Richardson is the lone returning starter and one of only four returning scholarship players from the Tennessee team that went 24-13 and reached an NCAA regional semifinal last season. The 6-foot-6 senior believes the Volunteers can withstand a tumultuous offseason that featured a coaching change and multiple transfers.
“We feel like we’re going to be picked toward the bottom of the league,” Richardson said. “We don’t like how that sits with us. We’re going to come out and surprise a lot of people.”
Tennessee’s chances of surprising depend on whether Richardson builds on his breakthrough postseason performance, as he averaged 19.3 points in four NCAA tournament games.
New coach Donnie Tyndall wants Richardson to emerge as a leader. He’s even joked about the situation with reporters.
“If he doesn’t lead our team, I’m kicking him off,” Tyndall quipped. “It’s that simple.”
Richardson faces quite a burden as the only Tennessee player who averaged over five points per game for the Vols last season, but he isn’t the type of person to get consumed by pressure.
“He’s never been the type of person who really lets things stress him out,” said his father, Micheal Richardson. “He’s one who looks for solutions to his problems. ... I always taught him just to make a decision and go with it.”
Richardson’s father is a retired firefighter. His mother is a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force reserves and an ordained minister. That family environment helped Richardson develop into a well-rounded person whose interests go beyond basketball.
After arriving on campus, Richardson took up longboarding, a form of skateboarding. He started playing the piano much earlier than that.
“I picked it up when I was way young, like in fourth grade,” Richardson said. “I didn’t like it when I was younger, so I quit. Then when I was in 10th grade, my grandma passed. Every time she came over, she wanted me to try to play the piano for her. So after she passed, I decided to pick it up (again) for her.”
This multi-talented senior now is focusing on leading a roster full of newcomers. Richardson’s teammates say his postseason performance has boosted his confidence.
“He’s definitely on a different level than he was last year,” sophomore guard Robert Hubbs III said.
The Vols need Richardson to provide stability to a program adjusting to a new coach. Richardson says he knew nothing about Tyndall before the coach’s arrival at Tennessee, but he has quickly warmed up to the new staff.
“He’s a guy that I’m guessing will be picked second- or third-team all-league preseason,” Tyndall said. “He played with a ton of confidence at the end of the year. We want him to carry that over into his senior season.”
Now he’s going into his final season ready to lead.
“God throws adversity your way to see how you handle it,” Richardson said. “I knew what I was getting into this next year.”