by Gene Marrano
Who would had ever imagined that not one but two men’s basketball teams from the city of Richmond would make it to the Sweet 16 round or further in the recently-concluded NCAA men’s basketball championships?
Yet that is exactly what happened, as Virginia Commonwealth shocked the world by making it all the way to the Final Four. Right behind them was the University of Richmond, which advanced to the Sweet 16.
Richmond Spiders head coach Chris Mooney, the guest at the most recent meeting of the Roanoke Valley Sports Club, was a subject of speculation during the tournament – as was VCU coach Shaka Smart – with major basketball schools looking for new head coaches.
Mooney instead signed a ten-year contract extension with Richmond, saying he appreciated the support received from athletic director Jim Millers and others. “I knew I wanted to stay,” Mooney told Sports Club members and guests, which included a number of Richmond alumni.
Mooney, who sounds like the Philadelphia-area kid that he is, was a high school standout who went on to a solid career at Princeton. He taught and coached in grade and high schools before getting a head-coaching job at Division III Beaver College. There, Mooney did everything from wash uniforms to wedding planning. His first team had only six players on the roster. “Very difficult,” recalls Mooney, who was just 25 at the time. “It’s a long way from there to Richmond.”
Mooney made it to Division I basketball as an assistant head coach at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and became head coach for one season, earning an 18-12 record. He came back east to accept the Richmond job in 2005 leading the Spiders to the NCAA post-season tourney in 2009 and 2011.
“It’s incredibly humbling for me every time I walk in the Robbins Center,” says Mooney of the Spider’s home gym. Ironically, one of the basketball players he often sees out on the court practicing is Abby Oliver – former Hidden Valley High School standout and a guard for the women’s team at Richmond. “A great worker [and] great representative for the school,” notes Mooney.
When he took the Richmond job, Mooney took over a program that had been down. He decided to recruit players of good character and after an initial 8-22 season things started getting better in the Atlantic 10, which he called “a very good conference.” As for cross-town rivals VCU, Mooney terms it “a very good rivalry,” and “an amazing thing that both schools did so well [this season].”
Mooney loses four seniors from this season’s Sweet 16 squad but felt the program has “recruited well,” even luring one high school senior away from several ACC offers. “We can be very good at Richmond for a long time,” he declared. “Having actual footage of that much [post season] success is very important” when recruiting, added Mooney. “We feel like we were able to compete with some schools for good players.” Sweet 16 finishes and national TV exposure will do that for recruiting, even for a small private school where the undergraduate population is less than 3000.
Mooney also called Roanoke a “great sports town,” when thanking club members for the invite. The club meets every month except during the summer at the Salem Civic Center. “We’ve gotten some good speakers here,” said Sports Club Vice President Dave Ross as he introduced Mooney.