No matter, Richard arrived in Gainesville with something to prove. And two years later he entered his junior season under the same scrutiny. Richard averaged less than four points and three rebounds a game over his first two seasons while battling injuries, especially to his knees. When word was out that Richard had been healthy all summer and finally had been able to work on his game day in and day out nobody reacted much. After all, youngsters Al Horford and Joakim Noah had passed up Richard and he wasn't needed for much more than spot duty.
"C-Rich" has Bigger Plans
Richard made his improvement clear from the get-go this season. After scoring double figures just once (in game two) last season, Richard opened this campaign with 25 points off the bench in Florida's wins over Albany and St. Peter's. Through Florida's 12-0 start, Richard has been a force off the bench, averaging 8.5 points and 4.2 rebounds while making a ridiculous 40-49 form the field (.816). Richard has scored in double figures six times even though he has yet to play more than 22 minutes in a game.
I recently spoke at length with Florida's junior big man off the bench about his major turnaround the Gators' amazing start.
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LV: Did you have any idea coming into this season that this team could get off to this kind of start?
CR: I think it's kind of taken us by surprise a little bit. I don't think any of us doubted we could do it, but I don't think everyone thought we would be undefeated still.
LV: Was this team determined to prove a point to doubters who thought the loss of Peep, Matt and David Lee would make this team a bubble team at best?
CR: I don't think we thought of it like that. We were just trying to get together to work on our strengths and weaknesses and figure out how to win.
LV: Was winning the Coaches Vs. Cancer Tournament the thing that was the spring board for this great run?
CR: No, I think it was the summer when we played every chance we got. I mean we would play two or three times a day. We would do just about everything together and I think that chemistry off the court has helped us play better.
LV: How gratifying has it been for you to be healthy all summer and through the non-conference schedule and be able to finally show what you can do?
CR: It's new, so I like it. It's been great so far to be able do the things I always thought I could do. I wish it had been like this from the beginning.
LV: Was it frustrating during the last couple of years knowing they weren't seeing the "real" Chris Richard out there?
CR: Yeah, I kinda felt I was letting people down and proving the critics right a little bit by me being hurt and all that stuff. A few people thought I was overrated coming out of high school and this and that and I felt I was showing they were right with my injuries. Going through the summer and all I feel like I can show people was I was capable of doing coming out of high school and what I'm capable of now.
LV: Well you're only shooting 82 percent from the field, can you work on that and get that number up?
CR: (laughing) No, I think that would be hard to do. I guess I'm just making smart decisions when I get the ball and taking my time more than I have in the past.
LV: Talk about your ability to post up. I think it's an under appreciated part of the game and you do a great job of getting good positions and good angles to the basket.
CR: It's just the habits we've built through the individual workouts. It's just about finding the spot and sealing it. Once you get that first step you force the defense to foul you or back off.
LV: With just one more game before SEC play begins, how eager are you and the rest of the guys to get into SEC action and take it up a notch?
CR: I'm ready, man, I think we all are. This is the best team I've been on and we're playing good ball and when SEC season comes I think we'll turn it up even more. The stakes are higher and the target will be getting bigger on our backs and everything because we've been doing such a good job.
LV: Chris, the Gators in recent years have had depth issues in the front court, but with you and Adrian both healthy, combined with Al and Joakim how much does that help everyone go all out that you have four inside guys?
CR: I think when you look at our post any game can be a big game for any of us. We all play off each other because every game one or two of us is going to get a double (figure points). Whoever has the hot hand, we feed it to him and feed off each other.
LV: How many times when you go at it in practice is it the old guys (Richard and Moss) against the young guys (Horford and Noah)?
CR: (laughing) We did it all the time in the summer, but not as much now. But it was fun, and it was competitive. It was all right.
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I asked Billy Donovan about Richard's emergence this year:
BD: I think when Chris Richard got here he was what I would call a very raw offensive player. He was a player who really wasn't comfortable with his back to the basket and had no level of confidence in his athletic ability. Most of his scoring opportunities came on offensive rebounds or if he had an angle to the basket where he could drop step in score. The thing that's encouraging is Chris is gaining more and more confidence when he catches the basketball and knowing what the defense is doing. Now he's getting the ball throwing it back out, getting it back and making a strong post move. So, offensively he's really, really made some great strides.
The other thing is, when you're a raw basketball player offensively, the other players on your team know that. So when you come into the game, they might be reluctant to throw the ball inside and you may not even want the ball inside. I think our team now feels very comfortable throwing the ball in to Chris, even if he doesn't have a good angle to the basket because they believe he's going to make a good decision with the ball.
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Chris Richard scored 113 points as a freshman, and 104 as a sophomore. He has already scored 102 points this season, heading into the Tuesday game with Morgan State. His career field goal shooting percentage of .662 (131-for-198) would be the best in school history if he had enough attempts.
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