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January 30, 2013

Richardson back, and enjoying it



There were times that Brian Richardson absolutely hated the game that he tried so hard to love.

During South Carolina's disaster of a season last year, Richardson might have been the player who felt it the worst. Every loss the Gamecocks suffered was an extra thorn in his side. Not only were the Gamecocks falling down an abyss that looked increasingly deeper, but Richardson's game was the anchor dragging them down.

A pure shooter, able to spot up from anywhere and drain it, Richardson had been classified the 3-point specialist during his two years at USC. A starter for all but six games as a freshman, Richardson scored in double figures in five of his first seven games, but his percentage began to dip. He would break out a couple of times - a 17-pointer here, a 10-pointer there - but he never quite re-discovered that early touch.

Still, many freshmen struggle. His average (5.9 points) wasn't terrific, but his percentages (33.5 percent from the floor, 33.6 percent from the 3-point line) weren't destitute. He would put it together as a sophomore.

Or not.

Richardson's 2011-12 season was a nightmare. Watching his expression as his playing time dwindled was the building's largest pity party. Richardson's face would melt after a missed shot, the sophomore looking ever more in need of a hug, and his game fell with his forlorn features.

Sitting in a locker room at New Orleans Arena, after the Gamecocks lost their first game of the SEC tournament to finish the season, Richardson had both hands around his head, staring at the floor. His averages - 3.2 points, 29.9 percent from the field, 23.3 percent from 3.

There was nowhere to go.

"I know I lost a lot of confidence in myself," Richardson softly said on Tuesday. "I just had to keep working at it. I felt like I was just sitting, waiting for the ball, waiting for somebody to penetrate and kick it out to me.

"I just wasn't playing and I just lost confidence and stopped working hard. That was a big part of me when I stopped playing."

The turbulence continued when the coach that recruited Richardson, Darrin Horn, was fired. Richardson heard the whispers of his teammates, that some were thinking of transferring, and he was thinking it as well. A fresh start might be best, to forget all about the horror of season.

Instead, he got the fresh start right where he was.

"I didn't know whether I'd be here or not," Richardson said. "When I found out it was Frank Martin, I was like, 'OK. Fresh start, fresh new face.'"

Richardson sat down with his new coach, knowing that Martin had probably never seen him in the gym, or maybe not even looked at his numbers, and didn't try to pull the wool over his coach's eyes. He told him point-blank that he was struggling, suffering, and he didn't know if it could be fixed.

"He let me know right off the bat in the spring that confidence was a problem with him," Martin said.

In his own no-nonsense way, Martin said that was fine. You lose confidence by missing a shot? That's cool. Impact the game in other ways.

Bring energy. Rebound. Play defense. Make the pass to your teammate. When you feel confident again and have an open shot, take it. And don't feel like you're only out there to shoot 3-pointers.

Richardson listened and began to apply it. His energy off the bench got him on the floor, and his shooting began to reflect it. His shooting was hot to start the year, until a 2-for-12 showing in a loss to Elon derailed him a bit; his minutes began to dwindle as his energy lapsed, but he realized that he was falling back into the same pattern.

"It was pretty simple. I talked to my parents about it," Richardson said. "That and my playing time affects how I lose my confidence. I just have to keep working hard. I know what Frank told me. He told me to keep working hard, get a lot of shots up when nobody's looking, so that's what I try to keep doing every day."

It's paid off. Richardson matched his career-high with 20 points in USC's last game, a win over Arkansas, and he shot 8-of-13 from the field to do it. He has scored in double figures in nine games this season, just one game less than the number he had during his first two years combined.

Best of all, Richardson is shooting a crisp 41.5 percent from the field, 40.8 from 3, and doing the other things as well. Not a smiler by nature, Richardson is nevertheless stronger, more confident - and happier.

"I feel like his confidence has come back," forward R.J. Slawson said. "He had a couple of pretty big games. He's doing a real good job right now, offensively and defensively. On the court, (he's) being more aggressive."

Richardson doesn't have any kind of big secret toward maintaining confidence. His only trick is to not think of last year. He's also comfortable with being a backup. Most of all, he appreciates that Martin has the confidence in him to play him, even if he's not shooting well.

"I actually like coming off the bench, I like bringing that spark. I think every team needs a player like that," Richardson said. "I just felt like it was a whole lot of confidence in me, he felt like I could do more than just shoot the ball."

Martin contends that he doesn't have all of Richardson figured out, but that's also a learning process. Yes, the Gamecocks are 19 games into the season, but it's still 19 games into his first season.

"I'm still going through it with him, that learning stage, understanding what makes him go and doesn't make him go," Martin said. "My battle with him is to find a way to get him to feel good about himself. It's my job to make these kids believe in who they are."

That's Brian Richardson. College junior. Son of Maurice and Tammy. Brother of Ryan.

Basketball player.

Again.

If you have any questions about this feature or wish to discuss it, please visit The Insiders Forum, Gamecock Central's members-only message board for Gamecock fans.

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