- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2011

HOUSTON | A hand descending from heaven as it clutches a basketball is tattooed on Jamie Skeen’s right arm. Another hand reaches up for the basketball. Between them is a gap.

Skeen’s college career hung in that gap for four years, the place between possibility and reality.

“I always knew his potential,” Virginia Commonwealth University junior Brandon Rozzell said Thursday at Reliant Stadium. “Now he’s able to play as free as he wants. He’s as confident as he’s ever been.”

And Skeen, the fifth-year senior, has propelled VCU’s unexpected run into the Final Four as a No. 11 seed that faces Butler on Saturday.

Known by teammates for his ability to lose at video games, Skeen smiles easily, cracks jokes and likes to talk. But those words dry up at mention of the last few years.

In 2008, Wake Forest suspended Skeen for the fall semester because of a “violation of academic policy.” Skeen, a top-100 recruit out of high school in Charlotte, N.C., transferred to VCU that December. He picked the Richmond school over South Florida and Seton Hall.

VCU’s size - more than 32,000 students - attracted Skeen, after the 7,000-student campus at Wake Forest that felt like high school. Skeen dubbed it “Groundhog Day,” after the Bill Murray movie where he lives the same day over and over.

At VCU, Skeen also saw Larry Sanders, a future first-round draft pick, and Eric Maynor. He saw success that dwarfed VCU’s understated reputation.

“I could see the future,” Skeen said. “Maybe I could go there and help out. I had a vision. Now we’re in the Final Four. My vision panned out.”

The other big change came on the court. At Wake Forest, all 6-foot-9, 240 pounds of Skeen played on the perimeter. That’s not his game. Skeen is most comfortable when he’s doing a little of everything, inside and out. That’s shaped by thoughts of playing professionally.

With Sanders in the NBA, Skeen has asserted himself on the court and his numbers jumped to 15.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game after averaging 8.1 points last season.

“I want scouts to know that I can do more than one thing, that I’m not one-dimensional,” Skeen said. “I do it all, or at least I try to.”

That’s exactly what Skeen enjoys. If 3-pointers aren’t falling - he’s shooting 40.2 percent from beyond the arc - he’ll go inside and try to use his quickness to maneuver around taller, wider opponents.

“I’ve seen coaches get frustrated when he’s putting up threes wide-open because people don’t close out on him,” Rozzell said. “They have a hard time guarding him.”

In Sunday’s jaw-dropping win over top-seed Kansas in San Antonio, Skeen demonstrated his versatility to the country. He sank four 3-pointers, then drew fouls as he pounded the ball inside, going 10-for-12 at the line.

When Kansas closed within two, it was Skeen who sank a pair of free throws, then added a 3-pointer and layup minutes later. You wouldn’t believe the same player chides his teammates for giving him the ball too much.

All that amounted to 26 points and 10 rebounds in 38 sweat-drenched minutes against hyped Kansas forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris.

If there was any question, the gap disappeared.

“We’ve been trying to tell people for a year how good he is,” senior Joey Rodriguez said. “This is his chance to showcase his skills. He belongs at the next level.”

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