Richard embodies Gators' team spirit


Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:48 p.m.

ATLANTA — He came to Gainesville as a big-time recruit, Mr. Basketball in the state of Florida. Four years later, Chris Richard is still a role player.

But along the way in this NCAA Tournament, Richard has become the x-factor for the Gators.

And perhaps never more than tonight.

With 7-foot center Greg Oden leading Ohio State into the title game, Richard knows he'll play significant minutes off the bench. He has been a luxury for Billy Donovan, a post player who can spell Al Horford or Joakim Noah and also be on the floor when Florida goes with three big men.

“He's another presence you have to worry about,” Oden said Sunday.

Especially in this tournament.

In five games, Richard has played so well announcers might have to learn his name instead of calling him Cliff Richards or Chris Richards. He has made an astounding 19-of-21 shots from the field.

“Pretty amazing, huh?” Horford said.

Richard has played more games than any Gator in history, a testament to his durability. That he has played so effectively is a testament to his talent.

He was named the SEC's sixth man of the year this season, but for a player so heralded out of high school, four career starts is not what he had in mind when he arrived at UF.

“I'm sure it was tough for him,” Joakim Noah said. “He has sacrificed so much for this team. I'm sure guys have talked to him about how he has to transfer, but he's a winner. He realizes one person is not going to win a championship.

“Florida people know his journey. He's a great person to be around. He's a clown. And he's been a beast out there.”

We've seen that so many times in this modern world of college sports, where a player who doesn't get touches or shots or minutes leaves for greener pastures. We saw it last year with David Huertas.

We've seen it with college quarterbacks who give a school a year to make them the starter and then leave when they don't get their way. Transfers are a way of life in college sports these days.

It was never the way Chris Richard wanted to go.

“It doesn't matter because we're winning,” Richard said. “I'm not caught up in myself.”

For opposing teams, when Richard comes into the game there has to be a sigh of relief that either Horford or Noah or even Corey Brewer is out of the game. But Richard has been a big part of Florida's run this season, averaging nine points and four rebounds while playing an average of 19 minutes in the tournament.

It wasn't that way earlier in the season when Donovan showed Richard a video of his good plays and bad plays.

“I think it was right before the Mississippi State game,” Richard said. “I thought I was doing OK. But after watching that video, I realized I wasn't doing good at all. I was doing everything bad.

“And my mom was getting after me after every game.”

But after his 7-for-7 performance in the Final Four against UCLA?

“She was happy,” Richard said. “That might have been as happy as I've seen her since we won the championship.”

In a lot of ways, Richard is representative of this special team. He has embraced his role rather than push it away with a sulk and a glare. It takes more than five starters to make a champion, more than the celebrated players to stay alive in the tournament.

“That's the thing I've always respected about Chris,“ said Donovan. “He's always played his role of how he can help our team the best. I've never had a situation with these guys or even Chris Richard where they say, 'Coach, I need more touches. Coach, I need more minutes.' It's always been about our team.

“Chris has really been able to gather that concept and help our frontcourt and give us great depth.”

Tonight will be his last game as a Florida Gator. He wants to go out a winner.

He already has shown that he is.

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