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Richardson blossoms after freshmen season

March 29, 2001
MSU sophomore guard Jason Richardson, left, and Gonzaga forward Mike Spink watch a loose ball during the first half of the NCAA South Regional semifinal game last Friday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Richardson has thrived as a sophomore, averaging 15.4 points a game.

College basketball is filled with McDonald’s All-Americans and blue chippers that should have been great.

But when one blossoms, it’s truly something special.

As a freshman, many demand to start, demand the ball and demand the spotlight. As a result, many buckle under the pressure and fall off the basketball map.

In the case of sophomore guard Jason Richardson - a 1998-99 McDonald’s All-American and recipient of Michigan’s 1998-99 Mr. Basketball Award - the spotlight was on others, leaving him time to grow.

Richardson watched from the bench, behind 2000 First Team All-American and first-round NBA draft pick Morris Peterson, as MSU captured the 2000 NCAA Championship.

He averaged just 5.1 points and 4.1 rebounds a game in 1999-2000, but this season became his breakout year, averaging 15.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.

“He was a good player last year too,” senior forward Andre Hutson said. “He just had to wait his turn, and that’s what he did.”

MSU head coach Tom Izzo said too much is expected of freshmen in today’s basketball, adding that it creates pressure on coaches to perform and pressure to play them. However, he said Richardson was a rare case - he never asked for the spotlight.

“Here’s a guy last year who said, ‘I shouldn’t be playing yet, because I can’t do this yet and I can’t do that yet,’” Izzo said. “If there were more guys like him around we’d all be better off.”

The wait paid off, and Richardson is a Second Team All-American and a candidate for the John R. Wooden Award - an honor for the most outstanding men’s collegiate basketball player.

“It’s different, especially in tournament time,” Richardson said of his new role as MSU’s leading scorer. “I’m still kind of struggling, like a freshman coming into his first game, but I’m getting better every game.

“I’ve got to fight through it and play basketball. It’s a role I can adjust to quickly.”

Last summer Richardson worked relentlessly to improve his overall game. He said seeing the work pay off this season has just provided more motivation to continue improving.

“I just love to work on my game,” he said. “I’m the type of person who wants to prove to people I can do more than just dunking.

“Every summer I get a chance to work out, it pays off during the regular season. The more it continues to pay off, the more I’m going to be in the gym.”

Hutson said Richardson’s tireless work ethic doesn’t stop in the regular season. He said Richardson is always in the gym working on something he wasn’t pleased with in the last game.

“When you work on your game it really builds confidence to go out there and play against anybody,” Hutson said. “If he has a bad game shooting free throws, he’ll go in and shoot 200 free throws.”

Richardson said basketball is fun, but added he also looks at it as a way to help his family. He said his mother worked hard as a single parent when he was growing up, and he’d like nothing better than to take care of her.

“I might not want to, I might be dead tired, but I just think about my daughter and my mother and it gets me up and to the gym,” he said. “I just know that if I’m in the gym concentrating I can help a lot of people in my family.

“I think I came a long ways from where I was last year. This is a step, but I still have a long ways to go.”


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