Thu Sep 29 03:58pm EDT
When Rodney Purvis received a handful of cards and letters from Virginia Commonwealth early in his high school career, the five-star point guard didn't view the unheralded Rams as a realistic contender to sign him.
Only after VCU's stunning Final Four run last March did Purvis begin to reconsider.
Intrigued by VCU's charismatic, young coach, up-tempo style and emerging presence on the national stage, Purvis listed the Rams among the final seven schools he was considering on August 30. It's unlikely Purvis will choose VCU over front runner NC State or fellow contenders UConn and Memphis when he announces his college choice on Friday, but the fact that the Rams were even in the running for the Raleigh native is a coup for the program.
"The Final Four run put them almost in the same bracket as a Memphis in Rodney's eyes," said Avie Lester, Purvis' coach at Upper Room Christian Academy in Raleigh. "Memphis is not in a Big East, ACC or SEC, but they have a reputation of going far in the NCAA tournament and doing well on a national stage. That run put VCU in that category. They might not play in one of the bigger conferences, but it made Rodney take a look at them a lot differently."
The sudden interest from a player of the caliber of Purvis is an example of the impact VCU coach Shaka Smart hopes last year's Final Four appearance makes. Between SportsCenter highlights, coverage on numerous national websites and Smart hitting the late-night talk show circuit, VCU received such a rush of publicity that the perennial Colonial Athletic Association power is no longer an unknown commodity for top recruits.
Although Smart is optimistic VCU will be able to sign more highly rated prospects and win more recruiting battles against high-major programs, he cautioned that the increased visibility won't change the school's recruiting blue print dramatically. Spring signee Teddy Okereafor was an in-state prospect VCU persuaded to sign a year early before interest from ACC schools mushroomed, while Class of 2012 commits wing Jordan Burgess and forwards Justin Tuoyo and Mo-Alie Cox are each below-the-radar recruits.
"I would hope we're able to get involved with or sign more high-level players than we were before, but we're not under any illusions," Smart said. "Whereas before we were signing good mid-level players, it's not like now we're going to bring in a bunch of top 50 guys or McDonald's All-Americans. It doesn't work that way."
VCU's post-Final Four recruiting has mirrored Butler's after the first of its two national title game appearances. Coach Brad Stevens managed to crack the final three for elite in-state center Cody Zeller before he signed with Indiana, but the rest of the players the Bulldogs recruited were fringe top 100 or top 15o prospects likely to stay in the program three or four years apiece.
For VCU to be able to win an occasional battle for an elite recruit rather than always having to unearth quality players others missed, the Rams will have to solidify themselves as a perennial NCAA tournament team capable of winning in a game or two each year.It would also help if VCU could parlay that into more made-for-TV neutral court non-conference games against marquee programs the way Butler, Gonzaga, Xavier and Temple have done.
And lastly it will take a commitment to improving the school's facilities, which will begin with the construction of a new, privately funded $9 million practice facility next year to replace the air condition-less 60-year-old gym in use today.
"VCU is right on the border of reaching the status of a Xavier, a Gonzaga or a Memphis where they're no longer viewed as a mid-major," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Eric Bossi said. "When they get to that point where they're looked at as one of those programs that can recruit regardless of conference, that's when things will really take off for them. A couple more years of doing what they're doing, and they're definitely going to be there."
It would have been difficult to believe VCU could ever attain such heights prior to former coach Jeff Capel leading the Rams to their second NCAA tournament appearance in 19 years in 2004. Momentum continued under Anthony Grant with Eric Maynor's memorable shot to beat Duke in the opening round of the 2007 NCAA tournament and then reached a crescendo last spring when Smart led the Rams from the First Four to the Final Four.
"The best thing about the Final Four run recruiting-wise was so many people had a chance to see us play," Smart said. "Particularly at our level, it can be a tough sell when you call a kid up and he hasn't seen how you play, the way your players approach games and the way you coach guys. But now that's changed for us. There's really nobody that we've called in the past several months that hasn't seen us play."
More conference previews from the Dagger:
ACC: Lessons from the pros keep North Carolina humble and hungry, ACC projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Wake Forest star Ish Smith scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league ACC games, Q&A with Florida State junior Michael Snaer
Atlantic 10: Temple's Micheal Eric hopes to seize his chance, A-10 projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Xavier star Byron Larkin scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league A-10 games, Q&A with St. Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell
Big Ten: How Zack Novak became Michigan's emotional leader; Big Ten projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-Ohio State star Jim Jackson scouts the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big Ten games; Q&A with Michigan State forward Delvon Roe
Big 12: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch, Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance, Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games, Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson