Richardson Returns To Coaching

FAYETTEVILLE -- Former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson is returning to the game after a three-year absence.

Richardson agreed this week to become head coach of Panama's national team beginning Aug. 7. The team opens Aug. 12-21 in the Bolivarian Games and trials already are under way in Columbia.

"From talking to the president over there, they don't really have all the players in place," said Richardson, who will coach former Razorback Dionisio Gomez (2000-03) on the team. "But that's what makes this so intriguing. Sometimes having less talent makes it so much more harder for you, but we're going to go over there and see if we can still run some 40 minutes of hell."

From Bolivia, it's on to the Dominican Republic for the 2005 Americas Championship, a 2006 FIBA (the governing body for basketball world wide) World Championship qualifier.

Adding World Championship to a record that already includes an NCAA Championship, NIT Championship and NJCAA Championship would be quite an accomplishment.

"I can look back at where I started my career as a seventh grade (football coach at Bowie High in El Paso, Texas) and have moved all through the ranks and now I get the chance to coach at the international level," Richardson said. "It's another chapter in my book of my coaching career, so I guess I'm looking forward to going to the country and trying to do my best job to get them moving again."

Richardson was fired by Arkansas in 2002 after posting a 389-169 record in 17 years as coach. He filed suit against the university, alleging his termination was racially motivated, but did not win the suit.

The 63-year-old said his work with Panama's national team is on a voluntary basis, but that his expenses -- such as meals, lodging and transportation -- will be paid. He has no obligations to coach the team in the 2006 World Championships and said he will cross that bridge if the team qualifies.

"Right now, I'm just going over there and trying to get Panamanian basketball back to where it used to be 15 years ago," Richardson said. "I'm a coach. I've been a coach for 38 years now. I think when I was born, I was ready to be a coach, so I'm not nervous.

"Just getting the chance to get back on the hardwood and work with youngsters is great because that's what you enjoy doing. That makes you happy."

Richardson's ex-players couldn't be happier. Former Razorback Lee Mayberry (1989-92), who co-owns a business and coaches two AAU teams in Tulsa, has no doubt Richardson will have success in his latest venture.

"I've played for a lot of coaches over the years and I think just about one per year in the NBA," said Mayberry, Arkansas' all-time steals leader. "And I've never played for a coach who would get you prepared by getting you in shape and just mixing it up more so than coach Richardson.

"He will have those guys ready."

Prairie View A&M coach and former Razorback Darrell Hawkins (1989-93) is excited to see Richardson's return to the game even though it may interfere with his former coach volunteering to help in some of the Panthers' preseason practices.

"Don't get me wrong, I was looking forward to having him come down here and helping me," said Hawkins, who was recruiting in Oklahoma on Wednesday. "I think everybody just looks at it as an honor if you get to coach the USA Team, but basketball has become so global that it's soon to be the No. 1 sport in the world.

"So for him to get to coach one of those teams, it's a great, great honor and Coach deserves it."

Arkansas' all-time leading scorer, Todd Day, believes Richardson can parlay the Panama job into reviving his college coaching career. Day recently received his degree from Arkansas and lives in Memphis.

"I'm excited for him and I know that getting back into coaching is what he wants to do and this will be a good start for him," said Day, who's searching for a coaching job as well. "Any time you can put your name back out there and get a chance to display your skills as a coach again, it can help. I'm sure if he can take them and win with them, people will be looking at him for jobs next year.

"I think he's a good motivator who can get you ready to play 110 percent every night. He demanded that out of each and every one of his players and that's what makes him special as a coach and why I think he will continue to have success."

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