The Collegian
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Men's basketball to rely on its returning players

Senior Jarhon Giddings
Senior Jarhon Giddings

Next Saturday, the Spiders will kick off their season with a home opener against Randolph-Macon College at 8 p.m. - the first of 31 scheduled regular season games.

Last season the Spiders finished 16-15, but this year junior guard David Gonzalvez said he was confident the team could be better.

"This year, everyone's pretty sure we're going to be good," he said. "Last year, we just didn't know."

The difference between last year's squad and this year's will be not only expectations, but experience, Gonzalvez said.

The team has 12 returning players, including two redshirt freshmen - center Josh Duinker and forward Conor Smith. Last year the team was young, but as a result, this year most of the sophomores and juniors have seen as much playing time as a senior would have on many other teams, Gonzalvez said.

"We know the offense way better," he said, "and we know how to manipulate the offense so that it's better for us.

"The press and offense are so complex. Spain gave us a chance to really gel with each other."

In August, the team spent 11 days in Spain playing four games against professional league teams. Although the NCAA only allows 10 practices before going to play abroad during the summer, the time helped the team get an even tighter grasp on the offensive game plan, head coach Chris Mooney said.

Since the summer, the team has kept up the hard work and has been practicing well, Mooney said. Gonzalvez said he thought the team had become a lot quicker and would find success in its fast breaks during the season.

Mooney agreed, saying: "We're an athletic team. We'll be able to utilize our speed in our offense and defense. I also think that we have some very good versatile players. Speed and versatility will be our strengths."

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On Nov. 5, the Spiders' own Kevin Smith took the top spot on ESPN SportsCenter's "Top Plays" by jumping over a student for a slam dunk during Spider Mayhem.

Many more of the players were able to show off their versatility during Spider Mayhem, the university's Nov. 1 preseason kick-off activity for the men's and women's basketball teams, which included dancing, shooting and dunking contests. Smith won the dance-off and the dunk contest afterward, Gonzalvez said.

Smith ran from about half-court, jumped over a fellow student, and then dunked the ball. Last season, after a series of three dunks during the Spiders' win over Virginia Tech, he earned Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Week honors.

Gonzalvez said the team had been excited for the opportunity to get Richmond students ready for basketball season.

"We've never had Midnight Madness since I've been here, and we've always wanted that," he said. "It wasn't at midnight, but we were still able to have it, and we're grateful for that. It was a great chance to connect the students to athletes outside of the games. I think it got everybody really excited for the season."

This season's schedule will be challenging from top to bottom, Mooney said. The Spiders play their second game against Syracuse University, which is historically a strong team. Before the semester ends, the Spiders will also play teams such as Wake Forest University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University and Bradley University -- all of which Mooney listed as some of the team's toughest games.

Mooney named three key players he said he hoped would lead the Spiders this season - senior Jarhon Giddings, Gonzalvez and sophomore Kevin Anderson.

"Jarhon [Giddings] is the voice of the team," Gonzalvez said. "There are always two or three people that you always hear their voice, but Jarhon, he's the guy, the leader. I don't think we picked captains yet, but if we did, I'd pick Jarhon."

Gonzalvez and Anderson, who were both selected to the Third-Team All-Atlantic 10 last year, were selected to this year's A-10's preseason All-Conference Team.

In addition to those three, Gonzalvez said he thought Duinker and Francis-Cedric Martel would see a lot of action. This year's freshmen are talented, but how quickly they can learn the offense will determine their playing time, Gonzalvez said.

Gonzalvez said he thought the team's offense would be strong this year. On the other end of the court, he said he thought the team would have to work hardest for consistency and good defense.

"The toughest thing is playing up to our full potential consistently," he said. "Some games we just play amazing and we look like the best team in the country. Then some nights we look awful.

"It starts with defense. Offense will be real consistent because we have guys that can score. We'll need to focus on defense and give consistent effort.

"If our defense is good, we'll beat a lot of teams. If our defense is bad, it's going to be up and down. The offense can't score 100 points every night."

The Spiders were picked to finish eighth in the A-10 during a preseason poll, but Mooney said it didn't faze him.

"We're still young," he said, "but we've got some good players and we have a chance to do really well."

Contact Reporter Jacki Raithel at jacki.raithel@richmond.edu

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