Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jamie Skeen's winding road to the Final Four

This post can also be found at Beyond the Arc.

It changed all the way back in November.

Prior to VCU's Preseason NIT consolation game against UCLA, VCU center Jamie Skeen said at a team dinner that he wasn't getting the ball enough.

"We were at dinner. I just made a joke about it at first," Skeen said with a laugh after that game in November. "My coach took it seriously. He said 'Okay, we're going to get you the ball for real.' I said that would nice."

The 6'8" Skeen would score 10 points in the first five minutes of that game, finishing with 23 points and nine boards as VCU knocked off the Bruins. He's barely slowed down since, leading the Rams in both scoring and rebounding. Most recently, he had 26 points, 10 boards, and hit four threes as VCU knocked off Kansas in the Elite 8.

It hasn't always been this easy. Skeen's college career has been a long and winding road, one that has required as much patience as anything.

Back in 2006, Skeen was the reigning high school player of the year in North Carolina. A top 100 recruit, he was headed to Wake Forest. He started 24 games as a freshman in 2006-2007, averaging 7.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg playing along side Kyle Visser. As a sophomre, Skeen saw his minutes cut, but much of that was due to the addition of James Johnson, an eventual first round pick. With Jeff Teague also on the roster, Skeen started just six games and averaged only 5.6 ppg and 4.1 rpg, but he was a key piece of the front court rotation.

In 2008-2009, Wake Forest was loaded. Teague and Johnson carried the Demon Deacons, at one point being ranked as the No. 1 team in the country.

Skeen was supposed to be on that team, but he wasn't. He had to sit out the first semester at Wake Forest due to some academic problems he had at the school, and instead of appealing he decided to transfer to VCU. He wouldn't get eligible until the end of the fall semester in 2009-2010, which means that Skeen was forced to sit and watch both his old team and his new team take part in the NCAA Tournament.

When he finally was allowed back on the court in December of 2009, Skeen didn't immediately see the court. He was stuck behind yet another future first round pick in Larry Sanders.

It wasn't until this season that Skeen finally got his chance.

And he has shined. Skeen averaged 15.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg, leading VCU in both categories. Not just on the court, but in the classroom as well, where Skeen is scheduled to graduate this spring.

"He's come a long way, a long way," VCU head coach Shaka Smart said earlier this week. "He's matured. He's developed as a person. He's done a really good job of putting himself in a position where he's on track to graduate this spring. His attitude is one of humility and wanting to be coached and to get better."

On the court, Skeen has been arguably the most important piece for this Rams team. While VCU has a couple of other options in the post, Skeen is the only one that is any kind of scoring threat. In fact, VCU is at their best when they surround Skeen with four guards that can shoot. It creates space for him to operate inside, and with his ability to shoot the three, he makes VCU a very difficult team to defend.

"He became our go-to guy," Smart said. "He was going to get as many touches as he could handle. Now we've been able to go to him over and over and over again, and he's responded. He's led us in scoring, rebounding. He's been at times a point forward for us. We can play through him."

"I'm just so happy for him because he did go through some adversity earlier in his career. Really happy that it's finishing the right way."

The most ironic part in all of this?

Skeen left a Wake Forest team that had Final Four potential. He went to VCU and has led a team that barely got into the NCAA Tournament to the Final Four. He's put himself on the radar of NBA teams.

Who would have thought that transferring to a team in the CAA would have ended up being the best move that Jamie Skeen could have made?

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