Atlantic 10 rivalries run rampant in Richmond Regional

 

By: Peyton Wesner | @pcwesner


The Richmond Regional will reignite in-state and Atlantic 10 rivalries between Ram Nation, The Web, and The Green Machine

Richmond is a city divided. 

When a young local starts to watch college sports or a person becomes a resident, he or she must choose the black and gold of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) or the University of Richmond’s red and blue. 

The two universities separated by just 5.5 miles have played 83 times in men’s basketball. An unofficial 84th matchup is possible this summer at Siegel Center.

The University of Richmond’s alumni team, The Web, will make its first TBT appearance in July. Members of the 2011 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen squad and recent 1,500-point scorers make up the roster. They will join Ram Nation, VCU’s alumni team, in the Richmond Regional, bringing a 43-year-old rivalry to this year’s tournament.

”When you sign up and come on a visit, you know what’s up with VCU-Richmond,” said The Web forward T.J. Cline. “If you don’t hear about it on your official visit, you’ll hear about it the first day you're on campus.

”Those fans really don’t like each other. It’s completely two opposite ends of the spectrum.”

Cline, who started 95 games during three seasons (2014-2017) at Richmond, played an integral role in the Spiders’ success. The 2016-17 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year averaged over 16 points per game after transferring from Niagara University. However, Cline is a native of Plano, Texas, unlike his close friend and former Spiders teammate ShawnDre’ Jones. Jones was born and raised in Richmond and comprehends how the “Capital City Classic” impacts more than just the players and students.

“The rivalry means a lot to me personally,” said Jones, who will join Cline on The Web. “My mom actually works with a lot of people who are VCU fans.

“If we don’t win, her co-workers are talking trash. So, the rivalry is really intense.”

The first time Jones played in Siegel Center was not with the Richmond Spiders. In fact, the 6-foot guard first stepped foot on VCU’s hardwood while playing AAU basketball for Richmond Metro.

07142018-TBT-316

“A lot of AAU tournaments are held at the Siegel Center, so that is definitely one of my favorite places to play,” said Jones. “I was around 9-to-10 years old. At that age, you don’t really know the significance of where you’re playing.”

For JeQuan Lewis, Siegel Center is a place of ‘Havoc.’ Lewis, a 2017 Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team selection, led the Rams to a combined 30-3 home record during his junior and senior seasons. 

Before home games, VCU’s 16th all-time leading scorer started his mornings with slow music to relax. Once arriving at Siegel Center — one hour before player report time — he would shoot around and break a sweat in an empty arena, enjoying the calm before the storm.

“It’s a different place,” said Lewis. “If you go into Siegel Center and you’re on the opposing team, it’s not a place you want to be. The energy in that gym is just through the roof.”

Lewis may be a newcomer to Ram Nation, but returning to his college home for at least one more game is something he does not take for granted.

“It gives me chills. We (former players) talk about it all the time — being able to play back in the Siegel Center,” said Lewis. “I have played in a lot of gyms over the past two years and nothing has been the same. It feels good being able to come back.

“I feel the rivalry [with Richmond] will bring some excitement to the city and it’s something for everyone to look forward to. It’s pretty much the same way as it was in college.”

Ram Nation and The Web are each one win away from a regional semifinal showdown. Ram Nation will take on Team DRC in the opening round while The Web faces a familiar foe in George Mason University’s The Green Machine.

2019 Bracket (Richmond)

”I didn’t fare well against George Mason,” said Cline of his college career. ”I lost my last five games to them. I have tremendous respect for their program and all their players, but I do have a bitter taste in my mouth.”

The Green Machine is very experienced. Mike Morrison and Bryon Allen have played in a combined four TBTs. Allen led Louisiana United in scoring during a one-point loss to Overseas Elite last summer. This year, the guard views a potential matchup with Ram Nation as a game that will write a new chapter in their rivalry.

“The rivalry between VCU and George Mason will give it that little extra kick,” said Allen. ”We’ll all be ready at the end of the night. If we do get the opportunity to meet up with them, then we need to be prepared and get ready to go to war.”

Lewis and Ram Nation are very familiar with ‘war.’ After all, a popular VCU fight song directly addresses it.

“You don’t want to go to war with the Rams,” said Lewis with a laugh.