COLUMBIA, SC – When the clock finally hit all zeros, the big contingent of VCU fans stood and gave their team a standing ovation.
The rams deserved it, not only for their efforts against the University of Central Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but for what they gave each other, their coaches and their fans begin almost as soon as the 2017-18 season ended, continue through low season in the dog's summer days, into the preseason, non-conference games and gate of an Atlantic-1
When VCU ended 2017-18 with an 18-15 record and no postseason engagements, one year after its standards, Mike Rhoade knew the changes had to be made. In fact, he knew it during the 2017-18 season, but he was smart enough To know that patience would be a virtue.
Progess, as the head coaches knew, was dependent on the players who bought in the stakes required to win the championship and proceeded to the NCAA tournament.
"No one thought we would be in this position," Rhoades early Saturday morning after the 73-58 loss that closed the 2018-19 season. "No one did. To be where we are now saying a lot about boys' commitment to building program culture, we are proud of the year we had. Of course we are all disappointed. We came here to win. But I told them to be optimistic about The things we created this year. Let's build on it and get better. "
Rhoades tells his players that they can get better, so often they roll their eyes when they hear the words. But now there are signs that Rhoades speaks the truth, even though he speaks it almost every day. Rams finished 25-8, won the regular season's championship in the Atlantic 10 and earned an NCAA big bid as they lost in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament. Without the usual season title, VCU would not have been in the NCAA tournament.
"Everyone bought in and everyone locked in," said junior guard Issac Water. "All the hard work went out. Just because it ended [Friday night] doesn't take away that we had a good season."
A good season would have meant beating Central Florida, but the knights with 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall presented obstacles that were difficult to clear. There were no light curves on subsequent shots around the rim. Each shot in the paint was changed by Fall's wingspan. Perimeter shooters knew they couldn't fake and drive past defenders because Fall was waiting for them. It gave Knight's license to run out on shooters with more abandoned than most teams can afford.
VCU had a very good season, and nothing important was denied to Rams in the process.
"What we established this year was a mindset," said junior point guard Marcus Evans. "We had to get back to being the hunters and not the hunters. Our thinking is the key to our season. It helped us get back to the VCU we were supposed to be."
Determining this thinking was not easy. Rhoades pushed hard and as the players saw that there was no room for compromise in his attitude, they had no choice but to accept his mandate. Getting them to run around the lane in the summer heat, pushing themselves into the wall room to consider what effects each bite of food will have on their bodies, must be simpler in spring and summer.
"I don't know if it comes easy," Evans said. "It is the meaning of what coach Rhoades does to make it harder than the games. I think it gives us motivation now, where we are and knows we're close to getting to Sweet 16 and Elite 8."  Progress in the NCAA tournament is a combination of talent, skill, timing, matchups and some luck. Rhoades knows that. He is a competitor and loses is the enemy. He is also a realist and knows that he must set goals that involve more than winning.
"I felt we really had to mature," he said of his team. "We had to grow up and we did. We had to get out of our way. It's my job to help them do it to see the bigger picture of personal growth. I'm so impressed over the season we had was very fun coaching them.But i think i'm most proud of their growth as young men, being coachable, accepting our demanding of their efforts and approach, saying you are more than just a player You are a great communicator You can be a leader You can help your teammates Our boys have really bought it.
"What happened was that the boys did a great job celebrating the success of their teammates more than their own. And when you have a lot of guys who are all locked into the same thing, the same agenda, many good things happen. "
Rhoades is paid to win. But he will not be satisfied as a coach unless he does many good things for his team and each player on and off court.