Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Article on Jason Richards from an Illinois paper

Barrington grad Richards is Davidson’s helping hand
By Adam Rittenberg
Daily Herald Sports Writer
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

When prodded about his personal exploits, Jason Richards reacts much like he does on the basketball court.

He passes it along.

Instead of taking credit, the 2004 Barrington High School product bounce-passes to his point guard lineage, outlets to his clued-in coaches and alley-oops to his Davidson College predecessor, Kenny Grant. Leave it to Richards’ dad to truly pin down the source of his success.

“Jay, since he’s been a little boy,” Tom Richards said, “has always had an instinctive grasp of how to play the game the right way.”

Instinct, more than anything, has allowed Richards to guide Davidson to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The 13th-seeded Wildcats face No. 4 seed Maryland in a first-round Midwest regional clash Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y.

Few pegged Davidson — a small liberal arts college located 19 miles north of Charlotte, N.C. — to return to the bracket this year. The Wildcats had lost Grant, Ian Johnson, Brendan Winters and four other seniors. The returning players had combined for only 30 starts.

But Richards’ instinct gave him hope for this young team.

“I knew we had the potential to be great,” he said.

Davidson followed through, winning a school-record 29 games, including the last 13. Richards ranks second nationally in assists (242) and assists per game (7.3), with many of his darts finding freshman guard Stephen Curry, who ranks 10th nationally in scoring (21.2 ppg) and set a Division I freshman record with 117 3-pointers.

Richards’ first connection with Curry happened long before the season. When Curry was a high school senior, Richards joined a Davidson assistant coach to watch one of Curry’s games at Charlotte Christian School.

“I went to see what his tendencies were,” Richards said. “I was kind of like a coach, being in the stands.”

Had Davidson’s recruiting budget allowed it, Richards would have trekked to Quebec and Maine to scout two other incoming freshmen (William Archambault and Bryant Barr). During a trip home he found time to play ball with Dan Nelms — an incoming freshman from Lake Forest — at the Joy of the Game Center in Deerfield.

When all four freshmen arrived at Davidson last summer, Richards was waiting for them.

“Playing pickup with them, talking with them, seeing what type of game styles they had, it really helped me as a point guard,” Richards said. “That’s what college basketball’s all about, adapting to new teammates and new teams.”

Richards knew plenty about the college game — and the ins and outs of his position — long before setting foot on Davidson’s campus.

His dad starred at point guard for Pittsburgh, leading the team in assists (98) in 1973-74 as the Panthers reached their first NCAA Elite Eight. His mother, Mary Beth, also played at Pitt, lettering in 1974 and 1975.

Older sister Lindsay was a McDonald’s All-American and the Daily Herald’s Cook County Player of the Year as a senior point guard for Barrington High. After claiming 11 school records, including scoring (2,182) and assists (347), Lindsay went on to Iowa, where she played only two seasons after tearing the ACL in her right knee three times.

“My whole family is point guards, so my sister knew that role, my dad knew that role,” Jason said. “What my dad knew, he passed on to my sister, and she passed it to me.”

Their approach started with intensive skills training, and Jason and Lindsay spent hours polishing their dribbling, passing, shooting and footwork. They didn’t neglect the intangibles, either.

“It’s a leadership role,” said Lindsay, 23, now working for a public-relations firm in Chicago. “It’s bringing people in huddles and making sure people know where they’re going. He (Tom) always used to tell me the point guard is an extension of your coach.”

Added Tom Richards: “You can’t be thinking about things out there. They have to be instinctive to you.”

Instinct was never Jason’s problem. Size was.

As a freshman at Barrington, he checked in generously at 5-feet-6 and 120 pounds (he’s now 6-2 and 190 pounds). But he still made the varsity squad.

“When we look at pictures of him starting as a freshman, you say to yourself, ‘How did he do that?’æ” Tom said. “But he always found a way to compete.”

Growing up with a star older sister, Jason had to. Their backyard battles were, as Lindsay puts it, “interesting.” Eventually, they couldn’t play unless dad was there to referee.

“It ended up helping both of us a great deal,” Lindsay said. “There wasn’t any girl in high school that I was going to come up against who was quicker or more physical or more talented than Jason.”


So, who usually won?

Lindsay dominated the clashes in elementary school and middle school. Then Jason began to fill out his frame.

“The tables turned drastically,” Lindsay admitted, laughing. “I still have bragging rights for a portion of his life.”

Jason ended up breaking 12 school records at Barrington, including scoring and assists, but he couldn’t escape the tag of being Lindsay’s little brother. While major-conference schools recruited Lindsay, Jason went to Davidson, which has a smaller enrollment (1,700) than Barrington High (2,784).

Even Jason’s Davidson teammates are aware of his basketball roots.

“I get the jokes all the time from guys on my team,” Jason said. “Both parents played at Pitt and my sister’s a McDonald’s All-American. They say I’m the worst one of the family.

“I beg to differ.”

Richards will be the first member of the family to appear in two NCAA Tournaments (Lindsay played with Iowa in 2004 and Tom with Pitt in 1974). His style of play also makes him stand out.

“People always say, ‘He doesn’t play anything like you,’æ” said his dad, a natural scorer who once hit a 45-foot buzzer-beater to extend Pitt’s home winning streak to 27 games. “When everybody asks about all the assists, (Jason) says, ‘I’m just making up for all the ones my dad never had.’

“He kind of carved out his own world.”

Having returned to March Madness, it’s a wonderful one.

“You never know where you’re going to end up in college,” Jason said. “Here I am, living my dream. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

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