04/01/11 — Stevens: McCarter enjoying the journey

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Stevens: McCarter enjoying the journey

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on April 1, 2011 1:47 PM

Reco McCarter can remember when he eagerly filled out NCAA tournament brackets during his illustrious high school career at Wayne Country Day.

Now he's got a courtside seat -- as a red-shirt freshman -- with Virginia Commonwealth, which has busted every office pool bracket and is making school history. A team NCAA experts felt didn't belong in the field of 68, the 11th-seeded Rams are dancing one more weekend at the Final Four in Houston.

McCarter earned all-state recognition during his final two seasons at Wayne Country Day. The Chargers compiled 43 victories with him on the court and made two appearances in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association elite eight.

Yet, McCarter knew his game needed polishing.

He's spent the year practicing daily with his teammates, learning from the bench during games and has added 18 pounds to a once-lanky frame. McCarter's quickness has improved, he's developed a consistent outside shot and his knowledge of the game has increased.

"Coming in here I was behind as far as being in the right position on defense and playing hard on every possession," said McCarter. "Watching games on the sideline and practicing with my teammates as a freshman has been a huge advantage. I feel like redshirting is one of the best things that's ever happened to me."

The Rams won the College Basketball Insider crown last season and followed that up with a third-place effort in the Preseason NIT in November. They defeated UCLA in New York, and ended up facing nine opponents during regular-season and tournament play that earned bids to the NCAA tournament.

VCU finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association in regular-season play, and lost to Old Dominion by five points in the tournament championship.

"People don't understand playing in the CAA is tough. We just don't get the recognition," said McCarter. "Playing a tough non-conference schedule helped us a lot (especially) when we beat George Mason in the CAA tournament (semifinals), and they were ranked 25th and had won 16 games in a row.

"We lost to ODU in the finals, and from there we said as a team no matter what tournament we went to we were going to give it all we had."

The Rams have.

Constantly snubbed by NCAA analysts, VCU ousted Southern California from the First Four in Dayton. The Rams reeled off wins against Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and top-seeded Kansas in the Southwest Regional.

VCU, which has adopted an "us against the world" mentality, is just the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four. The Rams, led by 33-year-old head coach Shaka Smart, face Butler in one national semifinal Saturday evening. The Dogs reached the finals last season and shattered the nation's stigma that mid-major programs can't compete with the sports' elite teams.

"We took some of the things that were said and used that as motivation," said McCarter. "We've shocked the world, but we haven't shocked ourselves. We knew as long as we played our style of basketball, we could beat any team in the country."

McCarter won't play a single minute, attempt even one shot or officially make it in the scorebook this weekend in Houston.

He'll get an opportunity to learn from one of the greatest teachers known to man -- history.