RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Richmond basketball coach Chris Mooney considers his incoming class the best group of players he's brought in in a dozen years, and he believes the summer will be instrumental in the Spiders' success next season.
The team will take a 12-day trip to Europe in August, spending time in France, Germany and the Netherlands. While games and practices will be important, the opportunity to come together and bond as a team will be the biggest benefit, Mooney said.
''It's great because the guys don't use their cellphones,'' the coach said of traveling abroad. ''They're allowed out at night. They just have to be in groups. It kind of forces you to be out of your comfort zone.''
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The freshmen - guards Nick Sherod and De'Monte Buckingham and forward Grant Golden - will accompany the Spiders on the trip. Their participation will help determine their roles as Mooney seeks scoring and defensive contributors to help ease the departures of Terry Allen (17.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and top defenders Trey Davis and Deion Taylor.
Sherod averaged 25.6 points and 10.6 rebounds and finished as the Virginia high school career scoring leader with 2,815. Buckingham averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds. Golden averaged 18.1 points.
The newcomers will be more important for the Spiders this season than is usually the case.
''I don't feel like we've been, except in my first year, dependent on freshman in a while,'' Mooney said. ''I think to a certain extent we need good freshman contributions, and I would include the graduate transfers in there as well. That doesn't mean lead the league in scoring. They need to be contributors consistently.''
The Spiders also expect contributions from graduate transfers Malcolm Bernard, a 6-foot-6 forward from Florida A&M who averaged 14.4 points and 7.1 rebounds last season, and 6-8 Kwesi Abakah, used sparingly in his career at Northeastern.
Points, it seems, will be less difficult to come by than stops. In T.J. Cline (18.3 ppg), Shawn'Dre Jones (14.7) and Marshall Wood (8.6, high of 29), the Spiders have three gifted offensive players returning.
But it's defense where the Spiders have fallen off in recent years.
''With veteran guys who are good defenders, we just didn't defend well,'' the coach said of last season, when Richmond had its best offensive season since 1980 (76.6 ppg) and its most generous on defense under Mooney (allowing 73.8).
The defensive average was more than five points above what any Richmond team has allowed in the past 20 years.
Mooney is looking to return the program to its winning ways. Richmond has only reached the NCAA Tournament twice in his tenure - 2009-10 and a run to the Sweet 16 in 2010-11 - and have made only four other postseason appearances.
Despite his lack of success, Richmond fans have apparently been patient.
Playing in the same city where VCU has been to six straight tournaments, and done it under four coaches during the Mooney era at Richmond, the Spiders coach said he's received only a handful of negative emails, and most were characterized by a ''politeness'' he's come to see as the Richmond way.
He also has the support of athletic director Keith Gill, who said Mooney's background as a Princeton student-athlete and appreciation for what Gill describes as ''a small, intimate place'' go a long way.
''I feel really good about Chris,'' Gill said. ''We're hopeful he's going to be our coach here for a long time.''
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