Skeen’s call proves correct
“Friends, family, associates,” Skeen said. “Everyone kept telling me it was a terrible decision.”
Now those same people are asking Skeen for tickets to the Final Four, which is where Skeen and the Rams are headed following Sunday’s 71-61 upset of No. 1 seed Kansas at the Alamodome.
With 26 points and 10 rebounds, Skeen was selected as the Most Outstanding Performer of the Southwest Regional. Pleased as he was to receive the accolade, Skeen was hardly parading the trophy around the Rams’ postgame locker room.
“I’m not satisfied,” Skeen said. “We’ve still got two games left. People think that because we [beat Kansas], that we’re going to settle for just making it to the Final Four.
“I’m not settling at all. I’m not satisfied. I want to win two more games and win the whole thing. That’s when y’all will see me smiling and jumping all over the place.”
Whether he admits it or not, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Skeen has to feel fortunate to even be in this position. The former North Carolina Mr. Basketball averaged a collective 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds in two seasons at Wake Forest from 2006-08. But he was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester of his junior year.
Even though he likely would’ve played a prominent role, Skeen opted not to rejoin the Demon Deacons once his academics were in order. He announced in December 2008 that he was leaving the program to seek opportunities elsewhere.
Not long after that, he resurfaced at Virginia Commonwealth.
“People thought I was washed up,” Skeen said. “They thought my college career was going to be done before I even went to VCU. But I’d seen the future, and I knew VCU had a future for me.”
“I figured, ‘Why not try to be that third person?’” Skeen said. “That’s been my dream my whole life, to make it to the NBA.”
Sunday’s performance may have helped Skeen take a major step toward achieving those aspirations. Gaudy as Skeen’s stat line may have been, it was even more impressive considering it came against Kansas twins Marcus and Markieff Morris – each of whom project as top 15 selections in this summer’s draft.
A Charlotte native, Skeen entered Sunday’s contest averaging 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. But he took his game to another level against the Morris brothers.
“It was his time,” VCU guard Ed Nixon said. “We felt like he’s just as good – if not better – than the Morris brothers. He had something to prove. He definitely did it.
“He wasn’t being more vocal. Skeen isn’t really one of our vocal leaders. But he was focused. You could see in his eyes that he was ready to go.”
Skeen had made just 29 3-pointers before Sunday’s game. Against Kansas he went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Four of his 10 rebounds were on the offensive end, and he helped pester Markieff Morris into a season-high eight turnovers.
“I love to play against NBA talent,” Skeen said. “I want to be in the NBA one day myself, so I want to see how good I can be going against NBA talent. Today we were able to see. I matched up pretty well with them.”
One of the biggest plays of the game came when Skeen was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer with his team leading by two points with about 13 minutes remaining. Skeen hit two of his three free-throw attempts to stretch the cushion to four, and Kansas never posed much of a threat from that point forward.
By the time Skeen returned to the locker room following the win, his cell phone already had already been flooded with messages from friends, family and well-wishers.
“Now they’ve had a change of heart,” said Skeen, laughing. “Everyone who said it was a stupid decision for me to come to VCU is jumping on the bandwagon. I don’t get mad. We’re accepting passengers.
“There’s still room.”