- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

RICHMOND | For the past week, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park campus has had an unfamiliar look and feel.

Signs hang in nearly every store window. Many say, “Go Rams” or “Final Four.”

The campus bookstore has been in state of mayhem after selling more than 20,000 T-shirts in two days.

Nearly all the people within sight - and a few historical Civil War statues around campus - are decked in black and gold.

But nobody within the campus or Richmond city limits minds; this is a rare occasion that has unified a school and a city as one in a festive affair that may never happen again.

The VCU men’s basketball team has made an improbable run in the NCAA tournament and landed in the Final Four for the first time in program history, leaving students and fans to seize the moment like never before.

“It’s brought the whole city together,” Richmond resident Travis Tinnell said. “We never expected this, nobody saw this coming: We’re Final Four-bound.”

The experience is exceptionally special for lifetime Richmond resident and sophomore mass communications major Derail Hampton, who said he remembers winning VCU basketball tickets for being an accelerated reader in elementary school.

“To see the actual Richmond community and not just the college community but the entire city of Richmond supporting the VCU Rams is absolutely amazing,” Hampton said. “We know what the VCU Rams can do, so it’s amazing that the rest of the world can now see.”

Nearly 2,000 students gathered in a Siegel Center parking lot Wednesday afternoon to give the Rams a proper send-off before their flight to Houston.

Nearly a dozen motorcades were lined in front of three buses as students and other fans turned an overcast Wednesday afternoon into an engaging pep rally.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, not ever in Richmond before,” freshman Daniel Kreutler said. “It’s great to be a part of this.”

A crowd began to collect almost two hours before the team buses were scheduled to leave for the airport, but the waiting game spelled no place for boredom.

Incessant chants of “V-C-U” roared throughout the assembly as a sea of black and gold grew.

At approximately 3 p.m., the crowd got what it bargained for as the team drummed out of the Siegel Center into the company of the explosive mass.

The fans weren’t the only ones savoring the moment as the majority of players carried hand-held video recorders to document the moment.

“I like that everybody is enjoying the moment,” senior guard Jamie Skeen said in an earlier interview. “Everybody wants an autograph and pictures.”

Those gathered around the players chanted, “Our time. Right now.” The team’s current slogan matched the stickers many donned on their clothing.

“I have been following the team since I got here as a freshman,” senior business marketing major Anahita Sarshar said. “It is beyond my dreams what is happening right now. I honestly didn’t expect it to happen this year.”

The excitement of the rally and the Rams’ unforgettable run to the Final Four has not been limited to students. Teachers have taken interest as well.

“It’s incredible,” said mass communications professor Bill Oglesby, who has taught at the university for eight years. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I’ve never seen anything like it and it’s just such a great time.

“It’s such a great to be a student here because I’m experiencing what a great time it is to teach here so I can only imagine what it’s like to be a student here.”

Signs held high said “VCU kick some BUTT-ler” and “Even art students love basketball.” VCU’s national semifinal game Saturday is against Butler, like VCU a mid-major and a team that played in the national final last season.

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