RICHMOND, Va. -- As he enters his 14th season as head basketball coach of the Richmond Spiders, Chris Mooney, has tried to find the best way to balance his veteran experience with the youth on his roster. This year's team will have its veterans, but at some point, will call upon the half dozen freshmen that fill out his bench.
"We prefer to be old and experienced," Mooney explained almost unnecessarily. "We're confident we'll get there. We've worked hard to make sure our younger players can assimilate as easily as possible."
That approach certainly worked for point guard Jacob Gilyard.
Last year as a true freshman, Gilyard averaged over 36 minutes per game, third most in the country among freshmen. He also set multiple program records, including most steals in a single season.
"I didn't expect to play that much, but I knew there was an opportunity for me to play a good amount," Gilyard said. "You want all the expectations to be, you need to know what you're doing, you need to be good right now. It motivates me a lot. It lets me know I' not where I need to be and I have to keep going."
"He's a pretty special player and a great kid," Mooney added. "I feel like he has as good of an understanding of college basketball and how we're trying to play as anybody we've ever had."
Barely more than 18 months removed from playing in high school, Gilyard is already looked upon as one of the voices of experience on this team. And he strives to be a mentor to the not so much younger players with him on the floor, one of whom is Andre Gustavson, a true freshman who has already been through a lot just to suit up for the Spiders.
Gustavson is a native of Finland who comes to the Spiders by way of the Helsinki Basketball Academy. His very first trip to Richmond is already the stuff of legend.
"I left really early in the morning, came here through London and Chicago, so that's about 20 hours," Gustavson recalled. "Came here at 10 [a.m.] which is 4 or 5 [p.m.] our time."
Gustavson went through two workouts on his first day in town, despite being completely jet lagged. But Richmond felt like home, even if his family remains a six-hour time difference away, and despite being fluent in English, he still struggles occasionally to express himself.
"Just being more vocal, because people in Finland don't small talk all that much," Gustavson explained. "That's been something I've been improving here."
"A college transition is a challenge for everybody, but to be that far away is something that takes a great deal of maturity," said Mooney.
"With all our freshmen, we really look out for them, but with him, it's foreign to him," Gilyard added. "I couldn't imagine going through what he's going through. I think he's handled it really well."
Mooney learned a couple of Finnish phrases while recruiting Andre, all of which he admittedly forgot soon after. Luckily, Gustavson is fluent in both languages, and maybe someday, in small talk too.
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