On any given day it is not unusual for me to be watching a replay on ESPN of one of last years’ games. Particularly between April and November. Today, as I watch the Tourette’s inducing, double overtime, basketballgasm against LaSalle, I find myself reflecting on how I got here. And by here, I mean this mythical town called Shakaville, in the Country of Ramnation. In Shakaville, 106 days (as of today) until the official start of college basketball season is just too damn long. Shakaville is heavily populated with the rabid, the ravenous, and the most diehard of fans. See: VCUPav, Brandon (aka Batman), the Sons of Shaka and every other Havoc loving, costume wearing aficionado of VCU basketball that you would instantly recognize, sometimes even out of character. I am not in the same league with these guys. I doubt if I could even be picked out of a crowd. But I am a fan. A devout one at that. I crave fall and winter, suffering through the cold, because that is the tradeoff. I wait all spring and summer for November. And when it arrives, I get to feel whole again. My journey to Shakaville, however, began only two seasons ago.
In the summer of 2012 my fiancé, Michael informed me that he was going to purchase season tickets to VCU basketball. Never having been a sports fan of any kind, I was less than enthusiastic, agreeing to go to a game or two only if he had no one else to go with him. On November 28, that is exactly what happened and I found myself riding down Monument Ave on my way to The Stu for the first time. I had no expectations of that night other than some live entertainment. I was not invested in it at all, not particularly caring one way or another. But I vowed to keep an open mind and try to enjoy myself.
My first entrance into the Siegel Center was a somewhat spiritual experience that I have often likened to seeing Times Square for the first time. The energy within that building was electric. And contagious. The Peppas were playing “It’s Havoc You Fear”, the players were warming up, and one in particular was outright jamming to the music. Briante Weber had me hooked in that moment. He was genuinely having fun, imparting his enthusiasm on anyone within range. The anticipation of everyone around me was downright palpable. I was suddenly curious and very ready to enjoy this, despite not having more than a rudimentary knowledge of basketball. Now, I couldn’t tell you anything that happened during that game, other than a thorough stomping of Stetson, but I was forever changed after it.
I began devouring all things VCU basketball. I was reading stats, checking rankings, learning the rules and getting to know who the players were. So by the next game, I was ready. Oh how little did I know, that my newfound affection for VCU was about to grow so exponentially.
Our seats were about 12 rows or so behind the VCU bench and right next to where the players enter and exit the locker room. This was a fun place to be after a game, as the players would high five and sign autographs with the fans. After my second or third game, a redshirt freshman was walking back after the team. Michael called out to him “Hey Mo, congrats on your grades!” I learned shortly after that Mo Alie-Cox had come from being ineligible to play for subpar grades to making the Dean’s List. Twice. And the smile that we received in return for that compliment from him will stay with me forever. He could have lit the entire Stu by himself and thus was cemented as my next year favorite and I had not even seen him play.
As the season went on, I became more passionate with every game. My love of basketball in general and Havoc in particular grew as I learned more. By the end of the conference season I was so ready for another final four run. So when VCU got knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the second round, I was heartbroken. Heart. Broken. I cried real tears and forbid anyone to speak of basketball to me. This was a new feeling and I didn’t like it. I was not sad because they played badly (which they didn’t).This was the end of the season. No more basketball until November. I had just discovered this wonderful world of Havoc and now it was over. For a while anyway. And it sucked.
Darius Theus. The Melvin. The Freight Train. Troy flipping Daniels. The Bri to Ju alley oop. And the famous windmill that Briante jammed on Butler. All of this was a part of MY freshman season as a fan. I attended every home game after that first one, watched the rest on TV. My wardrobe expanded thanks to the VCU bookstore. And although not native born to Shakaville, I was most certainly a resident now, accepted among all others that bleed black and gold.
There is pride in knowing that I am now part of The Animal that is The Stu. That we, as fans, have an impact. That our players and coaches truly appreciate our expressions of love for them. And as much joy as we receive from watching them play, it is nice to know that they get some from us as well. I became a VCU fan by pure accident, I never saw it coming. But Havoc has become to me at least a common thread linking thousands of strangers together. And come November, all of these people unknown gather in The Stu, for the love of Havoc. I, for one, can’t wait.