Halfway through what could be called a tumultuous season, the University of Richmond men's basketball team is not giving up, head coach Chris Mooney said.
The team has been faced with much adversity this season, including the loss of senior forward Gaston Moliva to injury, the recent transfer of Stephen Kendall, the arrest and temporary suspension of Oumar Sylla and the academics-related suspension of David Brewster.
The team's record of 5-16 \0xADas well as the low attendance numbers may be reflective of these interruptions.
Athletic director Jim Miller said the attendance nu Jmbers have been lower for two main reasons: the higher number of home games this year and the team's poor record. The team usually has 12 to 13 home games, but this year it has 16. Miller said this was because of a recent change made by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
"Anywhere in the country, if you're not winning as much, the crowds go down," Miller said.
Mooney said he had been working to keep the team focused.
"I think consistency in our everyday approach is what's important," he said. "We certainly have had tough stretches, and it's been difficult having so many young guys. But I think we need to be as consistent as possible in how we coach our team and our expectations and the standard that we're setting and try not to change so much in being reactionary."
Mooney said that Moliva's absence has had the greatest effect on the team. "He is a senior who has played a lot of college basketball and is a very good player," Mooney said. "The strengths that he has are really what we need to utilize, so him being absent is the biggest impact."
Freshman Stephen Kendall transferred mid-season to James Madison University where he will play basketball beginning next season.
"He was a strong shooter, so of course we never want to see someone with that talent leave when we know he can help us," Moliva said.
Last week, Mooney told The Collegian that the return of Sylla was an asset to the team. Sylla was reinstated on Jan. 9 after he sat out the first 14 games of the season because of an arrest earlier this year.
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The team is staying motivated despite the current issues, Moliva said. With such a young group, a lot of adjustments have been necessary.
"A few players have stepped up and have gained some experience, and some players have worked twice as hard because there is more responsibility on them now," he said.
Miller said this was a transition period for the Spiders. He attributed this year's performance to the changes in the coaching staff, from former coach Jerry Wainwright to Mooney.
"I think we all knew with the transition, when Coach Wainwright left, he had several players that were either not allowed back or ineligible to play," Miller said. "There were a lot of problems with this team. That's one of the reasons why he wasn't coach anymore, so we knew there was going to be a transition period that freshman would likely have to play a major role."
Miller said that Richmond chose not to bring in junior college players, but to rely on new recruits and incoming freshmen to rebuild the team.
The 13-man squad includes five freshmen and one redshirt freshman as well as three sophomores. Experience has been another major obstacle for the Spiders this season.
"It was expected that there was going to be a period of time that we were going to start low and in the future be better," Miller said. "Improvement is never a straight line. I am optimistic about the future."
With eight games left in the season, Mooney said the main goal now is to make it to the Atlantic 10 tournament. Only the top 12 of the 14 teams in the conference are eligible for the tournament. The Spiders are currently 1-7 in the A-10.
Moliva said it was imperative that the team win the rest of its games this season. "The goal hasn't changed since day one," he said. "We still want to win. The A-10 Tournament is still a goal, and going to the NCAA is still a goal as well."
Mooney said: "We are trying to get better every single day because Peter Thomas is the only senior on the team; he's all we have to lose, so this season is not just about the record this year. It's about building for the future."
Moliva credits Mooney for his work ethic and dedication to the team.
"Coach Mooney makes practice more competitive,' Moliva said, 'and he tries to show us how important every single game is at this point in the season," Moliva said.
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