There’s a funny story about a very scrawny Josh Richardson showing up for a recruiting visit to Tennessee in skinny jeans and glasses with no lenses. The hipster from Oklahoma looked more like the younger brother of a recruit than someone who deserved a scholarship.
But looks can be deceiving, and Richardson on Thursday night became the 46th Vol drafted into the NBA.
There’s an event in between worth mentioning.
After Richardson had grown into the defensive specialist Jordan McRae hated to play against every day at practice, but before he became the face of the program, there was an important meeting in former UT coach Cuonzo Martin’s office. Martin, now at Cal, told Richardson the team needed more.
The Vols were attempting to save a season that nearly derailed after a loss to lowly Texas A&M dropped their record to 16-11 and 7-7 in the SEC. The regular season had ended and the conference tournament was approaching. Thoughts of the NBA draft were threatening to distract key players. It was time for the easygoing, often-goofy Richardson to assume more of a leadership role. Period.
If Richardson wanted to run and complain to his parents — he didn’t — he would have gotten the same message.
“He doesn’t even know this, but I guess I can reveal this now,” Martin said Friday. “I called his mom and dad to say I need their help to push him to be a leader. I was going to challenge him more. He accepted that challenge … It wasn’t a case of the talent. He always had the talent. It was a matter of him understanding of what we needed him to be.”
Micheal Richardson, Josh’s father, and Martin had known one another since Martin offered his son, then a three-star prospect, a scholarship to Missouri State. He agreed.
“Josh had always been an informal leader on the team,” Micheal Richardson said Friday. “He (Martin) gave him that formal leadership role. He came out and said, ‘Josh is one of our leaders.'”
A day after seeing his son receive the phone call from Miami Heat president Pat Riley, Micheal Richardson says that meeting Josh Richardson had with Martin is still significant.
“I think that was a turning point,” Micheal Richardson said. “It gave him that confidence.”
Josh Richardson continued to wreak havoc on defense but started to look like a different player at the other end. He averaged 19.3 points per game during UT’s surprise Sweet 16 run. He became more vocal in huddles and timeouts.
Like many others, I wondered: Was this was the new Josh Richardson or just a March mirage? Dad didn’t have any doubts.
“I wasn’t concerned because Josh, at that point, after the tournament, he just said, ‘Man I can do this,'” Micheal Richardson said. “And he never looked back. Coach (Donnie) Tyndall came in and basically put the ball in his hands, and that was great, too.”
Tyndall deserves credit as well. He helped Josh Richardson grow his offensive game, showing him how to create separation and find his shot. He poured confidence into his new star and designed around him.
Tyndall quickly realized Josh Richardson’s potential. By then, so did Josh Richardson. He was ready to lead, and he thrived. Thanks in part to the meeting with Martin that helped start his rise.