Mike Rhoades tells his players to work hard and get better. He implores them to have fun and enjoy how hard they’re working. He pushes them think defense first and always play for each other.
Those are among the things he tells players every time he sees them, in every practice and before and after games.
But only one thing Rhoades says and believes has been transcribed and posted in VCU’s practice facility.
“If you’re not going to make yourself uncomfortable, do not enter.”
“It’s the only thing you’re going to see around here that has my name on it,” Rhoades said. “I don’t want it on anything else.
“And it’s for our pros too. When you come back in the summer, it’s to work, and if you’re not going to work and make yourself uncomfortable, go someplace else to work out.”
Rhoades’ words are direct and self-explanatory, and his players apparently appreciate and heed them.
Many are better this season than last. And the Rams are better as a team in 2018-19 than they were in 2017-18. They’re so much better they have accomplished something no VCU men’s basketball team has done since joining the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2012.
The Rams head into Friday night’s season finale at home against Saint Joseph’s as the regular-season champion of the Atlantic 10 Conference, the first time VCU has been the sole owner of that title.
In 2015-16, VCU and Rhode Island tied for the regular-season championship.
“It’s pretty cool,” Rhoades said. “It’s a credit to our guys, our staff and our support staff. It takes a lot of people to continue to move young people forward.”
VCU enters next week’s conference tournament as the No. 1 seed.
It’s been a banner year for basketball at VCU. The women’s team tied for first place in the conference during the regular season. Coach Beth O’Boyle led a turnaround from a 4-12, 7-22 record in 2017-18 to 13-3, 21-8 so far in 2018-19. She was selected as the A-10 coach of the year. The men’s honorees will be announced next week.
Rhoades has personal results to prove the value of making yourself uncomfortable in workouts when no one is directing and no one else is watching.
He led Lebanon Valley College to the 1994 Division III national championship. He was USA Today’s Division III national player of the year in 1995 and a two-time all-America selection. He was the leading scorer in Lebanon Valley College history when he graduated and still holds the school’s career records for free throw percentage (84.5), assists (668), and steals (212).
“Why do we play a sport?” Rhoades asked. “Because we love it. You’ve got to love this. Don’t stop loving it or liking it because it’s harder or different or demanding. Accept all that, and let’s go get what we want.
“We’re not afraid of anything. There’s no added pressure on us because we won the regular season. We’re in a great position.”
By virtue of their No. 1 finish, VCU doesn’t have to play an A-10 tournament game until next Friday. To reach the conference championship game, they need to win just two times at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. With a 24-6 record now, the Rams seem likely to earn an NCAA berth even if they don’t gain the conference’s automatic bid via the tournament title.
Rhoades isn’t focused on bids or seedings for the NCAA tournament. He has been steadfast this season in insisting the Rams use their time between games to get better.
Placing those words above any doors in the practice facility would be redundant. And the only redundancy Rhoades and the Rams want now is winning.