Former Florida Gators forward/center Chris Richard is a busy man. Entering his fourth season of playing professional basketball, Richard just returned from summer league action and was in his hometown of Lakeland, FL, when OGGOA caught up with him for an exclusive interview covering his college career, professional future and charitable efforts.
Though he is headed back to Chicago soon to workout and attempt to earn a contract, Richard has been concentrating on getting his foundation, The Rich Kids Project, off the ground.
Designed to help and provide opportunities for underprivileged and at-risk youth in the Polk County area, the organization aims at assisting children financially while, at the same time, ensuring that they are building a foundation for their future. “I want to teach substance and individuality through education, arts and just basic knowledge,” Richard told us. And even though the charity is based in Lakeland, he hopes it can grow big over time – with your help. More information on Richard’s charity will be available in the future.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Coming out of high school as Mr. Basketball in the state of Florida, you chose to sign with the Gators. What other schools were you considering and why did you end up picking Florida?
CHRIS RICHARD: “At the time I came out of high school, I could have went to just about any school in the country. I got recruited by everybody from North Carolina to Maryland to Indiana … all of the Florida schools. I only wanted to go to Florida. Growing up, once I got into basketball and once I got into sports, for whatever reason, Florida just stood out to me. I was a big Florida basketball fan. I grew up kind of liking Florida State and Miami football-wise. I [also] have family that actually lives in Alachua, outside of Gainesville, so going up there every summer – it kind of grew on me. I chose [Florida] over Florida State and Alabama.”
AS: You did get some playing time early on in your Gators career, but last two years is when your role increased. Losing its three top veterans, the team was significantly underrated going into the 2005-06 season. At what point did you guys realize that you had something special going on?
CR: “You know what, honestly, I know it sounds cliché and everybody says it, but once we got together that summer … Everybody went home for summer break and we came back to start working out for the season, and once we got back and started playing with each other, that was our first time playing together without David [Lee], Matt [Walsh] and Peep [Anthony Roberson]. So we never really saw what each person was capable of doing because everybody’s role was a little bit different that previous year. Just coming in and playing pick up, it was just a lot different. And we saw that on any given night that it can be anybody’s night. So we kind of took that and kind of embraced that and thought it was an advantage for us because we knew that we didn’t have any selfishness on the team. So nobody minded playing backseat … everybody just helped each other and kept it going.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Chris Richard…after the break!
AS: Also quite underrated was Adrian Moss and the role he played on that team when it comes to that season and his senior leadership.
CR: “I think Adrian is underrated overall – from what he is as a basketball player, his role on the team and all of that. People actually forget about him when talking about the National Championship team sometimes. Not the players, but people in general. Adrian, he was that guy on our team – he was the glue guy. He was our glue guy. He didn’t mind doing anything. He took charges. The rest of us tried to – we weren’t any good at it. He took charges, he dove for loose balls, he rebounded, some games he was able to stretch out the defenses, knock down open shots. He was very valuable to us. It didn’t seem like he was vocal on the court sometimes, but behind closed doors, he was one of the guys that stepped in and stepped up when it was time for him to. When we lost to [Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama], he was one of the guys who stepped up and said we had to be accountable. It worked. He’s very underrated.”
AS: Obviously you had plenty of success with the Gators, but for the most part you were the team’s sixth man behind Al Horford and Joakim Noah. Was it tough having them come back and not get a bigger role on the team after the title? Were they seriously considering leaving, or were they always going to come back to play?
CR: “I wasn’t sure what was happening with that the whole time. I knew that some of the guys wanted to leave, some of the guys wanted to stay at different points after the season. At the end of the day, I was happy with whatever move that whoever made because I felt like there was a personal reason for why they were making that move. I couldn’t do anything else but accept it and be happy for them. All of us were – are to this day – good friends and we still talk. I would have been happy for anybody who chose to leave, but at the same time I am glad everybody came back who was eligible. It obviously worked out great for us. I think it definitely helped everybody the second year, in some way, other than winning that championship. It definitely helped each player. I think it was definitely a great move for all those guys to come back.”
