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Sixth-year players and second chances.
Richmond forward Grant Golden never considered such possibilities in March 2020 when the Spiders’ realistic hopes of making the NCAA Tournament were abruptly ended due to the pandemic.
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Golden was among the Spiders players who took the escalator down from a Brooklyn hotel en route to practice after learning that the Atlantic 10 tournament had been canceled. And he was on the team bus to the airport shortly after when news of the canceled NCAA tournament broke, rendering Richmond’s 24-7 season essentially moot.
Two years later, Golden and five other Richmond “Graduate Seniors” – including two non-scholarship holders – have finally returned.
“There are definitely many times where we could have felt sorry for ourselves and kind of stopped and said, ‘You know, maybe that’s just not it,'” Golden said. “But the fact that no one did, and everyone stuck with it and decided to come back made it even better.”
Ranked 12th in the Midwest Region, the Spiders (23-12) are coming off four wins in four days to claim their second A-10 tournament title and prepare to face champion Big Ten Iowa (26-9) in the first. turn Thursday.
“For everyone, it’s amazing. But those guys who were in this hotel and who suffered from the cancellation of the tournament, it’s very special,” said Richmond coach Chris Mooney.
While many teams have players who took advantage of the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, Richmond’s 20-member roster is among the largest and most experienced in the tournament. While Golden is set to play his 160th career college game, the Spiders have six players in their fifth or sixth year and three fourth-year seniors.
Depth of experience is credited as a reason the Spiders have won seven times when trailing by 10 or more points, including erasing 15-point second-half deficits by beating Rhode Island and Dayton in the A-10 tournament.
“So often if you see college games, you see teams start getting slow or throwing 3-point shots when something bad happens. I think we’re old enough not to do that,” said Mooney said. “We’ve been in these situations before. These guys have been in so many games. … We can take advantage of that experience.”
Behind Richmond among NCAA Tournament teams, Delaware’s roster has what is believed to be the second highest-grading senior, with four.
“I have to give that Richmond team a lot of credit. They brought all those guys back and decided they wanted to do something special this year,” said Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon, who is also from back for a sixth year. “I think every college athlete that’s had the chance to do it, I think they should have it, especially after the year we had last year. It never felt like a real season. when it comes to playing every day and getting tested every day and going through the whole COVID pandemic.”
Bohannon’s return is a reason the Hawkeyes are making their third consecutive tournament appearance. Iowa is 12-2 since Bohannon moved to point guard.
“I wish I could come back for a sixth year,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery joked.
“I think the big thing for (Bohannon) and I’m sure it’s the same for the guys from Richmond is, ‘OK, if we come back, we come back for a reason,'” he added. . “And I think that’s what we’ve seen, two teams that have won the tournament championship and have been able to play in this tournament.”
In other cases, players have used their extra year of eligibility to transfer schools. JD Notae moved from Jacksonville to Arkansas, and defending national champion Baylor added point guard James Akinjo, who was traded from Arizona.
For the Spiders, the motivation to return stems not only from what happened in 2020, but also from how COVID-19 contributed to the collapse of their season last year. With many players, including Golden, spending long stretches in protocol, Richmond’s NCAA hopes ended in a second-round A-10 Tournament loss to Duquesne, and his season ended in a loss. against Mississippi State in the second round of the NIT.
Fifth-year guard Jacob Gilyard recalls rolling his eyes in the fall of 2021, when Mooney informed his seniors that they could return for another year.
“I think everyone was like, ‘No, we’ve been here long enough,'” said Gilyard, who holds the NCAA record with 466 interceptions.
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The mood gradually changed, however, as the season progressed, with Gilyard saying every player eventually came to the same conclusion to return.
“I think ultimately it was a personal decision for everyone, but I think for everyone, someone played a part in everyone’s decision,” Gilyard said. “And once I decided to come back, I knew there was nowhere else I’d rather be.”