Shaka Smart’s Virginia Commonwealth Rams wasted no time in moving into their new digs in the Atlantic 10. There’s no grace period, no time to prepare a roster for the new league. The Rams decided to debut “Havoc” in the A-10 this season. With the CAA in its rear-view mirror, Smart’s program jumped into the deep end of the big-boy pool.
The good news for Smart and his staff is that VCU enters the A-10 with a roster capable of competing in the new league. Smart stocked his cupboard with talent and whether it was the CAA or the A-10, his program was ready. However, the human side of college basketball coaches shows itself at times like this. College coaches get incredibly greedy when it comes to the addition of new talent. Smart’s intelligent and as much in tune with his recruiting and player preferences as anyone in his peer group. The simple fact of his strategy of “Havoc” means he’s got to have guys that fit and guys that are upper-tier talents to remain in the upper tier of his new league.
Enter shooting guard Jairus Lyles (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha). As of Sunday, he’s the newest Ram and you’d be hard pressed to find a happier, more content commitment. I saw Lyles three times since December and the word that crept into every evaluation was “speed.”
Lyles is a scorer who happens to be a burner. Oklahoma State, UAB, Towson and William & Mary liked him. Smart had to have him. “They get up the court fast and press,” Lyles said. “That’s exactly what I do. (Smart’s) recruiting me as a scorer to come in and score the ball.”
Guys like Lyles work best when they are paired with systems that fit their abilities and play to their tendencies. Following the summer, Lyles would have been a player that high-majors followed and evaluated. Some would have liked him for his speed; others might have wondered what position to use him at. Lyles, who’s played on TV, has seen the best players in his class. Though he’s not in the Top 100, he’s on the fringe and he’ll enter the A-10 with a resume and arc that should allow him to grow into an upper-tier guard in the league.
In the fall of 2013, VCU’s new backcourt will consist of Lyles and sleeper JeQuan Lewis (Dickson, Tenn./Dickson Co.). Here’s where the Rams stayed true to their roots and unlike some of their peers, didn’t feel the need to peruse Top 100 lists and recruit off those lists. Instead, the Rams evaluated. They evaluated players for their program just as they did with mildly recruited Briante Weber and D.J. Haley. The fit trumps the ranking.
Lyles would have been a good addition for many because he’s talented. He’s a great addition for VCU because he brings elements the program needs during the early transition to a higher level. Quickness? Check. Athleticism? Check. Toughness? Check. Committed to VCU? Check.