AS: Now we talked about Adrian and how underrated he was in 2005-06, but truth be told, you were just as underrated then and perhaps even more so 2006-07. You did get more minutes and saw more action, but you also shot 70 percent off of the bench and never let the team fall behind offensively or defensively. In fact, you could say Florida had a starting six. Was it tough for you to deal with not starting or getting a majority of the minutes especially considering how dynamic you were off the bench?
CR: “[Laughing] Coming out of high school…it’s funny that you bring that up…coming out of high school I was the best player in my area. I was the first player to win Mr. Florida, Gatorade [Florida High School Boys Basketball Player of the Year], all that stuff in my area. So it was just naturally, being one of the better players on my team, the ball went to me a lot. I played hard and did all the right things I was supposed to do. Going to college, my freshman year, I didn’t really realize … I knew it was a different world, but I didn’t realize how it was at the time until I got there. In my head, I was still the best player, just coming form my high school and my area. My first day of college, I soon realized that everybody can jump, everybody can shoot, block shots, everybody is fast – all of that stuff. I learned that I wasn’t the best player on the court anymore; I had to actually start doing some work.
“It was kind of tough for me in the beginning, my first year in particular – my freshman year – because I didn’t really play as much as I wanted to play. Naturally, any player coming in would feel some frustration there. I didn’t play as much as I wanted to, and that kind of affected me in a way. I think it is a good thing that everything worked out the way it did. … My freshman year, I didn’t play a whole lot, I played some. Each year I played a little bit more. As the years went on, I think I kind of just figured out that I just have to accept the role that I have. I’m not the same guy that I was in high school. I just have to accept the role that I have and try to be the best player at whatever it is the coach wants me to be. Whatever he wants me to do, I have to just embrace it and be the best at that and don’t look at what everybody else is doing and don’t try to compare myself to this person or that person because it will never equal out.
“I learned early, if I want to play, I just have to be one of the hardest workers and one of the energy guys and just go play and try to be effective. Once I figured that out, everything else started to come easier – the whole game changed drastically for me. My last two years, it wasn’t hard at all or anything – with Jo or Al leaving or staying – because, selfishly, they helped me. I don’t know what the year would have been like if they had left. Anything could have happened – it could have been better, or it could have been worse. Realistically, I’m content with how everything worked out.”
AS: You have definitely had some great games with Florida, but probably one of your best was in the national semifinals against UCLA when you posted 16 points and were perfect 7-7 from the field. Is that the best you played in the orange and blue?
CR: “That certainly was one of my best games. I didn’t score a whole lot – get the ball a whole lot. But when I did, I was pretty effective. I think that was a pretty good game, one of the Tennessee games maybe my junior year at home [14 points, 7-7 from the field], it was something similar to UCLA but all in the first half. I think that may have been one of my better games that I can remember.”
AS: What is it like playing for Billy Donovan? Do you still keep in touch with him?
CR: “Yeah, we speak all the time. To this day, I think he’s – if not the best – one of the best coaches I’ve had so far. He’s a player’s coach. There wasn’t a time in practice when he put in a play … Say for instance he put in a play, and we didn’t really like it or we didn’t really think it would be useful or there was something we didn’t get about the play… He was open enough to allow us to ask him about what it was we didn’t like about it, or small things like that make a difference on a team because we are the ones who are playing and we are the ones who are on the court. Sometimes there was something he may have put in at practice that we didn’t necessarily agree with and sometimes he would change, or most times he knew more than we did and kept it the same. That’s one of the things all of us liked most about him: he was pretty fair. Coach was pretty fair to the players. That’s another great quality you have to appreciate in a coach. He’s a hard worker, too. To have him as our leader…as hard of a worker as he is…brought the best out of us every night. Every practice, every game, every scrimmage, everything that we did he knew how to get the best out of us because of the passion that he had for the game. He wanted to be successful too. He’s a competitor just like all of us. In that sense, he knew how to bring the best out of us. Those are all of the attributes I like in a coach, and that was pretty successful for us.”
AS: When you all left, he took the Orlando Magic job for a few days before coming back to Gainesville, FL. Now that you have been in the NBA and played for a number of successful professional coaches, how do you think Billy D would have fared in the NBA?
