Chris Richard is a big dude. Heck, he was listed as 6’9, 255lbs during his Florida playing days. With those dimensions, it would hardly be a stretch (pun intended) to call him a Goliath. Actually, I will let you call him that. Just don’t call him ‘Richards’! Anyway, unlike the Biblical version — Chris was not felled by a ‘David’, or even a Davidson. Nope, he amassed a school record 15 NCAA tournament games by beating not only the powerhouse programs, but also those fabled Cinderella teams. His Gator teams dispatched media darling Butler in 2007 in route to its second national title, and famously ended the then-historic run of George Mason a year prior. For those Gators squads, and the man they called C-Rich, well, Cinderella teams became their b–. Eh, I’ll leave the cursing to Florida Gulf Coast. The point, of course, is there are few more qualified to talk about the tournament, its challenges, surprises and preparations than Chris Richard. So, I sat down with the big guy. Well, he sat and I stood. Alright, truth be told, we talked on the phone— I just wanted to throw in another ‘tall’ joke.
Anyway, here is what the two-time national champion had to say:
Brent: For all of us forum fanatics and sofa-sharp shooters, share with us what this experience is like— living an NCAA tournament run.
Chris: For me, post season is, by far, the best part of the year. It is exciting because you have all the best teams now playing against each other. It is the best basketball and it’s just exciting. That is the easiest way to describe it.
Brent: Tell us something about the experience that is different— something we would not be aware of that caught you by surprise your first time competing in the NCAA Tournament.
Chris: Going from the regular season to the tournament is entirely different. The one thing I remember were the police escorts. We were escorted from the airport to the hotel, escorted to the practice facility and games. Everywhere we went took 5 minutes because of the police escorts. It was amazing. And then at the hotel we had armed security on our room floors.
Brent: With all of these changes and the magnitude of the games being so high, do nerves reach a different level in the tournament?
Chris: No. I think it is more exciting. For me, and I think for our teams, the nerves were maybe there for the very first game. Once it starts, everything gets easier. But man, it’s just exciting.
Brent: Ok, so not so much nerves—but what about fatigue? It is the end of the year and you now face travel and quick turn-around games. Is fatigue a factor?
Chris: It is a thrilling time, but yeah— it is tiring. But I think that is where we had an advantage. What our staff did and how they approached everything played a big part in keeping us ready and in shape. The way we ate, practiced, rested — they did an excellent job. Whether it was the cold tank every day or massages or what we ate or how we practiced— everything was adjusted. The practices were quick, light — but hard. Not the long scrimmages, but a shooting a lot and individual work.
Brent: I know you have been following your Gators, and I know you are aware of the upcoming opponent. During the title runs, your teams knocked out a couple Cinderella squads. Was there any additional satisfaction in sending home the proverbial ‘media darling’?
Chris: Nah. Once we won, we were not excited about who we just beat, but excited about the next game. Hey, our first championship season we were a Cinderella— not in the tournament, but when the season started. No one expected anything from us. For me, I wanted to end the run of whoever we played. It didn’t matter if they were called a Cinderella. Actually, that year we beat George Mason, I really wanted to play Connecticut. I thought they had a really good team and Rashard Anderson was one my high school teammates. But no, I didn’t really get into the ‘Cinderella’ stuff.
Brent: Ok, so at this stage of the tournament do Final Four thoughts start to creep-in, or is everything so focused on the next game?
Chris: Ahh, I think it is human nature to think about it. You are thinking about a championship from the first day of the season. So, of course you think about it, but as long as you do not put that ahead of your next game— that is the key. Coach did a great job—and we did too—of keeping focused and holding each other accountable.
Brent: You mentioned Coach Donovan a few times. Was there anything special he did that you remember as a motivating technique or tactic to keep the team focused.
Chris: Yeah— I think it was during our second title season. That year everywhere we went the crowds hated us—because we were winning. Coach started calling us the “Swat Team” and said it was our job to go into these places and break up the parties and send home the crowds. That was our theme for the year. Before one of the road games he busted into the locker room wearing a police hat, jacket, glasses, night-stick and gave this speech about going out there and breaking everything up. He was good at that stuff. I’m sure he is doing something now.
Brent: What are some of the lessons you learned from playing in the tournament— some of the experiences that made each time easier than the previous?
Chris: There are a lot of distractions. And keeping your mental state is important— getting the rest you need and the focus. There are a ton of people and attention that come around during the tournament. People want tickets— friends and everyone else. The media wants to come into practice and stuff. There is a lot, and for a team that has never seen it— it could be distracting. So, I think that experience helps. And Coach has done this a lot and the team has too. That is important.
Brent: As you said, it’s an experienced team and one that is getting ready for a third straight Sweet 16. You have watched this team. What are your thoughts?
Chris: I like this team a lot. I think if we do what we do — and play the way we can— we can beat anybody. Last game, all of the guys were great. Mike Rosario stepped up and made some big threes. Pat stepped up against the two big guys. Murphy did a lot in the minutes he played. And Scottie had a great game too. If we can stay focused, I think we will beat anybody.
Brent: Do you think this team can win it all?
Chris: I do. If we do what we do — we can win it all.