Seldom has a proven system for success been ridiculed as much as the Princeton Offense was in and around the Robins Center last winter.
During his second season as University of Richmond head basketball coach, Chris Mooney found himself with a young team that did not believe in an offensive system that has made its way around the college game for nearly 50 years. Students and media members blamed a stubborn coaching staff for sticking with the offense that called for a slower pace, specifically designed cuts and complex passes.
Then the Spiders beat Duquesne University on Valentine's Day, 69-66, and something began to change.
"We won those last three home games last year, and we saw for the first time that certain things opened up [in the offense]," sophomore guard David Gonzalvez said. "We realized the offense worked. We had seen it not work the season before, and it hadn't worked all season. But after those games, the coaches promised us that we were going to be a lot better this year."
Gonzalvez was one of three freshmen to start during at least 20 games last year. The other freshman, guard Kevin Hovde, played significant minutes off the bench and started six games.
"Last year we were dependent on the freshmen," Mooney said. "But now, because of their experience, they are taking more of a leadership role and we don't have to be dependent on this year's freshmen."
After last season ended, Gonzalvez said the team had a meeting in which members of the coaching staff and players shared what changes they wanted to see from each other. From offensive strategy to work ethic, Gonzalvez said the meeting helped clear the air about the expectations and desires for each member of the basketball program.
So this summer most of the team, including the incoming freshmen, stayed in Richmond to lift weights, coach summer camp and, most importantly, play together.
"We played pickup everyday and really got to know each other," senior Gaston Moliva said. "We played with players from VCU, VMI and some from overseas. We lifted and got a lot stronger."
The six freshmen, most of whom are expected to contribute this year, might have been caught a bit off-guard by the amount of work necessary to play college basketball. Kevin Anderson, a point guard from Duluth, Ga., told SpiderTV that one of the biggest challenges so far has been making sure all of the freshmen take every practice seriously because of the complexity of the offense.
"Some days we're there, and you can tell we're all listening to what coach is saying," Anderson said. "But other days we're not there. We can't have great days and then bad days."
Moliva and Gonzalvez said they realized the struggles that the freshmen would encounter, and are committed to providing the leadership necessary to help them through.
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"I feel like I have to be more mature, especially off the court," Moliva said. "They're going to lose focus sometimes during the season. I was on the team that beat Kansas [in 2004], and that's something I learned. The seniors came to me when I was struggling, and that's my job now."
Gonzalvez is now sharing the leadership burden, especially considering the tumultuous season he endured as a freshman.
"I remember everything they're going through now because I did it not that long ago," he said. "Me and the other sophomores call ourselves veterans, and we're just trying to help them out as best we can."
As far as the new and improved Princeton Offense, Mooney said the team's speed and athleticism would be on display this winter.
"We have talented young guys, but our athleticism is upgraded and we are much faster this year," he said. "We want to play much faster. We want to get out there and run, but we also need to establish our half court game."
Junior Jarhon Giddings described last year's team as one that was always reacting to the opponent's game.
"This year, we'll be a lot more fast-paced, push the tempo and control the game. We won't be reacting to them anymore," he said.
The Spiders' projected starting five will feature one senior, one junior and three sophomores, all of whom have previously started at least 14 games in one season. Giddings, who is 6 feet 9 inches, will be joined in the front court by 6-foot 7-inch senior Oumar Sylla and 6-foot 9-inch sophomore Dan Geriot, who scored a team high 11.9 points per game. Sophomore Ryan Butler and Gonzalves will start at the two guard positions and lead an offense that could potentially play University of Memphis, the No. 3-ranked team in the nation, on Nov. 6.
Optimism abounds in the Robins Center these days, and the team returns four of five starters. But with six freshmen and few seniors, the Spiders must hope to stay healthy in order to make a return trip to the Atlantic 10 tournament.
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