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March 5, 2008
Former teammates Robert Vaden and D.J. White have exchanged their fair share of keep-your-head-up text messages over the past year.
Now, White has a chance to send a few congratulatory notes to his former Indiana colleague.
Vaden scored 71 of UAB's 157 points in two wins last week to put the Blazers on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
"We've got a good shot," Vaden said. "A lot of people have us in. It feels good to be in this position."
UAB (21-8 overall, 11-3 in Conference USA) can thank Vaden for being in this position. The Blazers started 2007-08 with high hopes. Vaden was eligible after sitting out a year following his transfer from Indiana, and he would join leading scorer Paul Delaney, Georgia transfer Channing Toney and Mississippi State transfer Walter Sharpe on a retooled team that was expected to make a run in Conference USA.
Those expectations quickly were derailed as UAB started 8-5, including losses to South Florida and Wichita State. Making matters worse, the Blazers lost Delaney for the season to a torn ACL in November.
But led by Vaden, UAB has recovered and is 12-3 this calendar year. The height of the run may have been a 79-78 near-miss against Memphis on Feb. 16.
"I think that game helped us out a lot," said Vaden, a junior. "It let everybody see that we can play with anyone in the country. We took it as a learning point."
Since that game, Vaden has been excellent. In an 88-81 win over UTEP on Feb. 27, he scored a career-high 41 points. His nine 3-pointers were a school record, and his scoring mark tied Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy's school record.
He followed that with a 30-point performance in a 69-44 win over Tulane. Vaden was 19-for-36 from the field and 19 of 21 from the free-throw line for the week.
"This is probably the first time I've had a week like this since high school," Vaden said. "It's really been a long time coming."
Vaden said he hasn't thought much about the path his career has taken. He attended Indianapolis' Pike High School, then went to prep school in Maine. He joined coach Mike Davis at Indiana before following him to UAB.
He was reminded of his time with the Hoosiers when Kelvin Sampson, Davis' replacement, agreed to leave Indiana. The situation was all too familiar to Vaden and White.
"I talk to (White) every week or every other week," Vaden said. "When I found out that Coach Sampson wouldn't be there, I texted him. I told him to keep his head up and keep playing your game because we had been in the same situation before."
Though he's finishing the final years of his college career out of the spotlight, Vaden is on center stage at UAB - even if it's not where he expected to be when he left high school. Still, he has an opportunity to finish his career where he always envisioned ? in the NCAA Tournament.
"I never really thought coming out of high school that I would end up at UAB," Vaden said. "My coach is here and that's why I decided to come here. So far, it's going pretty good."
David is a college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.