For me, the 2019-20 season felt kind of magical. Growing up, I had always dreamed of a season like that. We won a lot of games, we played in front of big crowds, both on the road and at home, and it seemed like the University of Richmond was rallying around us and supporting us in a way that they had not in the years prior. The previous two seasons of Richmond basketball have been well documented, and they were not particularly fun. We deserved a year like we had last year. We had been through a lot, we were playing meaningful games in March, we finally had a talented roster and seemed destined to make the NCAA Tournament. I remember sitting in the cold tub after practices, or the hot tub before games, and instead of listening to music, I would watch highlights from the 2019 tournament. I could feel it happening.
Well, the season ended abruptly, and we did not get to live that dream out. It stung, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We had been through a lot as a group, and we deserved to hear our name called on Selection Sunday. While all of that was terrible, the silver lining was that 2020-21 could be an amazing year. Everyone was coming back, we were getting older, we were adding some new pieces, it was quite literally setting up to be a year that I had dreamed of as a little kid. We were going to be good, we were going to have packed crowds, we felt as if we were going to be ranked, and people were going to be genuinely excited about Richmond basketball. It was everything I had imagined college basketball to be growing up.
For better or for worse, when bad things happen, like an NCAA Tournament run getting cut short, I tend to compartmentalize it and focus on what I can do next. The summer was unusual due to the STILL ongoing pandemic (please wear your masks, people), but for me at least, my focus remained the same. I wanted to have a good season, win the A-10 regular season and tournament titles, and win some games in the Big Dance. When we finally got back to school for summer workouts, I was excited to be back around the guys. I wouldn’t say I had a great summer — I had some nagging injuries and was just a little out of rhythm. But my dream season was still intact, so I knew that everything was going to work out eventually.
I felt like I had turned a little bit of a corner during September and October. I was playing better, I had my rhythm, I had a lot more energy, and most importantly, I was just happy. Life was good.
Well, on Oct. 15, the day before my 23rd birthday, I tore my right ACL, MCL, and meniscus. I was making a routine drive baseline, and my knee just gave out. It was tough. I had torn my left ACL back in 2018, so I had been through it before. Right when everything was coming together: I was playing well, I was a key piece to a potentially historic team, I was feeling good, out of nowhere everything just came crashing down.
I went to bed that night thinking ‘Why? Why me?’ The first time I got hurt, I knew that I would be a part of two great teams on the other side of it. This time, I was struggling to find the silver lining.
I woke up the next morning, and was strangely at peace. I was still in shock, but I was no longer angry. I felt a rejuvenated spirit. I texted my team, I told them that nothing about the season or their goals changes, and that I was going to be okay. As the days passed, and I came to terms with everything, I never really got sad again. Like I said, I felt peace. I was focused on directing my energy toward being happy and supportive toward my guys. I did not want other people to feel sad because I was sad. I knew my mom, my dad, and my coaches were particularly upset, and I did not want to add to what they were feeling because I was down. I wanted to be positive and genuinely mean it. And I did! I was excited to see what those guys could do, what kind of season they were going to put together.
For the last five weeks, I have been at home recovering post-surgery. It has been tough not seeing the guys as much or being around like I want, but I have truly enjoyed watching them play. Nothing about their early season success has surprised me. If anything, watching those guys play has lifted my spirits. While it has only been five games, this group deserves this.
I remember walking out of the locker during the first of our 20-loss seasons with Grant [Golden] and Jacob [Gilyard] and not being sure if things were ever going to get better — knowing I was looking at two of the all-time greats in Richmond basketball history. I live with Nate [Cayo], and I would always explain to him how he would bully me everyday in practice and he just needed to play like it in games. I hosted Tyler [Burton] on his visit, and I knew pretty early on that he was going to be a lot better than most of us by the time he left Richmond. I would always tell Blake [Francis] that he was going to be the difference for us when he stepped on the floor during his sit-out year. Sal [Souleymane Koureissi], Andre [Gustavson], Matt [Grace], Connor [Crabtree], those guys work so hard. The walk-ons, Gabe [Arizin], Jordan [Gaitley] and Sullivan [Kulju], probably work harder than any of us in practice. The freshmen have been great. This group of players deserves all the national attention they are getting, and I wish they got to have fans and the full experience. But regardless, I have enjoyed watching them play, there is nothing bittersweet about it.
As for me, I am not sure what is next. I have had a pretty full career. I started as a freshman, had my best individual season as a sophomore, was on a great team following a season-ending injury, and scored almost 1,200 points in three full years. A lot depends on rehab, and what I want my life to look like in a few months. Right now, I am just focused on watching the Richmond Spiders, and hopefully these guys get to have the dream season they have worked so hard to attain.