RICHMOND, Va. -- VCU head coach Mike Rhoades has one of the best recruiting tools any college coach could want.
It's not something he can tell players about. It's something they must experience.
"In the second half of the Hofstra game, one of our freshmen said 'I didn't know it got that loud. That was awesome.'" Rhoades said of the Siegel Center.
"You don't feel like you're playing against just 5 guys, you're playing against thousands," Rhoades added.
"That's probably one of the most exciting things you can feel," added redshirt senior Michael Gilmore. "The energy in the whole arena."
The support of one of the most fervent fan bases in Virginia extends beyond game nights, which can mean the world to kids on their own for the first time.
"They feel the love of the school and the fans and the environment," Rhoades said. "They really care about their basketball team and their basketball players."
"You want to perform at a high level for the fans," Gilmore added.
It's a basketball xanadu, even for a player with a pedigree like Michael Gilmore, who's uncle Artis played professionally for nearly 2 decades and is in the basketball hall of fame. Which begs one very big question:
"Why would I leave?"
After two seasons at VCU in which he helped the Rams to two NCAA appearances and an A-10 tournament title, Gilmore decided to transfer to Miami.
"I was still kinda young, didn't really know better for myself" Gilmore explained. "I thought there was a better opportunity out there for myself."
"There are so many different reasons kids leave," Rhoades explained. "Some are controllable, some aren't controllable. When kids feel they gotta leave, they usually do."
Gilmore sat out a year according to NCAA transfer rules but was ultimately dismissed from the Miami program before he ever got into a game for the Hurricanes.
"I wasn't able to fit in as fast as I should have," Gilmore admitted.
Whatever the reason, Gilmore felt a profound sense of failure, more than any loss on the court might generate.
"I felt like I let my family down, the people who were close to me down. It was just a hard time for me."
Gilmore landed at Florida Gulf Coast where he made 20 starts as a junior. He earned his undergrad degree and needed to find another program for his graduate season. That's when the opportunity to make VCU history as the first ever returning grad transfer became a possibility.
"Coach Rhoades said that to me in the summer and I didn't believe him. This is one of the greatest opportunities of my life."
"I told him there were no strings attached," Rhoades added. "I wanted him to come here for all the reasons he came here in the first place."
So Gilmore is back where it all began for him. He's a senior on a relatively young team, one with more than just court experience.
Said Rhoades of Gilmore since his return: "Not one negative comment or negative vibe from him. He's just here for all the right reasons. He is putting his teammates and VCU basketball first before himself, which is pretty awesome."
As happy as he is to be back in black and gold, Gilmore would not change his initial decision to leave.
"I think about what would it be like if I stayed here," Gilmore wondered. "I didn't. The information I have now, that's the best thing I can do with it."
"The best of it for him right now is to come back to VCU and get a graduate degree and help us this year to make our team better," Rhoades said.
"It was a necessary decision and I'm confident I'd make it again," Gilmore said.
"I wouldn't call it a mistake. I'd call it a life lesson."
Gilmore is studying Interdisciplinary Studies in his graduate year, with an eye toward coaching one day. He will be one with a keen insight into why players might think they need a change of scenery.
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