EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com is partnering with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s School of Mass Communications. Students from the project reported the following story.
RICHMOND, Va. – VCU students are ready for March Madness to finally start on Thursday night when the Rams take on Akron in their first game of the NCAA tournament (live on CBS 6 at 9:45 p.m.). T-shirts and other merchandise with the VCU logo are already in high demand on campus.
While it’s a sweet three times in a row for many of the current students, cheering for their university’s team in the NCAA tournament is a completely new experience for VCU freshmen like J.P. Tapia.
“Being a part of something this big is ridiculous. I never thought something like this would happen. I can’t wait to see how they do,” said Tapia.
For many seniors, this tournament is the last chance for a March Madness run and to save lasting memories while enrolled at the VCU.
“This year I’m going to make sure to get out to the Broad Street celebrations, and I’ll participate more in watching the games as well on television,” said VCU senior Arielle Bailey.
The Rams’ success in recent years has also created a lot more fans on campus.
“Ever since the Final Four, the whole campus seems to care about basketball, even myself,” said senior Vickas Agarwal. “I didn’t used to follow sports much, but now I do.”
Two years ago, the Rams beat USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas on their way to the university’s first Final Four appearance. Last year, VCU made it to the round of 32. Laying claim to the national championship, once a distant dream, has become more realistic for VCU since reaching the Final Four.
“It unified the school. It was an amazing experience, everyone just celebrating. I’ve never seen the school so invigorated with spirit,” said senior Damir Kacapor.
This season, VCU played in the Atlantic 10 Conference and the team found itself ranked in the regular season polls for the first time since the 1984-85 season. And students are anxious to see what Coach Shaka Smart and his team can achieve this March and maybe April.
“People are excited about it. We don’t know if our team is going to go very far, so we get excited about every little stride,” said senior Morganne Harrison.
“I hope to see us go all the way or at least as close to the Final Four as possible,” said junior Samuel Murphy.
For some students, the tournament also means balancing studying with watching basketball.
“Right now I’m trying to focus on my schoolwork, because this is the part of the semester where my grades start to slip,” said senior Jamie Gallagher. “But I will still be out at Baja Bean with my friends to watch the game.”
And campus-area businesses love the students’ excitement and prepare for another tournament run as well.
“It’s the highlight of the year for us,” said Jay Phinizy, assistant general manager at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on West Broad Street. “Having the whole VCU and Richmond community come out and visit us and to see that excitement on everybody’s face is awesome.”
Mike P’Pool, the operations manager at the Virginia Book Company on West Franklin Street, said that VCU’s success in the tournament makes this time of the year fun, but also hectic.
“March is typically a slow month, but 2011 was crazy,” P’Pool said. “We got shipments in and sold-out that day.”
And he’s surely hoping that March Madness history can repeat itself.
This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.