Wednesday is opening day of college basketball practice, per modified NCAA guidelines adopted for this pandemic period. At the University of Richmond, players and coaches before the first official drill may hold a retention celebration.
Everybody’s back from a 24-7 team, and that was no layup. The Spiders’ roster includes UR graduates and starters Grant Golden, Nick Sherod and Blake Francis. Each redshirted earlier in his career, Golden and Sherod because of physical issues, Francis following his transfer from Wagner.
They could have left UR as graduate transfers, a fairly common path taken in college hoops during recent years, and played their final seasons of eligibility elsewhere. Golden, who’s 6-foot-10, averaged 13.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season, when the 6-0 Francis led the Spiders with a 17.7-point average and the 6-4 Sherod averaged 12.7 points and shot an A-10-best 43.8% from 3-point range.
Each could have moved on to a higher level of competition, and there were options to do so, according to Richmond coach Chris Mooney. During an early-October podcast hosted by national basketball media member Jeff Goodman, Mooney said he and his assistants were “very worried” that any or all of the three players might leave UR.
“That does go on, and that did happen with our guys,” Mooney said of other programs contacting Golden, Francis and Sherod. “That’s very unsettling as a coach.”
Golden, Sherod and Francis have scored more than 1,100 career points apiece. Quality big men are much more difficult to find than guards, so Golden probably was targeted more by interested programs.
“That was happening this past summer,” Golden said Monday afternoon. “There were a bunch of schools that reached out.”
Some of their representatives called his high school coach, or other intermediaries. On Twitter, Golden read he was considering a transfer to Kentucky, where UR will play this season in the first meeting of the programs. Golden started hearing from Kentucky fans.
According to Golden, he never even contemplated entering the NCAA transfer portal. Because Golden didn’t, the programs that contacted him did not do so directly, for the most part. But it became clear to Golden that if he felt UR were no longer the place for him, there were many other destinations available.
“I was dead set on the fact that as long as Coach Mooney is here that I was going to be here as well,” said Golden, heading into his fourth season as a starter after his true-freshman year was limited to nine games by an heart issue. “I appreciate the opportunity that he’s given me and everything that he’s done for me. I really can’t put into words how much [Mooney] and his family and the entire coaching staff mean to me.
“So honestly, I’m just really happy I’m back here for another year to get to play under him for another year.”
Golden left the offseason flattered that top-tier college programs thought he could play at that level.
“I don’t know if I was necessarily flattered when someone decided to take it upon themselves and tweet something that just wasn’t true, saying that I was in the portal,” he said. “Obviously, with the age that we live in with social media and everything, stuff like that sort of happens, which is kind of annoying.”
To Goodman, Mooney said he did not believe it was necessary to have meetings with Golden, Francis or Sherod about the topic, or rerecruit them.
“Those are really terrific individual people and players, and I knew that they could taste and feel the same excitement about our program and about this season as I did,” Mooney said. “So while they were recruited, pretty actively, I never felt like anything like that was going to happen.”
The Spiders, with five senior starters back, are viewed as A-10 favorites, along with Saint Louis, and national preseason recognition comes UR’s way.
“We’ve had to be really patient with all of the [virus-related] regulations and stuff that we’ve had ever since we’ve been back,” Golden said. “But now, especially with the new practice facility coming into play, things are really getting back to normal. Workouts have been great. Everybody’s been doing a great job, and we’re excited for practice on Wednesday.
“We’re going to be prepared for whatever this COVID-19 season has for us.”