The men’s basketball season opener was a night of both looking back and keeping an eye toward the future.

Prior to tip off, the Richmond Spiders celebrated their winning 2011 season by unveiling stadium banners for the Atlantic 10 Conference championship and the NCAA Sweet 16. Team members also received tournament rings, which were presented by special guests from the 1988 team — the last Spiders to experience Sweet 16 success.

The returning team wasn’t just in attendance to recognize today’s players, though. Nearly 25 years after the Spiders’ inaugural run to the Sweet 16, they were presented with their own rings in recognition of their appearance.

“It was really exciting,” says former guard Eric English. “Seeing all the old guys, just getting together and reminiscing about old times — I appreciate that the University could do that for us.”

The night was “surreal,” according to Kenny Atkinson, former point guard. “This is my first time back in 23 years and the changes that have gone on here — the football field, the stadium — it’s unreal. Beyond expectations.”

The newest team of Spiders also had cause to celebrate. Richmond defeated American University 65-56. Freshman Kendall Anthony — now known as “KA3” following Atkinson and 2011’s Kevin Anderson — scored 20 points in his collegiate debut, earning Rookie of the Week designation in the A-10. Anthony is the first Spider to score 20 or more points in their collegiate debut since John Telepo scored 21 in a loss at Virginia on Dec. 4, 1961.

The debut was a welcome one as the young team looks ahead to a season without former standouts Anderson and Justin Harper.

“We’re pleased with the win, and I think we can make some improvements as we go on,” says Coach Chris Mooney. “We don’t have as much experience as before, [but] we have good guard play. I think that’s a real bonus for us, but it’s going to take a little time to find out who we are.”

They do have a vote of confidence from Atkinson. “I’m really impressed with the level of talent,” he says. “The University and the basketball team really raised their level. It’s pretty exciting what’s going on here.”