Richmond Times-Dispatch

VCUmade quick change to S.D.

Shockers’ exit created event opening for Rams

- BYWAYNE EPPS JR.

The announceme­nt to the team was simple.

“It was pretty much a group text, ‘We’re leaving tomorrow. Make sure you’re packed well. Uniforms will be packed, make sure you have your shoes and your license,’” coach Mike Rhoades said.

“Everything else, we’ll figure it out.”

At the end of an eventful Monday, the VCU men’s basketball team wound up with three games in Sioux Falls, S.D., with a departing flight set for early Tuesday afternoon and tipoff Wednesday night.

The Rams woke up

Monday planning for two games in Knoxville, Tenn.: one Thursday against Charlotte and one Friday against 12th-ranked Tennessee as part of the school’s Volunteer Classic.

But midafterno­on, that event was canceled as a result of multiple positive COVID-19 cases within the Tennessee program and contact tracing.

So VCU— led by the

“Our guys are champing at the bit like everybody else in college basketball just to throw the ball up.”

Mike Rhoades, VCUmen’s basketball coach

team’s director of operations and schedule maker Jimmy Martelli — sought a new spot to play. And by the evening, the Rams had one: the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, played at Sanford Pentagon.

They’ll get three games in three days starting with

Utah State on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

“It got to a point, our guys — just like every player in the country — everybody wants to play. Coaches want to play. And let’s go do it,” Rhoades said. “The people that run that event run the Bahamas [event] down there. So we know it’ll be organized, and know it’ll be run at a high level. And we’re looking forward to being a part of it.”

The Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic was originally the annual Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. But it was moved to South Dakota because of the pandemic. Coincident­ally, CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reported in April that VCU will be part of next year’s Battle 4 Atlantis.

On Monday, VCU received a call from Tennessee that it had positive tests in its program. That left the Rams in a holding pattern, but they went into practice that afternoon with an understand­ing there would be a cancellati­on. That was confirmed during practice.

Martelli, who assembles the Rams’ nonconfere­nce schedule each year, already had contingenc­y options in case the The Volunteer Classic fell through.

“Then, ‘All right, what do we got to do next? Let’s see what’s available out there, let’s see what we do,’” Rhoades said. “We got a couple phone calls, we made a couple phone calls. Jimmy talked to a bunch of different people at the end of practice.

“And he and I sat in there, and with the help of our administra­tion, just tried to figure some things out.”

An opening was created in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic as Wichita State was forced to drop out because of positive COVID-19 cases within its program. VCU took the Shockers’ spot in the eightteam event that, in addition to Utah State and VCU, will include Memphis, Saint Mary’s, Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky, West Virginia and South Dakota State.

Rhoades said VCU’s administra­tion jumped on the logistics right away. They had to make sure the team plane was secured, though Martelli was on that early.

The tournament had transporta­tion for the team in Sioux Falls ready, and the hotel, meals and COVID-19 testing will be set for VCU as well.

The group text message was sent out to the team about the new plans, and the team had a 12:15 p.m. flight Tuesday set toward South Dakota.

One question that came up with the new tournament is VCU’s game limit. With three games in South Dakota, the Rams have 10 nonconfere­nce dates on their calendar at the moment. With 18 Atlantic 10 games, the Rams would exceed the NCAA’s game maximum of 27 this year.

Rhoades said VCU will resolve that issue as the season develops, and the school’s administra­tion is on it as well.

VCU will get quality competitio­n in Sioux Falls. Utah State brings back three starters from a team that won the Mountain West tournament title last season, including 7-foot center Neemias Queta, who’s on the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award preseason watch list. The award recognizes the top center in the sport.

The Rams’ coaching staff spent a long night Monday preparing for the Aggies.

It was a whirlwind sequence to get to this point. But if all goes according to plan, VCU will play this week after all.

“Our guys are champing at the bit like everybody else in college basketball just to throw the ball up,” Rhoades said. “These guys are basketball players. And we’re just trying to provide that opportunit­y for them.”

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