Few teams in the country have manufactured as much with as little as Richmond has the last few seasons. Taking the floor without a first-team all-conference performer or anyone who remotely interested NBA scouts, Jerry Wainwright led his first two Spiders teams to the 2003 NIT and the 2004 NCAA tournament. Impressive wins over the likes of Stanford, Kansas, Charlotte and Colorado alerted Atlantic 10 foes that the Spiders were for real.
Last year's team won 20 games and had Wisconsin down by 13 points with 14 minutes left in an opening-round NCAA game before losing by 12. But the heart of that team is gone with Reggie Brown, Tony Dobbins and Mike Skrocki graduated. Now comes a hearty rebuilding process, but if Wainwright showed anything in his first two seasons, it's that he can coach with anyone in the country.
The good news is that the Spiders have some answers, thanks to Wainwright's recent recruiting efforts. That young talent should be on display this season, although in typical fashion, UR lacks a big-time star.
The ship will run smoothly if sophomore Daon Merritt shows he can lead the way. As a freshman, the New Yorker was long on flash but often out of control. He contributed more turnovers than assists, a team-wide problem, and was a non-existent threat as a shooter. But Merritt remains a hot prospect because of his quickness and ball-handling skills. Helping in the backcourt will be wingman Jamaal Scott and freshman Courtney Nelson. Another freshman guard, Andres Sandoval, will sit out the first semester because of academic issues.
Up front, the Spiders return plenty of experience and versatility. Kevin Steenberge, a 6-foot-11 junior, started 27 times last year, but he'll be pushed for the job by a committee of frontcourt players, led by burly sophomore Gaston Moliva. The Cameroon native won league all-rookie honors and clearly has only scratched the surface of his ability. Shooting forwards Jermaine Bucknor and Patrick O'Malley were also in last year's 10-man rotation and could emerge as consistent offensive threats. Two North Carolina products, 6-8 Jarhon Giddings and 6-6 Monty Sanders, also hold plenty of promise in the freshman class.
Spiders fans have enjoyed seven winning seasons in a row, and even with Richmond's top three scorers gone and most of the program's talent in the freshman and sophomore classes, Atlantic 10 foes have learned not to count out any Wainwright-coached team.