RICHMOND, Va. -- Ten years after the VCU Rams men's basketball team made a historic run to the Final Four, the Rams are back in the NCAA Tournament.
In fact, this season marks the ninth time the Rams have been a part of March Madness in the last 10 years.
Two big reasons for the Rams' success this season are head coach Mike Rhoades and assistant coach Jamal Brunt.
The men have a long-standing friendship that is based on trust, both on and off the court.
But it's a friendship that almost never happened.
"I played basketball at St. Francis Academy. We played at Archbishop Spalding High School. This is the time before cell phones," Brunt recalled. "The game was supposed to be played in the evening. But during the school day, we found out that they moved the game ahead of time."
"I got there late," Rhoades recalled. "I watched pretty much the second half and his team lost. And when he came out of the locker room, how upset he was that his team lost, right then and there I was like I need this kid on our team."
Rhoades recruited Brunt to play at Randolph–Macon College in Ashland and later hired him as an assistant coach.
"He was an unbelievable leader, maybe the best I've ever coached," Rhoades said. "He got guys to do what they're supposed to do."
Their bond remained strong, even after Brunt took a coaching job with the rival Richmond Spiders.
"I don't think either of us fully understood the magnitude of the rivalry until your in it," Brunt said. "And so for us, it was just like that's my old coach. Like I want to beat these guys, but that's my old coach."
After VCU hired Rhoades as head coach in 2017, Rhoades hired Brunt to his staff in 2018.
"The biggest thing is we've always had a great relationship, like a supportive one," Rhoades said. "I was so proud of him when he went to Richmond and worked his way up on their staff. And then he started a family and all that stuff. I mean he's taken full advantage of life. And he's doing great. But he never changed who he is. He's still his grandmother's boy in Baltimore. That's what I remember him the most about."
Rhoades, Brunt, and the VCU Rams open the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night against Oregon.
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