By Noah Goldberg
A Sweet Sixteen run back in 2011 spurred excitement for Spider basketball fans about what the future would bring with Chris Mooney in command. In the time since then, Richmond has made no NCAA tournament appearances.
With some fans growing frustrated by underwhelming seasons since 2011, one group has taken to Twitter for action. Fire Mooney Mafia (@FireMooneyMafia) describes themselves as, “We are a passionate group of Richmond Spiders basketball #realfans who demand accountability for our program.”
The group, who prefers not to identify themselves, DM’d me on Twitter on Thursday at 8:51am with this image:
They told me that the picture would be going up on a billboard Thursday on I-95 near The Diamond. Hours later, the billboard went up.
While the group decided not to disclose the cost of the billboard, which rotates about every fifteen seconds on an electronic screen, they stated that it would remain up for roughly one month. They said funding was secured by reaching out “to our followers and fans and acquaintances we know who have shared our frustrations.” The group also said that efforts were happening to put up such a billboard last spring but that the “timing wasn’t right.”
University of Richmond athletic director John Hardt did not respond to a request for comment and the basketball team officially made no statement. However, I did get the opportunity to sit down with senior guard Keith Oddo to discuss the situation (Full interview audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM5fNCiWxUk&t=2s).
Oddo made it very clear that him and all the guys support coach Mooney in full. “I truly believe coach Mooney is the man for the job. He cares about each us of like we’re his sons.” While acknowledging that the Spiders haven’t gone to the NCAA tournament since 2011, he explained that they’ve still had success and that transitional periods are a part of college basketball. “When you lose the A10 player of the year [TJ Cline] and one of the best guards in program history, you bring in a bunch of freshmen. Of course there’s going to be a learning curve.”
He went on to credit coach Mooney for the rapid development of sophomores Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, and Nathan Cayo. Averaging 11 ppg and four apg last year, Gilyard this season is scoring 16.6 ppg and is second in the nation in steals. Forward Nathan Cayo scored 2.3 ppg last year as a freshman. Now as a sophomore, he’s getting 13 ppg on 60% shooting from the field. Grant Golden has also shown improvement, leading the team this season with 17.5 ppg.
Oddo also noted how the program lost two major players to transfer in Khwan Fore and De’Monte Buckingham. It’s hard to blame Mooney for either leaving, considering Fore was given the chance to become a starter at Louisville and Buckingham was dismissed for team conduct violations.
While it’s hard to say how most fans feel about Mooney, the general consensus on Twitter was that most did not like the billboard being put up. Reactions included:
Sorey to see this. If your “fans” support this approach they are not real fans. Good and bad…support your coach, support your team, or find another. #NoClass— Tracy Katz (@TracyLynnK) February 21, 2019
I’m not going to argue one way or the other but this coach took them to the Sweet 16…if it’s time go you don’t do it like this— BP scouting (@BPscout) February 21, 2019
Pathetic! These fans are just Twitter trolls who think doing this will actually make a difference. It won’t. If Richmond basketball is that important to you then you need to get a life.— spidur97 (@Spidur97) February 21, 2019
Sources with knowledge of the team’s reaction told me that players are furious about the billboard. Based on Oddo’s comments, this seems very likely.
The Spiders are coming off a close win against Fordham on Wednesday which improved their record to 11-15 (5-8). They sit tenth in the A10, one game ahead of St. Joe’s. The next game is at La Salle on Saturday at 2:00pm.