The sophomore pillars of the University of Richmond’s basketball program, Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard, made it clear Monday that they strongly support coach Chris Mooney and said their views represent all UR players.
The 11th-seeded Spiders (12-19, 6-12 A-10), who meet 14th-seeded Fordham (12-19, 3-15) on Wednesday in the opening round of the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., are highly likely to finish with their second consecutive losing season. Richmond has not advanced to the NCAA tournament since 2011, when Mooney guided the Spiders to the Sweet 16.
Mooney is in his 14th season at UR, and has three seasons beyond this one left on his contract. Among Richmond’s fan base is respect for Mooney, but also frustration and disappointment regarding the program’s dip, and rapidly growing impatience for increased success.
The Spiders are aware of that, but speaking of Mooney, Golden said, “I think he should be back. I think he deserves to be back. I think we’ve had a tough roll the last few years in terms of transfers and injuries and stuff. I think these next few years are going to be great and all of that is due to [UR’s coaches] and the guys they brought in.
“We’ve got his back and we support him, and he believes in us.”
The Spiders start three sophomores and two freshmen, and two of their top reserves are freshmen. Richmond is expected to improve significantly next season with the return of almost all scholarship players, the addition of Wagner transfer guard Blake Francis, and the comeback of junior guard Nick Sherod, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 25.
UR also has an available scholarship, or two, depending on whether graduate-transfer forward Noah Yates is granted another season of eligibility by the NCAA.
“I feel like Richmond has a high basketball standard. I feel like we’ve been part of that,” Mooney said Monday. “I feel like our results need to improve, but I do feel like with the youth of our team, the talent that we have in the underclassmen, I feel like we have an extremely bright future.”
John Hardt, the school’s vice president and director of athletics, told The Times-Dispatch in early February that the season is the time to focus on competition, not on the coach’s status. Given Mooney’s contractual situation and the promising young players on this season’s team, all signs point to the coach returning.
“Obviously, us as a team, we really support coach Mooney. We love him. That’s our coach. That’s our guy,” Gilyard said. “We’ll go to war for him and I think he’ll do the same for us.”
Some of those ready to move on from Mooney in February sponsored a billboard calling for his dismissal. In Gilyard’s Monday assessment of the regular season, he said, “Overall, tough. A lot of distractions outside. I think we let it affect us on the inside a little bit.”
Said Golden: “We tried to block it out as much as possible, but it is what it is. We’ve moved on from it.”