In November, Old Dominion was leading Clemson 59-57 with less than 10 seconds to play. The Monarchs faced a tough inbounds pass under the Clemson basket, a spot play, so Kent Bazemore couldn’t move and Clemson would be aggressive because they needed a steal. Bazemore took the ball from the official, slapped it, and the moment players started moving I moved to the edge of the couch, because I saw what was coming.
If he was watching, so did Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel.
Keyon Carter jab-stepped and went long. Bazemore fired a bomb strike to the wide-open Carter, and the resulting dunk ended any chance of a Clemson victory.
CAA fans (and Capel) will remember it was an eerily similar play Blaine Taylor called in overtime in the 2005 CAA finals to salt away VCU in a similar situation, with Alex Loughton and Isaiah Hunter doing the honors. That white-knuckler is but one of a thousand memories in the CAAs fiercest rivalry. That game also seems to be a focal point of this explosive battle.
Old Dominion and VCU rejoin the battle tomorrow in Norfolk at 4:00pm, typically with a shot at first place in the conference on the line.
New fans may not fully understand the depth and length of the rivalry, which spans more than 30 years, two conferences and 82 games. VCU leads the series 42-40. The teams have split six CAA tournament games and knocked each other out of the past two CAA tournaments.
It’s a bizarre association that extends off the playing floor and into the coaching ranks. Eddie Webb was an assistant at VCU for 10 seasons. His father is Paul Webb, who won 196 games at Old Dominion. Jeff Capel ushered in a basketball revival at VCU. The younger Capel was an assistant on the ODU bench prior to landing the VCU job, and his father coached ODU to its 1995 NCAA tournament victory over Villanova.
It’s different when these two get together. Even former players understand that when these two teams get together, it’s different.
“It was always a knock-down drag-out,” recalls Rodney Ashby, who played at VCU in the early 1990s. “We knew as players our fans took ODU, by far and away, more seriously than Richmond. The fans are a huge part of it. They just do not get along. At all. You see the venom that our fans and boosters have for ODU and it translates to the team and how you play.”
To wit: a VCU fan has dressed up as ODU head coach Blaine Taylor and mimicked Taylor’s sideline demeanor.
“You can’t forget that there is also a Virginia city rivalry thing, with both schools only 90 miles apart,” says longtime Monarchs fan Glen McClure. “There has always been a sort of Norfolk-Richmond thing. It boils down to Virginia pride and bragging rights. It seems to just be natural and records mean very little, because both teams are usually very good, and that adds to the fun too.”
There’s always a hint of controversy, too, and as if fitting for the fans it derives many times from officiating. From official Steve Gordon’s non-timeout call that was highlighted on SportsCenter to Curtis Blair’s charging call on Ricardo Marsh in 2003, you can bet the striped shirts have history sitting on their shoulders tomorrow.
The fans remember those, and they may also remember:
- Brian Henderson playing the two minutes of his life in the Siegel Center in 2008, VCUs only Siegel Center loss to ODU.
- Joey Rodriguez guarding Gerald Lee.
- Last season’s overtime thriller, won by ODU in overtime.
- The 1985 Sun Belt finals, anybody? That donnybrook produced NCAA bids for both schools.
- Referee Gordon, again, surprised to arrive at the Siegel Center three hours prior to the 2006 matchup and having to wade through students lined up around the block.
- The 1979 ODU overtime win at the Coliseum, 72-71. ODU went on to the NIT quarterfinals that season.
- The 2005 CAA finals, and everything that led up to that Loughton to Hunter bomb.
VCU SID Scott Day notes that he had to ask ODU for 22 media credentials for Saturday’s game, a “ridiculous” number considering he normally asks for five to eight. Two of the top three crowds ever to visit the Siegel Center were Old Dominion games, including a building record and fire marshal cringing 7,838 in the 7,500 seat arena in 2006.
Not to be outdone, ODU SID Carol Hudson says that tomorrow’s game will be the eighth sellout in the nine-year history of The Ted. And that “the ODU-VCU rivalry is no different than the North Carolina-Duke rivalry, except that one gets national attention.”
Jeff Capel easily remembers his days in the rivalry.
“Obviously for me it was personal,” recalls Capel. “There’s my one year (as an assistant) there but obviously when you’re father is fired you don’t have a great feeling about the place and it was very personal to me.”
One of the aspects that gets lost in the shuffle is that the games themselves are played at a high level, as both teams seem to bring out the best in each other. Even if the fans are wary of using the word respect for the rivalry, players and coaches know. The high level of play speaks to the mutual respect, and even makes it fun.
Capel is also quick to point out that it “isn’t a one year rivalry. There’s two programs with a really good basketball tradition.” Capel even laughs when he remembers that “even when I was an assistant at VCU their student section would call me a traitor.”
That 2005 CAA championship game is McClure’s favorite memory, and Blaine Taylor agrees the game served as a noteworthy moment. “That’s the first year we made postseason play under my watch,” Taylor says. “That VCU game opened the gateway for us to play in the postseason and we’ve been in the postseason every year since. That also rejuvenated the series because we were back, both programs were very good, and since then it’s been back and forth.”
It seems fitting that the lightning bolt moment for ODUs rebirth came in a championship game against VCU. I witnessed both teams coming together in the tunnel at The Ted just prior to the 2006 game. There was woofing and taunting and dancing…and it was hilarious, because the players didn’t cross any lines. They were going to settle it on the court.
And just like trying to figure out how Uruguay’s GDP of $40.7 billion and 7.6% unemployment rate will affect the country’s World Cup aspirations, fans need to leave statistics at the table tomorrow. Roll the ball out and see what happens.
ODU associate head coach Jim Corrigan puts the proper summation on it all: “It’s one of those games where you’d have to be legally dead if you’re not ready. Our kids are excited and looking forward to it just as I’m sure they are too.”