- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2011

SAN ANTONIO | Jamal Brunt sat alone in the cavernous Alamodome.

Noise from a couple of hundred fans dissipated to nothing in the vast space. Only the thump of basketballs and occasional coach’s shout disturbed the silence Thursday afternoon.

The gaze of Brunt, an assistant coach at the University of Richmond, fixed on one of the coaches on the court. It was his close friend, Virginia Commonwealth University assistant Mike Rhoades.

“Can you believe it?” Brunt asked himself.

Even the sight didn’t seem real, as the bracket-busting ways of Richmond and VCU have brought the schools and friends together in a place neither anticipated.

When Rhoades took over as Randolph-Macon College’s coach at age 25 in 1999, Brunt was his first recruit. That year Rhoades brought in 12 freshmen. Brunt started all four years at point guard. Rhoades called him the “glue guy.”

As soon as Brunt graduated, Rhoades hired him as an assistant. They’ve remained tight over the years, with Rhoades‘ children calling Brunt “Uncle J.”

They caught up for a half-hour Tuesday night, laughing about the wild path that landed them in San Antonio.

“How ironic that everything came together,” Brunt said. “We couldn’t believe that both of us would be here in the same region with two teams from the same city.”

After Richmond upset Vanderbilt in the second round and VCU surprised Georgetown, Brunt first realized a Sweet 16 trip could happen for both teams.

When Richmond made that reality by defeating Morehead State, he texted Rhoades, “You’ve got to hold up your end of the bargain.”

VCU did, drubbing Purdue.

“I looked at the bracket and was like, ‘Wow,’ ” said Rhoades, who used to play pickup basketball with Richmond coach Chris Mooney. “Now we’re both here. It’s crazy.”

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