Basketball player Grant Golden reaches for the ball at the opening tip off


'Super seniors' tip off together

The Spiders are one of four men’s basketball teams with four or more “super seniors,” so-called because of a COVID-19-related extra year of NCAA eligibility. It wasn’t a given they’d all be back.

When he steps to the center circle for a game-opening tipoff, forward Grant Golden has something particular on his mind. “I try to soak in the moment and remember how lucky I am to be here,” he said.

At this season’s opening tipoff, he had reason to feel the luckiest he’s ever felt. Nathan Cayo, Nick Sherod, and Jacob Gilyard were with him on the court as starters. All four were granted an extra year of eligibility due to the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Any of them could have pursued a lucrative contract to play professionally this year. Instead, they all returned to Richmond for one more season.

Their bonus season together started on a Tuesday night in November in the Robins Center against North Carolina Central. When the referee blew the whistle and tossed up the ball, Golden outjumped his opponent and tipped it to Cayo, as he’s done so many times before.

“We’re more than teammates,” Cayo said. “We’re like brothers.”

Head coach Chris Mooney has been with these four players for years, but he didn’t want to pressure them to come back. Any season is long and hard, and the players had opportunities they needed to consider. In fact, when Mooney and the other coaches met to talk about the extra eligibility year, they agreed not to mention it to the players. Mooney was “overjoyed and humbled,” he said, when they all came back on their own.

Jacob Gilyard came to him first. Returning meant the chance for him to break the NCAA career record for most steals (more on that here). On opening night against NC Central, he played every second and tied his career high of seven steals in one game.

“I’m always looking at the ball, seeing where it’s going, anticipating,” he said. “I feel like if you know where the ball’s going to go, you have a lot better chance.” He was talking about stealing, but it’s a pretty good philosophy for life, too.

Sherod thought he was done with basketball after a preseason knee injury in fall 2020. But after months of reflection, he decided to go all in for one last season.

“You don’t get many times to get to do something like this over again with the people that you care about and love,” he said. “It’s truly amazing.”

When Cayo heard his teammates were coming back for another season, he knew he had to join them.

“I just felt like we were pretty much robbed like a year and a half,” he said. “And with the other guys coming back, I felt like it was a great opportunity to do something special.”

Golden agreed. Last season didn’t end the way he wanted it to, so he couldn’t pass up a big return.

“The idea of being able to come back, play with my best friends for one more year — that’s something that just can never be taken away from you,” Golden said. “So I just want to try and give it one more shot.”