, grabbed his brand-new Final Four T-shirt near his chest.

“Our heart is why we play so hard, it’s why we play so hard,” Skeen said. “And nobody knew what was in my heart.”

The Rams, who will face Butler on Saturday in Houston, had already cued up a video compilation of different sports pundits that picked against them during the NCAA Tournament by the time reporters were allowed to enter their locker room.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this thing already,” said Theus, a Final Four hat tilted to the right on his head. “I suppose it can’t hurt to watch it a few more times.”

Reach Tony Adame at 316-268-6284 or tadame@wichitaeagle.com.

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