- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

RICHMOND | The scene repeats itself countless times every day.

Young boys dribble against imaginary opponents, watch the seconds count down on an invisible scoreboard and finally sink the winning shot as a make-believe crowd roars its approval.

Eric Maynor was one of those boys. Growing up in Raeford, N.C., a small city roughly 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville, Maynor practically lived in his family’s backyard, working on his game while conjuring up scenarios where he always played the hero.

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Even then, the skinny kid seemed to have “it,” the special bit of magic bestowed upon those rare athletes who are drawn to the brightest of spotlights. When the game was on the line, Maynor wanted the ball. When opposing teams tried to pressure him and fans tried to rattle him, Maynor never wavered. When time came to separate the winners from the losers, Maynor’s team usually won.

In that respect, not much has changed since Maynor left Raeford for Virginia’s capital city nearly four years ago.

“Eric is one of those guys that loves the moment,” said coach Anthony Grant, who inherited Maynor when Jeff Capel left for Oklahoma after the 2005-06 season. “He’s always going to be involved one way or another, whether it’s offensively or defensively. He’s willing to make a play. That’s a gift he has.”

For a player who just won his second consecutive Colonial Athletic Association player of the year award and is projected as a first-round draft pick this June, Maynor’s physical gifts aren’t overwhelming. The senior carries 175 wiry pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame. He’s deceptively quick, and his jumper is unorthodox but effective.

So how is it that Maynor strikes fear into opposing coaches and makes pro scouts drool? It’s in the intangibles - his ability to take over close games, the confidence he gives his teammates that, no matter how large the obstacle, No. 3 will find a way to get it done.

“People get caught up in points and assists all the time, but I stay away from that. The only thing I’m trying to do is win,” Maynor said Wednesday as his top-seeded Rams prepared for a CAA tournament quarterfinal game Saturday against eighth-seeded Georgia State.

VCU (21-9) has done plenty of winning since Maynor took over as the starting point guard as a sophomore. In capturing three consecutive CAA regular-season championships, the Rams have won 45 of 54 conference games and compiled a 73-24 record.

The common denominator has been VCU’s coach on the sideline and its coach on the floor.

“He’s the one guy I think you game-plan for - and he can still go win a game for you,” UNC Wilmington coach Benny Moss said. “They put the ball in his hands, and he can still go make the right play - not only for himself, but also for his team.”

Maynor put himself and his school on the map in 2007 with a pair of memorable March performances. First, he rescued VCU by scoring nine straight points in the final 1:55 as the Rams rallied to beat George Mason in the CAA tournament final. Then he buried a 15-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left to knock off Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

VCU is favored to represent the CAA in the field of 65 again, primarily because it has a weapon no squad in the conference can match.

“He has the ability to elevate his game at any moment,” George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. “He just waves his magic wand, and all of the sudden he has 32 points and 10 assists.”

Maynor, who passed Kendrick Warren to become VCU’s career scoring leader during the Rams’ victory against Georgia State last week, led the conference in scoring (22.4 points) and assists (6.2) this season. Equally as impressive, Maynor helped a young team earn the right to hang another championship banner at Siegel Center.

“You’d think someone would get overwhelmed by that responsibility, but he doesn’t,” sophomore center Larry Sanders said. “At the end of the game, he wants the ball in his hands to make a play. Everybody trusts him 100 percent.

“Nobody has any doubt that the ball should be in his hands at the end of the game - because he’s proven it.”

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