Thursday, March 25, 2010

Win or lose, VCU should be OK

Wondering how VCU will survive next season without D'Andra Moss, Kita Waller and La'Tavia Rorie? So were we, until we started examining the Rams' incoming class and came across a familiar name.

Andrea Barbour? Why does that ring a bell? Thank God for Google. Oh, yeah, the ex-Charlottesville High star. Former Virginia Group AA State Player of the Year (2007). Thought she went to Virginia Tech.

Yep, did go to Tech. Averaged 15 a game in 2007-08, the eighth-highest total by a freshman in the nation that season. Made the ACC All-Freshman team (beating out, among others, Duke star Jasmine Thomas).

And then she left Blacksburg. Not sure what happened, but there would be no follow-up to that strong freshman year. That is, until the 5-10 shooting guard turned up last fall at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville. PHCC didn't field a team in 2008-09 because of a lack of interest, and the 2009-10 season would be the Lady Patriots' first as an NJCAA member. Furthermore, the head coach, longtime AAU coach Tony Jones, had never run a college program before.

But thanks to his AAU connections, Jones knew how to recruit. And by the time the 2009-10 season rolled around, Jones had assembled a talent-laden 12-player roster, with Barbour as the unquestioned star.

"She's now being recruited by every major school in the country, and we haven't even played a game yet," Jones said last October. "She's being recruited by Rutgers, Louisville, Kentucky, Clemson, you know, it goes on and on and on. She is that talented."

It's not often a player with these kinds of options lands at a mid-major school. But Barbour had already gone the big-school route, and it hadn't worked out. Citing a desire to stay close to home, she chose VCU.

She then commenced absolutely dominating junior-college competition. In the Lady Patriots' ninth game, Barbour recorded a triple-double (32 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists). She had 34 and 12 to lead PHCC past Johnson County CC and into the NJCAA Division II Final Four, then dropped 45 on Kankakee CC in a 91-72 victory in the national semifinals.

"She was unreal, honestly," said Kankakee's Kayla Cripe, whose team went into the game with a 31-2 record and ranked fourth nationally. "We haven't really played anyone like that this year."

Patrick Henry's only loss on the season (24-1) came in the national title game, as they fell 72-62 to now four-time champion Kirkwood CC. But Barbour did all she could, as she led all scorers with 25 points. After the tournament, Barbour was presented the Cat Power Player Award for player best exemplifying "quality, reliability and durability."

Barbour will be one of six new Rams next season. Like all recruits, each of VCU's newcomers sounds promising on paper. But Barbour is a proven commodity. And while the CAA is certainly a few steps up from Division II junior college, the fact that Barbour averaged 15 a night as a freshman in the ACC suggests this kid will put it in the hole no matter what level she's at.

Suddenly, we're not nearly as worried about VCU's prospects for the 2010-11 season. But we are beginning to feel some concern for the rest of the CAA.

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