RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The madness has begun as VCU’s Men’s Basketball team left the school’s Basketball Development Center on Wednesday, March 15. Fans gathered around campus to cheer on the Rams as they make their trip to Albany, N.Y. ahead of Friday’s game against Saint Mary’s Gaels for the team’s first round in the 2023 NCAA tournament.

The Rams showed both ferocity and cheer as they loaded their bags onto the buses that were ready to take them to the airport for their trip. Ahead of the trip, 8News spoke with players to hear how they are feeling on such an important week.

The team’s tournament bid means a lot to senior transfer player David Shriver, a team member who gained national recognition for his three pointers. He was raised in a small West Virginia town and has been known to bring the fire during his first and only season with the Rams.

“Coming from a small town, coming from where I came from, experiencing something like this — a chance to do this — it means a lot to me,” Shriver said.

He told 8News that the excitement and passion the team shares for the sport largely overcomes any fears or hestiations they may have held throughout the season.

“Definitely fire, you know?” Shriver explained. “The nerves turn into motivation.”

Super-fan Derenda Lovelace was one of the first in line to greet the team for the special tournament sendoff. Despite not attending VCU herself, she’s been a fan for years now and feels even closer to the team after meeting Shriver’s family and hearing their excitement for their son.

“I’m really excited for him,” Lovelace said. “I just can’t wait to see what they do in Albany.”

Junior Point Guard and A-10 Player of the Year Adrian “Ace” Baldwin said adrenaline is pumping through his veins as the team prepares for Friday. Baldwin is coming off securing the Atlantic-10 conference title, winning 27 games in the regular season.

“It’s a lot going through my mind right now,” Baldwin said. “I can’t wait until Friday and me and the guys are excited.”

Baldwin told 8News this year means a lot to him. His teammates, his coach, and him have formerly discussed their dedication to overcoming adversity.

“My freshman year we couldn’t play because of COVID-19,” Baldwin said. “It broke my heart, so just because that happened, we’re going to give it our all on Friday.”

The Rams are headed into Friday’s game with their best record since 2012. They are also gearing up with overwhelming community support.

“The fans that we have are the best fans in college basketball,” Shriver said.

Of course, the team itself is bringing their drive and determination along with them all the way to New York.

“I’m super excited,” Baldwin said. “I’m never nervous.”

Head Coach Mike Rhoades has remarked throughout the season on how special this group of men is. Practice after practice, all of their hard work and efforts have culminated in this week’s bid at the national championship.

Friday’s matchup will not be the first time VCU has faced off against Saint Mary’s. In 2017, the California-based Gaels ended VCU’s NCAA tournament bid.