Richardson's On Top Again

Nolan Richardson was officially elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball on Monday, prompting Hawgs Illustrated basketball editor Dudley E. Dawson to remember handing him the keys to his new Razorback office back in 1985.

Almost 30 years ago, a new University of Arkansas basketball coach was named and came walking up the stairs toward me at Barnhill Arena.

I was standing there with the keys to his office, one that fellow manager Kenneth "Boo" Roth and I had just finished cleaning up for the new arrival.

It was symbolic as the two of us had just given the office a make over – something the basketball program was about to experience as well with the transition from Eddie Sutton to Nolan Richardson.

I was certainly aware of the name – albeit I didn't know his full story, one that the entire state would come to learn was full of both triumph and tragedy.

Those life experiences made Coach Richardson the man he is – a great one who is mix of kind, caring and pure fight.

He's always said that if he was ever in a fight with a bear, help the bear.

Truth be told, the noted animal lover would be the first one to help the bear up and get him back on the right path - something he has done with so many young men.

On Monday, Coach Richardson was named one of the newest members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The newest class – which also features players Alonzo Mourning and Mitch Richmond, former Maryland head coach Gary Williams and Immaculata University's AIAW national championship teams of the 1970s – will be officially inducted in Springfield, Mass., on August 8.

It seems appropriate that the announcement comes just a few days after the 20th anniversary of Richardson leading the Razorbacks to the 1994 NCAA Championship.

It's a great honor and well-deserved, just as was Coach Sutton's induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame back in 2011.

But I will always look at Nolan Richardson as a great man who just happens to be a coach – albeit one that 508-206 as a college coach, including 389-169 at Arkansas.

While he may have a rough and gruff exterior, the man also has a heart of gold.

There are so many things that he did during his tenure – and continues to do to this day – that have made this state a better place.

You might know of some, but I guarantee that you don't know 90 percent of it because that is the way he wants it.

While he wanted credit for his basketball program, his players and adopted state, he did not – and still does not - crave attention for his many good deeds.

Most probably know he started a charitable foundation in honor of his late daughter Yvonne, who died at age 15 from leukemia and was the one who actually talked him in to taking the Arkansas job.

That foundation has now donated in excess of $1.4 million to worthy causes, including scholarships in honor of former players who have also passed.

He also has watched his son – Nolan "Notes" Richardson III - pass in 2012.

No parent should have to watch their child go before them and – while I lost a wife 13 years ago to cancer – I can't even imagine the pain that one would go through with the loss of kids.

Still he gives and he gives and he gives.

"I've always enjoyed giving back to those who are less fortunate," Richardson said during a recent interview. "To me, the givers are the gatekeepers of the world. It's the givers, not the takers."

It ended badly as a strained relationship with former athletic director Frank Broyles resulted in a firing that Richardson basically asked for and a lawsuit that tarnished his image with some.

But thankfully, time has healed some wounds and Coach Richardson is once again a face on the Arkansas scene as his protégé' Mike Anderson has taken over the Razorbacks.

I sincerely hope this is not the last honor that Coach Richardson gets and I am sure it won't be.

In my mind, it is time to name the court in his honor just as Oklahoma State has done for Coach Sutton, who was also nominated for the Naismith Hall of Fame this season.

It was an absolute joy to see both of these Hall of Famers on the court this past March as Arkansas hosted a Celebration of Champions.

The event, which also featured former President Bill Clinton, was a special moment as a remembrance of the program's six Final Four clubs of the past and a nod to what could be in the future.

"I want to thank Nolan Richardson for not only teaching us 40 minutes of Hell, but be willing to go through hell," Clinton said.

The joy on Coach Richardson's face was very evident and it was as feel good a moment as the Razorback fans have had in awhile.

"I only want to be remembered – if I get to the Kingdom of Heaven – with how many lives I touched," Richardson said. "I love touching the lives of the youngsters I got to touch and hopefully and hopefully I gave some positive to them.

"I am just glad the good man gave me 40 years in coaching in and having the opportunity to win as many games as I was able to win and to win – on every level – a championship," Richardson said. "Because that just doesn't happen every day."

Nolan Richardson, Bill Clinton

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