Dec. 29, 2011
By Matt Magill
With less than two minutes to play in overtime and Tennessee trailing by just one point, Josh Richardson caught a pass on the right wing with a Memphis defender right in his face.
Instead of passing the ball to a more experienced player, Richardson coolly buried a 3-pointer.
Unlike most true freshmen, Richardson didn't jump up and down in celebration, but put his head down and ran back on defense. The next possession, he recorded a block. It's Richardson's maturity that separates him from most true freshmen. UT head coach Cuonzo Martin trusts the 18-year-old Richardson to play crucial minutes in against a top-10 team in overtime on national television.
"It makes me feel good that he would trust me like that," Richardson said of his performance at the recent Maui Invitational. "Coming in to the year, I didn't know what to expect, but Coach Martin has helped me to mature a lot." For Richardson, the process of earning Martin's trust started long before he set foot on campus or even met Martin.
"I try to play as hard as I can every day," Richardson said. "When I was younger, I was short and I didn't really have anything that made me stick out. My parents always told me that if I played hard I would earn my time on the court. I took that to heart."
Despite working hard his whole life, Richardson wasn't automatically handed minutes upon his arrival on Rocky Top. He first needed to improve numerous facets of his game, including his size.
"At my highest, I was about 195 pounds--and I came in at 176 when I got to UT," Richardson said. "I've put on about 19 pounds of muscle since then. I don't think you can play at this level being as thin as I was. I got pushed around every day. I have to pick my spots a lot differently. I've worked on quickness a lot. I've gotten a lot better at shooting and my defense has improved a lot, too. Just knowing where to be on the court helps. Coach Martin has really helped me in those regards."
While his own game needed improvement, Richardson also wasn't afraid to step up and help others.
"Coming in, some people write you off because you're a freshman," Richardson said. "But lots of people just figured I can help us out. It kind of made people respect me more and listen to what I'm talking about. When I'm on the court, I feel comfortable talking to guys about picking it up. And if someone needs a boost, that's me. "I feel like I've still got a ways to go, but I feel like I'm in a good place right now."