CR: “It’s tough to say because it’s different; it’s a completely different game. It’s a lot faster than it looks on TV. I think he would have been pretty successful, because coach is a pretty smart coach, and he would pick up on things pretty fast – especially on the offensive end. I think he would have been fine.”
AS: Graduating as a senior, you were drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Timberwolves along with Corey Brewer. Were you happy to be selected by the same team and play with such a close friend?
CR: “I thought it was one of the best things that could happen to anybody getting drafted – especially with both of us moving far away from where we are originally from. It was my first time out of the state to live, he kind of had a little experience in that coming to UF from Tennessee. It was a great experience for both of us, especially as rookies, to learn the city together and learn the game – the NBA game – together. To kind of have somebody that we can trust in and confide in whenever something happened, whether on the team or personally, [was nice]. We lived kind of off of each other, so if anything ever came up, it was great for us because we caw each other every day in practice and games and everywhere we went. Naturally, because we knew each other from playing at UF, we automatically picked up where we left off and it worked out pretty good for us.”
AS: The next year, you were picked No. 1 overall in the NBAD-League Draft by the Tulsa 66ers. Was there a sense of pride in being so coveted even though it was in the D-league?
CR: “You know what, I don’t think that I really looked at it like that at the time. Now, looking back, I kind of appreciate it maybe. Even though it is the D-league… For whatever it is – any draft, anything that you do in life – if you are the first choice for a person, I personally think that is an accomplishment in its own. That’s saying the person had a lot of respect for you and they think pretty highly of you. So in that sense, yes, looking back on it now. But at first, I didn’t see it as that. I only saw it as me getting cut and still getting over that. I didn’t really see it then like I see it now.”
AS: Do you feel your time there helped you work your way back to the pros?
CR: “Personally, I would have hoped that I was in the league the whole time, I felt like I could have been there. But the reality of it was that I wasn’t, so I had to just take advantage of the situation I was in at the time. And I think it really did help. I think that, as far as offensively, it helped. It helped just playing-wise because, playing down there, you play a lot more than you play in the NBA games. So it helped me just be a little more comfortable and a little more confident in [my] game and just playing in general instead of practicing and just sitting on the bench or working out. So I think it actually did help.”
AS: The Chicago Bulls signed you last year as a replacement after another former teammate, Noah, got injured. Was that a bittersweet feeling?
CR: “No. [Laughing] It was all sweet for me. Chicago was pretty honest with me from the start. I went in last year before preseason, maybe around this time or so, just to work out with Joakim for a few weeks and go from there. But it turned into [the Bulls] talking about me coming to training camp in Chicago, and it actually came up and we spoke about it. They wouldn’t guarantee me anything and kept telling me it would be a long shot for me to make the team – but it wasn’t impossible. I said, ‘OK, well, I have a chance. All I can do is give my best.’ And I did that. At the end of the day, the GM told me they only wanted to keep 13 on the roster, and I knew that going in. I ended up going back to the D-league and they brought me back a few weeks after that, after Joakim got hurt. I was glad to see that I was the first person that they thought of once that happened. So I just have to be thankful for that.”
AS: I know you competed in the summer league this year…I think it was your fourth time. How did things go and what is your outlook for this season?
CR: “I think summer league went pretty well. At this stage in my career, summer league for me is more like a showcase because I’m a free agent. A showcase for other teams to see if somebody else is interested or to show the Bulls organization that I am here and I’m committed to being here. There’s definitely a lot I can learn in the game, and I’m nowhere near where I could be and where I think I will be once I’m finished whenever that is. … It definitely helped for exposure.”
AS: So if there is a team out there considering bringing you on, what do you say to them? What is your pitch? Why do you deserve a roster spot?
CR: “I think I’m a lot better player overall than people may think that I am. I think that, over the years, I’ve learned to embrace the role that I’ve been given. I make the best out of the situations I’m in by being the best roleplayer – whatever role that is that I have at the time – I have to be the best roleplayer in that role to play. I don’t really get involved in, ‘I didn’t get a shot’ or “I didn’t have this many points tonight’ or ‘How come coach is doing this for him?’ I don’t really get involved in all that stuff, because at the end of the day, that’s not what I’m here to do and that’s not my business. I just have to come in and be the best me that I can be and try to fulfill my role and be the best player I can be on the team.”