For Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah, Thursday is payday, their reward for coming back to lead the Florida Gators to one more NCAA championship. They’ll get drafted in the first few picks of the NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden and their contracts will guarantee them millions. That’s what happens when you go in the lottery. Big bucks, fame, fortune are yours for the taking. No negotiations necessary since the contracts are slotted and the money already decided prior to the draft.
There are no guarantees for Chris Richard although he and his agent are hearing plenty of good things. Andy Katz of ESPN confirmed Tuesday that there is plenty of talk that Richard will be selected in the second round, perhaps among the first 10-15 selections. There is a lot of interest. There aren’t many players in the draft with Richard’s kind of strength and experience.
“There aren’t any guarantees but if my workouts say something and what I was hearing after the workouts along with what we’ve heard that’s all good, then I think I’ll be getting my chance,” said Richard, the 6-9, 255-pound power forward who was selected Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year for the Gators and was invaluable as a third man in Coach Billy Donovan’s three-man post rotation.
It’s the fact that he was the sixth man on the Gators that might prove to be his silver lining. One of the things that makes a draft a crapshoot is that after the first 10-12 picks, most of the rookies will have to earn their playing time coming off the bench. Most of the drafted players have been starters and stars all their lives. Adjusting to playing off the bench, or lack of adjusting, can be a career killer.
“I always felt confident that if I started, I would do a good job,” said Richard. “I was always willing to do what made most sense for the team and they needed me off the bench. My pride and my ego didn’t get hurt if there was something I could do to help out the team. I came to practice every day, did my best, and when Coach [Donovan] asked me to do something I did it.
“It’s funny that what I was doing at Florida may be what gets me in the NBA. One of the things that a lot of people talked about when I was working out was that they knew I could come off the bench and give them minutes. I won’t have to adjust my ego and that might turn out to be a big plus for me.”
His pride and his ego won’t be wounded if he goes in the second round of the draft. Actually, all he is looking for is a chance and that means he will lose hope if he isn’t selected.
“The second round is good,” he said. “Every kid in the world who plays the game dreams that one day they will call your name up there in New York and you know that some team has said they want you. I’d be lying if I told you that’s not my dream, too, but if I have to earn my way in by playing in the summer league, I can do that. I’m not too proud if someone will just give me a chance.”
There is always Europe, too. The money is good in Europe and the season isn’t as long. He knows that Udonis Haslem and Matt Bonner both spent some time overseas before they came back to play in the NBA. Adrian Moss, a key member of Florida’s first NCAA championship team in 2006, played in Denmark this season. He had a good year, made good money and he’ll have a chance to play overseas again next year if he can’t find an NBA team that will give him a shot.
“Life can be good there [Europe],” he said. “It’s always in the back of your mind that you can go over there and play. The money is good, sometimes better than what you make in the NBA in the second round or free agent.
“Still, the NBA is the NBA. If you’re an American kid, you don’t grow up thinking someday I’ll play basketball in Europe. Yeah, I wouldn’t be too proud to do it. I’d be glad to do it if it’s my chance to keep playing, take care of my family and maybe earn my way back here for an NBA team to look at me and sign me. But right now, I’m going to do everything I can to first get with an NBA team.”
Taking care of his mom is at the heart of his determination to make it in pro basketball. Rena Richard has spent her life taking care of Chris, his brother and his sister, often working multiple jobs to ensure food on the table, a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs.
“She never complained, not once, and I know life wasn’t easy for her,” said Chris. “Now, I get my chance to do something for my mom, my hero and my best friend. Making NBA money or money in Europe isn’t about me. It’s about doing something for her for showing me that hard work never hurt anybody and showing me that if you work hard, you can usually get what you want and make something good out of yourself.”
Richard says that what he’s learned from his mom will stay with him all his life and that’s why he thinks he can succeed in pro basketball.
“It doesn’t kill you to have to work hard for your goals,” he said. “In fact, it makes you stronger as a player and as a person if you have to work harder. I could have quit and given up but my mom never quit at nothing. If she quit, maybe we wouldn’t eat or maybe we wouldn’t have a house. Quitting is something I don’t do. I’ll work hard. I won’t quit. I think NBA teams will see that in me.”
For Rena Richard, Thursday night could be extra special. Her other son, Chris’s older brother Tim Jones, has just signed a free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans of the NFL after playing NFL Europe. Tim played tight end at South Florida before moving to defensive end, which is where he showed up big while playing for the Amsterdam Admirals this spring.
“Hands down, my mom is the proudest mom in Lakeland,” said Richard. “It’s a dream for both my brother and me and wouldn’t it be something if our dreams come true in the same year? Wouldn’t it be something if I make it in the NBA the same year that my brother makes it in the NFL? He’s a little older than me, so I think he’s probably going to be proudest of me, but you know, he’s my brother and he deserves a chance to make it. I like to think both of us are going to make it. I really do. Wouldn’t that be something?”