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Spiders, Ram make Richmond the City of Hoops

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By HANK KURZ Jr.
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 6:51 PM

RICHMOND, Va. -- Rally over here, rally over there, rallies planned all around Richmond as the city embraces having two teams advance to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.

Take a bow Richmond and VCU.

The Spiders and Rams have made Richmond the first city since Los Angeles in 2007 to send two teams to the round of 16 in the same year. And Richmond also boosts the same number of teams left in the tournament as the Big East.

Both teams depart Wednesday to San Antonio and Richmond's own canal walk will be the site of a community pep rally. The celebration will be highlighted by the unfurling of a huge banner showing television commentator Dick Vitale preparing to eat crow.

"We wanted to poke a little fun at him because he was so wrong about our city," said Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond, an economic development group focused of promoting downtown. He said the image will show Vitale holding a plate of crow with the words "Eat Crow Baby."

Vitale and other basketball experts lambasted the NCAA selection committee for including VCU in the field ahead of other teams they deemed more worthy.

In response, the Rams gone on an impressive NCAA tournament run, beating three schools from power conferences by an average of better than 16 points. VCU plays Florida State on Friday night, after Richmond takes on Kansas.

The atmosphere at VCU is much different than it was a few weeks ago, after the Rams lost five of eight games in February, seemingly dashing their NCAA tournament hopes. When they failed to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, fans wished them luck in the NIT.

"It's been crazy, everybody beeping their horns and people congratulating you and stuff," point guard Joey Rodriguez said after he returned to campus from the Rams' stunningly dominant victories in Chicago. "A couple of weeks ago, they were like, what are these guys doing?"

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones said he expects a huge turnout for the rally, and he was still working Tuesday night hoping to arrange travel to San Antonio so he can support the teams.

"I would like nothing more than to be there," he said.

The schools intend to transport students to the rally after the fans gather to see their team off, and there will be free t-shirts celebrating the tandem handed out at the celebration.


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