Move to Richmond paying off for T.J. Cline

The rumors began to fly on Twitter in the spring of 2013. And unlike some Twitter rumors, this one turned out to be true: Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich would be leaving to become the new head coach at Hofstra.

“We were all very happy for him. He is an unbelievable coach and an unbelievable guy,” T.J. Cline said of Mihalich, whom he considers a mentor.

Cline later met with new Niagara head coach Chris Casey but “there was a feeling” he would not be in the right place even though he made the MAAC All-Rookie team there.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do. I called my parents in a frenzy,” said Cline, whose only Division I offers out of high school were to the Air Force and Niagara.

His mother was certainly a good advisor. She is Nancy Lieberman, a Brooklyn native who played college at Old Dominion and is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. She became the second woman assistant coach in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings. She might know a thing or two about the game.

Cline was contacted by Richmond associate head coach Rob Jones, then made visits to Richmond and Charlotte but called off trips to Boise State and Nevada the day he committed to the Spiders.

That was good news to Richmond head coach Chris Mooney, a Princeton graduate who became the head coach of the Spiders in 2005.

Mooney gives a lot of credit to Mihalich, who was able to lure Cline from his Texas high school to upstate New York. When it was time for Cline to transfer, Richmond also had a geographical tie to the family.

“Nancy is such a big deal in Virginia,” Mooney said of Lieberman, who played college hoops in Norfolk.

The 6-9 Cline has certainly thrived in his three seasons at Richmond, which improved to 3-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference with a win at George Washington on Sunday. Cline had 19 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists in 31 minutes in the 77-70 win.

He averaged 11.8 points per game as a redshirt sophomore in 2014-15 and then averaged 18.3 points and 5.2 rebounds with a team-high 122 assists in the Princeton offense last season as a junior.

“It is the third or fourth game he has flirted with a triple-double,” said Mooney, standing in the basement of the Smith Center a few blocks from the White House. “He is a great player. He can do so many things well.”

GW was paced by Tyler Cavanaugh, a former Wake Forest player who had 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists. “He is a great player,” Cline said. “I have tremendous respect for his game. I think he is going to continue to be great this year. You have to look at it as Richmond versus GW and not an individual matchup. We want to win together.”

Richmond was 9-6 overall going into a home game on Wednesday against St. Bonaventure. ShawnDre’ Jones, a guard, is another senior starter for the Spiders. Richmond will host George Mason Jan. 22 on ASN.

“Jones and Cline are veteran guys,” Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt said Monday. “They are doing what they need to do. They are playing well together.”

And Cline certainly knows the game well, growing up around a legend.

Cline said he communicates with his mother twice a day, and she gives him basic pointers before each game. “I would say 15 percent of the conversation is basketball,” Cline said. “I could not be more proud of her. I am so blessed to have her as my mom. It is just another milestone she has overcome” to coach in the NBA.

David Driver is a free-lance writer based in Cheverly, Md. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonVaDriver.

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