Since the Rams’ first round NCAA Tournament loss to St. Mary’s College in March, much has changed within the VCU basketball program. In the past six months, the team has seen a new coaching staff and nine new players walk through the doors of the Siegel Center. With only five players returning from last season, the program has an all-new look and feel.
One player — sophomore wing Issac Vann — was behind the scenes for all of it, despite not yet logging a single minute for the Black and Gold.
Vann arrived on campus a year ago after transferring from the University of Maine last May. As a freshman, the Bridgeport, Conn. product led the Black Bears with 16.4 points-per-game and was awarded an America East All-Rookie selection in 2015.
One of the nation’s highest-touted transfers a year ago, Vann was forced to take a back seat in 2016, sitting out the entirety of last season due to NCAA transfer regulations.
Because of this, Vann provides a unique perspective on the current state of VCU basketball. With the Rams’ new season quickly approaching, the Black and Gold’s lesser-known leader looks to play a key role in the program’s future.
The CT sat down with Vann to talk about his journey to VCU, sitting out his first year as a Ram and what fans can expect heading into the new season.
VCU has had a busier-than-normal offseason with the coaching change and all the new players coming in – how has it treated you so far?
At first, it was a little hectic with the coaching change, but when Rhoades got here, he kind of brought everybody in and sat everybody down and just let us know how everything was going to go throughout the summer and the rest of the year.
What differences have you noticed between Coach Rhoades and Coach Wade so far?
I feel like Coach Rhoades is more of a family kind of guy, so everything we do is based around family. We do a lot of things together, bonding on and off the court, so I feel like we’re more together this year.
Is there anything in particular you have been focusing on over the offseason?
Shooting and ball-handling. Coach (Rhoades) wants me to bring the ball up a lot more, so those two things, specifically.
“I expect to keep the winning tradition going, with everybody doing their part and contributing.”
How do you feel going into your first season of eligibility at VCU?
I feel good. I’m excited. I can’t wait to play in the Stu.
What kind of role do you see yourself playing this coming season?
I think I’ll have more of a leadership role since I’m actually experienced and I’ve played college basketball before. I feel like I’m one of the older guys along with Johnny (Williams) and Justin (Tillman) and Khris (Lane), so I feel like the team looks at me as more of a leader.
How has sitting out last season prepared you to take on that role as a leader?
It was tough sitting out, but I got to see the game from a different perspective. Just watching everybody and seeing how things go here – I feel like I have picked up a lot of things.
How do you feel like your time at Maine has prepared you to play here at VCU?
The experience and being able to play against some pretty good competition – being able to showcase my talent and bring it over here, and improving here has been awesome.
What drew you to VCU?
The winning tradition with seven straight NCAA tournaments. Just that winning culture here had a lot to do with it.
How would you describe your game to someone who has never watched you play?
Exciting. I like to play fast and get up and down the court and play above the rim. I like to dunk a lot.
What would you say is your biggest strength on the court?
Attacking the rim, drawing contact and getting to the free throw line – just getting up and down the court and playing fast.
Is there one area you think you could work on in your game?
Like I said before, ball-handling and just being a more consistent threat from the perimeter.
How have things changed since Coach Rhoades came on board?
The way that we play – we plan to play a lot faster than we did last year – kind of bringing the “Havoc” back and playing in the full-court for the whole game, just beating everybody up.
What are your predictions for the team this year?
I expect to keep the winning tradition going, with everybody doing their part and contributing. (I think we will) keep making it to the (Atlantic 10) Championship and keep the NCAA Tournament appearance streak going.
How about individually?
I just want to be a leader, doing whatever I can to help the team win.
Which of the newcomers have impressed you the most so far?
Definitely Sean (Mobley). He can do a lot. He can play on the perimeter. He can play inside, so I like him a lot. (Tyler) Maye has shown his ability to score a lot and definitely Marcos Santos-Silva — he can really rebound the ball, so he’s been impressive.
When did you first fall in love with basketball?
I started playing when I was four, and ever since then, it’s been my favorite sport. Love at first sight.
Was there any one player you tried to model your play after growing up?
Tracy McGrady. I love his game and I think I play pretty similar to him. That’s my favorite player.
Who has been your biggest role model?
Definitely my mom. She’s always been there for me, supporting me, so I’m doing everything I can to make her proud.
How often will she be able to see you play living up in Connecticut?
She’s actually already booked her hotel and everything to come down here for the Black & Gold game, so she’s really excited.
If you could go back in time and give freshman Issac Vann one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself to just put in the work every day. I feel like, at Maine, I thought everything was easy to me, so I took some shortcuts from a work ethic standpoint. But here, I feel like I’ve changed that. I work out every day and work on my game every day.
What kind of goals do you have set up for yourself in the coming season and the rest of your time here at VCU?
I definitely want to be one of the best players ever to play here and from there I just want to be able to extend my career and play professionally somewhere.
If you could play for any professional team, who would it be?
I would say the Thunder. I’d love to play with (Russell) Westbrook.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
My main goal is to play in the NBA, but really anywhere that would pay me to play basketball
If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
Goofy. I like to joke around a lot and make people laugh, so definitely goofy.
Is there anything else fans should know about the team?
As long as we do everything together, we’re definitely going to shock some people.
Nick Versaw Staff Writer