Listen to the phone interview with Chris Mooney and Sports Editor Jimmy James here:
After being forced to step away from the team due to heart surgery back in February, University of Richmond men’s basketball Head Coach Chris Mooney reflected on his recovery, the ever-growing transfer portal and UR’s new NIL collective with the 2023-2024 season on the horizon.
COLLEGIAN: You are returning from a heart surgery that sidelined you from your head coach position back in February. What was the recovery process like and what was it like getting back into the swing of things post-surgery?
CHRIS MOONEY: So, the surgery, I guess I was in the hospital for four days. The day of the surgery and then I came home about four days later. And then basically the recovery was, obviously it’s first a lot of rest. Mainly rest. But one thing, it was important to start walking, actually right from when I was in the hospital. So, we really started to walk two or three times a day and started out probably with a half mile and then worked up to a few miles. And then, just trying to rest. It was hard to sleep through the night so I would sleep a couple hours at a time and got a little bit better, a little bit better. And once I kind of regained an appetite with the walking and the appetite got better, then everything kind of moved from there, and I was back in 30 days.
C: And you had your staff fill in toward the end of the men’s basketball season. Peter Thomas, in particular, stepping in as interim head coach. Did it make it easier to step away knowing you had an experienced staff ready to fill in?
CM: Yeah, for sure. The whole situation was pretty startling in that it happened quickly and I had to have the surgery quickly. And so yeah, definitely, that was the most important thing in terms for the team that not just [Thomas] but the whole staff would. And I was really confident that they would hit the ground running and handle everything extremely well, and so that made that part — transition so to speak — that made that part really kind of easy because I was so confident in the staff.
C: This past season was sort of a flip from the 2021-2022 season. Back in March, the Spiders lost in round two of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, whereas the season prior, your squad took home the championship and made it to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. Looking back on last season, what were some things that perhaps didn’t go right, and do you have any overall takeaways from last season now that the team is nearing play again?
CM: Yeah, I mean, I think that obviously in such a competitive conference and the challenge of playing guys who weren’t as experienced. The previous year, we were an extremely experienced team and that showed throughout the year, but especially in that postseason, and I think last year, we were much less experienced and I think that probably was one thing. And then I feel like last year, we lost more close games than we want and so many times in college basketball, it comes down to the last couple of minutes. And historically, we’ve been very good in those situations, and I felt like last year when we had those opportunities, we didn’t win enough games.
C: The new norm in Division I basketball seems to be the transfer portal. The Spiders certainly benefited from it last season in acquiring Neal Quinn, Isaiah Bigelow and Jason Roche. This year’s roster also has its fair share of players who transferred into UR’s program. As someone who’s been at the helm here since 2005, what are your thoughts on this trend and how it’s affecting a program like UR?
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CM: Well, that would be a really, really long answer and there are some positives and negatives to it. I feel like the idea was that it would give players freedom and then that could be interpreted and that would be 100% good or positive. Now, in reality, nothing is and so there are some positives and some negatives that go along with it. It’s certainly very good for the best players and they probably can exercise their freedoms more. I think like you see on some of the football programs, when guys were dismissed from the team, then it probably wasn’t so good for those players, you know what I mean? So for us, my preference would always be to have four and five-year players at [UR]. I think that’s the very best representation of our school and how our program tries to operate. But, that can’t always be the case and times have changed so dramatically that it’s very different now. So, I think that one positive is that there are players in the transfer portal that you may be able to attract who are talented and experienced and good people and good students. So, I think in that way, that part of it’s positive, I think, how it worked for us this Spring, for sure.
C: It seems that a new era has fallen over Spider men’s basketball in the sense that Tyler Burton having transferred to Villanova University this summer was sort of the last domino to fall from that A-10 championship team headlined by five and six-year starters, like you said, Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Nathan Cayo and Nick Sherod. What are your preliminary thoughts on the season ahead and having such a new roster?
CM: Well it certainly is unique and more unique to how our program has been. It’s not very unique in college basketball because there’s been so much transitioning everywhere. But I really like the team. I think that the two guards we were able to attract, each of them were their leading scorer for their college team. They’ve had really, really good careers, they’re experienced, fast, talented, creative and I think will really be something very positive for us. And then, I feel like what’s always important is your returning players to improve. And Neal Quinn and Isaiah Bigelow and Jason Roche and Aidan Noyes, there’s guys improving and taking a big step, which we hope they will. I think that will be really important for us and I think that will help us to have a very good team.
C: And finally, a new NIL program was announced several weeks ago, the Spiders Collective. Can you shed some light on that and how this collective intends to lure players both from a recruiting standpoint, but from a transfer portal standpoint down the line as well?
CM: So, yeah, the collective is something that, I don’t know what percentage of schools have them, but I would say at our level and above, the vast majority would have a collective in place. And this is the next step in college athletics. And because of the support and generosity of some people, we’re able to establish the collective. And as a tool, it’s not necessarily a tool in recruiting technically, I guess, but it is an opportunity to show prospects how committed [UR] is, and that if they would choose to come here, that the collective could work for them.
Contact sports editor Jimmy James at firstname.lastname@example.org
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