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Ramming Ahead 

VCU’s new men’s basketball coach, Will Wade, returns to black and gold.

click to enlarge As head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Will Wade implemented a style of play he called “chaos.” In his introductory press conference today, he said he’ll bring that style reminiscent of “havoc” back to VCU -- with his own flair. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • As head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Will Wade implemented a style of play he called “chaos.” In his introductory press conference today, he said he’ll bring that style reminiscent of “havoc” back to VCU -- with his own flair.

After being introduced by Virginia Commonwealth University’s athletic director, Ed McLaughlin, the new head coach of men’s basketball for the Rams, Will Wade, says just what the crowd wants to hear.

“Havoc still lives here!” Wade says. “I’m thrilled to be back home in Richmond.”

This morning’s event at the Siegel Center was billed as a press conference, and news media were on hand. But the atmosphere resembled a pep rally. The university’s popular pep band, the Peppas, pumped up the enthusiasm of those assembled, which included whoever wanted to be there -- it was open to the public. Scott Day, an assistant athletic director under McLaughlin, estimated the crowd at more than 1,200.

Wade’s predecessor, Shaka Smart, announced Thursday night that he was accepting an offer from the University of Texas to coach basketball in Austin. Havoc was Smart’s name, or perhaps “brand,” for the style he implemented during his six years at VCU, where his record was 163-56. It’s unknown whether Smart plans to carry havoc with him to Texas.

Wade is from Nashville, but he was an assistant coach under Smart for four years at the Siegel Center, so he’s familiar with the Fan District. He graduated from Clemson in 2005, having majored in secondary education. He’s a “history teacher, by trade,” he says in his remarks. Before coming to VCU, Wade was an assistant coach under Tommy Amaker for two years at Harvard.

No doubt, one reason McLaughlin hired Wade was that he had a hand recruiting some of VCU’s returning players, so they already know him. With players still reeling from the loss of their superstar coach, one of VCU’s biggest concerns is to discourage them from transferring to other schools -- while holding onto three prized recruits, including Tevin Mack, rated by ESPN as a Top 50 talent. Worried fans have heard speculation that Mack wants to be released from his letter of commitment. But there’s no word from VCU on the matter.

For the last two years, Wade served as head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he accumulated a record of 40-25. He was named the Southern Conference coach of the year in 2014. At Chattanooga he used a system he dubbed Chaos, which in many ways resembled Smart’s Havoc.

Wade says while he plans to implement something similar to the fast-paced, aggressive style to which VCU fans have grown accustomed, he’ll add “my little flair.” He recalls that at Chattanooga he learned the value of playing a 2-2-1 zone defense, which he plans to use, along with a few other twists.

Smart occasionally used zones at VCU, but not all that often. Beyond its so-called Havoc brand, VCU has become known for hiring young coaches, bright guys on their way up, since bringing Jeff Capel on board in 2002, when he was 27. Capel was followed by Anthony Grant at 40 in 2006 and Smart at 32 in 2009. Wade is VCU’s 11th head basketball coach. He’s 32 and looks younger.

“We’re going to stay nationally ranked and nationally relevant,” Wade boasts.

Then Wade talks about going to another Final Four and winning a national title. While the crowd eats it all up, in truth it won’t be easy to follow what Smart accomplished. VCU and Duke are the only two basketball programs in the nation to win at least 26 games in each of the last six seasons. The Rams have played in five consecutive NCAA basketball championship tournaments, so expectations will be high.

Since the Rams’ new coach hasn’t lost a single game at the Siegel Center, the fans wearing their gold and black Havoc T-shirts were happy, for today. In November when VCU plays in a high-profile tournament at Madison Square Garden, with Duke and Wisconsin in the field, Rams fans hope to still be wearing those smiles.

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