Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Player Profiles: #2 Jason Richards

This series of player profiles begins with perhaps the most underrated and overrated player on this team: Jason Richards. Richards came to Davidson as a highly touted point guard out of Illinois. He made up a third of one of the most important recruiting classes in recent Davidson basketball history. Yet, if you were to watch practices throughout Richards’ freshman year, you never would have thought that this guy would eventually become one of the top assist men in Davidson history.

Richards was often unfocused during his freshman campaign, and the Davidson coaching staff’s tough-as-nails approach often drove Richards into sloppy mistakes. Despite his unlimited potential, Richards struggled to operate within Davidson’s schemes and he saw very little action in his first season.

With all of the Wildcat backcourt returning for his sophomore season, there seemed to be little hope of Richards seeing greatly increased court time. However, the 6-2 point guard stayed around Davidson during the summer and worked on focusing his game and proving his worth. By the beginning of the 2005-2006 season, Richards was an invaluable backup to the foul-proned Kenny Grant.

Richards really stepped into the limelight during a holiday game against St. Joseph’s. Despite having to leave the court mid-game because of food poisoning, Richards poured in a career-high 13 points in only 11 minutes of play after Kenny Grant fouled out. Eight of his points came in the overtime period, including a steal and transition three-point play that put Davidson up for good. Richards showed why he would later become one of the team’s core floor leaders and Charlotte Observer beat writer Kevin Cary’s favorite player.

Richards completed his sophomore season in impressive style, effectively backing up Kenny Grant and finishing with 92 assists against only 42 turnovers. His ability to stay calm in pressure situations was still in question, however, after Richards gave up several key turnovers in the second half of Davidson’s seven point loss to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament.

However, with Kenny Grant graduated, Richards returned for his junior season with high expectations. He went on to set a school record for most assists in a season (249) and finished second in the nation in average assists per game (7.32). Hardcore Davidson fans around the region credited Richards with being the offensive and defensive cornerstone of Davidson’s record-breaking success. It was even obvious to ESPN and CBS announcers that Davidson suffered more when Jason Richards was riding the bench than when Stephen Curry took a breather.

Yet despite all of the accolades, Richards was never the flashy superstar of this team. Some of his biggest plays during the season came when he was knocked to the floor after aggressively driving to the hole. Commentators were always surprised with Richards’ “deceptive speed,” which was just their euphemism for saying that a white player was beating his black defender down the court. Even all of the praise and admiration of his own fan base could not make Richards’ national image correspond to his superstar numbers.

“I don’t care if other people are getting attention or I’m getting attention,” said Richards after a home game. “I like being to play my style of basketball no matter how it looks.”

If Richards continues to play his style of basketball next year, he could go down as one of the best point guards in Davidson history. His numbers could reach astronomical levels in national rankings, and yet Richards doesn’t care if he isn’t a household name around the region. He’s got two NCAA tournament losses to avenge, and he wants to be the first Davidson point guard in over 35 years to lead the Wildcats back into the winner’s circle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice write-up. Another in a long line of excellent McKillop-coached point guards. Where do you think he ranks among the bunch?

I've seen 'em all, and I put him at the top. Right above Ali Ton and then Alpert.