The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

Gonzalvez, Butler enjoy success during final season

When University of Richmond senior shooting guard David Gonzalvez walked out of the locker room after the Spiders' victory against Fordham University last week, several of Richmond's youngest fans were waiting, pen in hand, to ask him for his autograph.

That hasn't always been the case.

"I don't know if anyone wanted autographs [my] freshman year," Gonzalvez said while glancing around the Robins Center. "This place was empty."

For Gonzalvez and fellow senior Ryan Butler, the Spiders' run to the Top 25 during their final season is a long way from the 8-22 season they endured as freshmen.

"It was really hard for us in the beginning, especially because when we got there, we had four freshmen playing at any given time," Gonzalvez said. "We were all trying to adjust to a new offense that none of us had ever played before."

The Princeton-style offense coach Chris Mooney runs frustrated Gonzalvez at first.

"We thought it was for guys who weren't athletic or didn't have one-on-one skills," Gonzalvez said. "We played a team that ran the Princeton offense in high school and drilled them by 50, so that's what we were thinking."

Butler, a Richmond native, expected to see significant playing time during his first season, but a foot injury forced him to redshirt.

"[Mooney] said he signed me because he needed a guy who could play right away," Butler said. "It was tough because I wanted to help the program and I couldn't, but it helped me watch everything from a sideline point of view."

After winning only eight games during his freshman season, Gonzalvez planned to transfer and asked for his release from the Spiders. But before he had finalized the decision, something changed.

"I gave my life to Jesus," Gonzalvez said. "I had a whole heart change after that."

Gonzalvez improved his relationship with Mooney and started to accept the coach's ideas on offense and defense. Since then, Mooney's formula has led the Spiders to increased win totals during each of the past three seasons.

"[My] sophomore year it felt like a rebuilding year, but I think we finished better than we thought we would," Gonzalvez said. "We got some big wins and we were all maturing as a team."

Richmond finished 16-15 during the 2007-2008 season, and followed it with a 20-16 showing during the 2008-2009 season, even while center and leading scorer Dan Geriot missed the season with a knee injury.

Butler said the team had transitioned from being not very good at all, to being decent.

"That really helped us understand where we could end up," he said.

Butler and Gonzalvez were a part of Mooney's first recruiting class at Richmond, and Mooney said they had had an important impact on his future recruiting success.

"The first class is so important because you're really setting the tone with the type of player you're going to recruit," Mooney said. "These guys were good guys who love basketball. They were 100 percent instrumental in our turnaround."

That turnaround is nearing completion this season as the Spiders currently sit atop the Atlantic 10 Conference with a 22-6 record. The team's two seniors have been keys to their success.

"Both of them have really matured into leaders of our team," Mooney said. "They are two of the best defensive players I've ever coached."

Butler has averaged eight points and more than 26 minutes of playing time per game this season, shooting 38.7 percent from 3-point range and racking up 41 steals. When Butler has scored in double digits this season, the Spiders are 8-1.

Gonzalvez scores more than 13 points per game and has 49 steals of his own. Last week, he was named National Player of the Week by Andy Katz of ESPN and appeared on the front of the college basketball page on ESPN.com.

"It was weird," Gonzalvez said. "It was almost like it wasn't real. I was just sitting there with three of my boys and there's a picture of me on the front of ESPN.com.

"I didn't know what to say, didn't know what to think. It was great to enjoy, but it's just like being ranked. It just makes us know that we have to stay grounded and work even harder."

Both players agreed that the successes they had enjoyed this season had made the difficulties of past seasons fade.

"It's good to be a part of building a program up from being 8-22," Gonzalvez said. "And it's great to see things get better year after year. [Mooney] promised us that if we bought into the system, we could be a top team fighting for first place in the conference, and that's where we are."

With only three games remaining before the A-10 tournament, Butler said he hoped his team could finish the season strong and reach the ultimate goal of the NCAA tournament.

"The one thing I want to leave here with is the banner for the Robins Center," Butler said. "I want to be able to come back and sit in the stands and know that I was a part of one of those teams that made it to the NCAAs. The years of 8-22 I will always remember, but it will ultimately be this final great year that will stay in my mind."

For Mooney, his seniors' success has validated his visions regarding how he wanted to build the Richmond program.

"I'm thrilled to see how well they're doing, and how they're impacting how well we're doing," Mooney said. "I thought all along that we could build a really good program, mainly because we could attract good players and good kids like them."

Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at reilly.moore@richmond.edu

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