Tuesday, March 29, 2011 4:30 p. m.
By Rich Tandler
CSNwashington.com RICHMOND On Monday, less than 24 hours after VCU defeated Kansas to advance to the Final Four, Rams senior guard Joey Rodriguez strolled into the sandwich shop located in the campus bookstore to get some lunch. I just kind of walked in normally and I heard on the loudspeaker, No. 12, Joey Rodriguez, he said. That was it. I was there for an hour and a half. Two weeks ago, I could have walked through here and nobody would have recognized me. Two weeks ago, the Rams were on their way to Dayton, Ohio, to play in the First Four, games involving the last teams to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Now, after a stunning five-game run through major-conference foes, they are on their way to the Final Four in Houston. Rodriguez might someday again be able to go into public places on the VCU campus anonymously, but it wont be anytime soon. The university indeed, the whole Richmond area has gone nuts over the success of the Rams. On Monday, a line to buy Final Four T-shirts at the bookstore stretched well down the block as people waited for hours for the shipment of the black and gold souvenirs to arrive. According to a store manager, the initial order was for 5,700 shirts, and they all were sold before lunch on Tuesday at just under 22 each. Another line of fans eager to get their hands on a second shipment of shirts formed on Tuesday. Among the people waiting in line were two who worked for a bank. They had orders for 17 of them from the office and were frantically calling their co-workers as word spread of exhausted supplies of particular sizes and colors. Also in the line was Dr. William Bosher, the former dean of the VCU College of Education. He was sporting a VCU cap and wanted to get some more logo gear to take with him to Houston. He looked at going to the Final Four as an opportunity that doesnt come along very often. It takes one thing off of the bucket list, he said. Clinton, the manager of the sandwich shop (who gave just his first name), said that the reaction to the Rams was off the chain. He said he was amazed at how much the teams success translated into elevated moods on the campus of some 30,000. People are all smiles, he said. Its a beautiful thing. The excitement has spread beyond campus. At the Dominion Building, one of the tallest in the city, lights in the offices were arranged to spell out VCU Go Rams. The local sports-talk stations are talking all Rams, all the time, and local television newscasts are heavily sprinkled with VCU basketball features. The Richmond Times-Dispatch had six writers and photographers in San Antonio for the Rams Sweet 16 appearance, and the paper is sending more staff to Houston for the Final Four. The members of the team, meanwhile, are doing their best to stay grounded. Its definitely been crazy with all the attention weve been getting, junior guard Bradford Burgess said. But all of us know whats at stake, whats at hand right here. We have a chance to win the whole thing. If we stay focused and we stay together, well be able to do that. Head coach Shaka Smart said the reaction was humbling. What its done for our fans, for basketball fans in Richmond and even casual fans is really galvanizing -- thousands of people behind the black and gold. Smart said. And people are going nuts. Its a phenomenal thing for VCU.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011 4:30 p. m.