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The 21st Greatest Basketball Program In The South: Richmond Spiders

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on October 16, 2007


Richmond Spiders

Location: Richmond, Virginia

Nickname: Spiders

Reason For Nickname: In 1893, a baseball team comprised of Richmond students and city residents adopted the nickname because of the success of star pitcher Puss Ellyson, who according to news reports, had “arms like spiders”.

Arena: Robins Center (built 1972, capacity 9,105)  

Colors: Richmond Blue and Richmond Red

Conference: Atlantic 10

Richmond’s Best: The Spiders began playing basketball in 1913 and for much of their history, save for back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1952-53 and 1953-54 under the direction of coach H. Lester Hooker, was absymal when it came to basketball. It would not be until the arrival of Dick Tarrant in 1981 when the Spiders would become relevant in basketball, coaching the Spiders to their first postseason trip to the NIT in 1982. Tarrant would later coach the Spiders to some of its greatest moments in basketball, including upsets of a Charles Barkley-led Auburn squad in the 1984 NCAA Tournament and a win over #2 seed Syracuse in 1991, still considered as one of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.

Postseason Appearances: In 94 years of basketball, the Spiders have 14 postseason appearances. The Spiders have played in the NCAA Tournaments seven times with appearances coming in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1998, and 2004. In those seven appearances in the Big Dance, the Spiders have a 6-7 record and an appearance in the 1988 Sweet Sixteen where they lost to Temple. Along with the seven appearances in the NCAA Tournament, the Spiders have seven NIT appearances with those appearances coming in 1982, 1985, 1989, 1992, 2001, 2002, and 2003 with only one trip past the second round, a quarterfinal appearance in 2002 against Syracuse.

Coaching Legacy: Richmond has been the stepping stone for some of college basketball’s biggest coaching names. Prior to his stint at West Virginia, John Beilien took the Spiders to a 100-53 record and three postseason appearances plus a CAA regular season championship in 2001. He would be followed by Jerry Wainwight, who in turn took the Spiders to a 50-41 ledger in three seasons and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2004 where they lost to Wisconsin in the first round.

Big Man On Campus: Richmond’s most notable player in its history is former NBA standout Johnny Newman, who currently is the all-time leader in career points with 2,383. Newman led the program to some of its early successes on the hardwood in the 1980’s, most notably the 1984 NCAA Tournament when Richmond upended Auburn for their first NCAA Tournament win in school history.

Rivalries: During their days in the CAA, Richmond had healthy rivalries with Old Dominion, James Madison, and Delaware. But the biggest rival for the Spiders is the crosstown Virginia Commonwealth Rams, who has also had similar if not more success over the last 25 years in basketball.

Did You Know?: Richmond is the only school to ever win a game as the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th seeds in NCAA Tournament history.


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