- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Will Wade’s whirlwind first season at VCU included some surprises.

Hired quickly after Shaka Smart left for Texas, the former Smart assistant was unable to keep any of the recruits who had committed to VCU. The departures forced Wade into recovery mode, looking for new talent for his Rams’ roster.

He also faced a daunting non-conference schedule that resulted in narrow early season losses to Duke, Wisconsin, Florida State and Cincinnati. VCU got off to a 5-5 start and questions if Wade was the right man for the job.

VCU rebounded, and won a share the Atlantic 10 regular season title, reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated by Buddy Hield and Oklahoma.

Wade hasn’t gotten off the roller-coaster just yet, but he is enjoying a more normal offseason.

“It took us a little while to feel our way through it with some new faces and a lot of guys playing newer roles,” Wade said in his sprawling office overlooking the court in the Rams’ $25 million practice facility that opened last year. “This year hopefully we won’t have to go through that.”

The Rams lost just two seniors from last year’s team, but they were the team’s top scorer and unquestioned leader Melvin Johnson (17.4 ppg) and transfer and No. 3 scorer Korey Billbury (11.2 ppg). They also lost reserve big man Michael Gilmore, a 6-foot-10 finesse player more comfortable on the outside than working the post.

Wade made a big splash when hired by declaring that “Havoc lives here,” acknowledgement of VCU’s 94-foot pressing style, but managed last season to transition the Rams to what might be more aptly described as Halfcourt Havoc.

Playing mostly a zone defense, the Rams still finished ninth nationally in turnover margin.

“We’re going to probably press a little bit more next year with some tempo stuff,” said Wade, who was on Smart’s staff when the Rams made their improbable run to the Final Four in 2011. “We learned some things about the league. I learned some things about the new rules, so now we have to really adjust and do what we do.”

Visits with other coaching staffs in the next month will enhance his research.

“I knew we were going to have to play zone,” Wade said. “I thought our zone was pretty good for us this year. It’ll be better. It’s very complicated, very, very intricate, and so we’ll be better in year two just with guys knowing what they’re supposed to do and where they’re supposed to be.”

And the Rams, who will take a 10-day trip to Spain in mid-August, will be better, too, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity to bond. I like going overseas because their phones don’t work,” Wade said, laughing. “We can really spend some time together as a team, get to know each other, get a lot better, which will be fun.”

Like a football team’s bowl game preparations, the additional practice time is a huge benefit, Wade said. It gives the team more time to develop the closeness and leadership that will be so important during the season.

Last year, instead of doing the Rams traditional Navy seal training in the local area, the Rams relocated to a base and added speakers and life lesson programs to their offseason regimen - something that is important to Wade. The coach has had former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett and others talk to the team about their decisions, and the consequences of them. Wade even took his players to a restaurant for lessons on dining etiquette and how to comport themselves in that setting.

The trip to Spain, he said, will offer more of the same.

“Certainly it puts you a little bit ahead basketball-wise. You get the 10 practices and that’s important for us because we need to hit the ground running a little bit better than we did last year,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to get better basketball-wise, and also to learn about different cultures and to be more educated.”

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