Mitch Richmond showed so much promise as a ninth-grader, a year after he started playing basketball, that he found himself practicing with the varsity team. Before a preseason practice, the coach had a message to deliver to the team.
“He was saying we have to let a guy go because of his grades,” Richmond said. “I started looking around, wondering who it was.
“It was me.”
That proved to be turning point in Richmond’s life, and he wouldn’t have been standing in a luxury hotel ballroom on Monday, being asked by television analyst Jim Nantz about his introduction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, had he not dedicated himself to improvement that moment.
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Richmond starred at Boyd Anderson High in Fort Launderdale, Fla.; Moberly (Mo.) Community College; Kansas State; and the NBA for 14 seasons to achieve the hall call.
“I had 1 1/2 credits as a freshman,” Richmond said. “I worked my butt off. I went to school during the day, at night and vocational school to get my grades up.”
Moberly was the first stop, bringing Richmond to the Midwest and to the coach who would guide his college future, Wildcats assistant Dana Altman.
“My mom really loved him,” Richmond said.
And Altman loved Richmond’s athleticism, guard skills in a 6-foot-5 body shaped like a football tight end, but he hated Richmond’s shot. It came from the side, next to his head. Altman centered the shot, and Richmond became an even greater scorers.
Together, Altman and Richmond landed at Kansas State, along with new head coach Lon Kruger. It was a tough choice for Richmond, who had interest from Alabama, Syracuse, Maryland, Arkansas and Houston, plus Florida schools that nearly tempted him to return to his home state.
But Kruger’s pitch won him over.
“We would be coming in together, and he said he’d build the program around me,” Richmond said. “I hadn’t heard that from anybody else. And he said they would perfect my guard skills.”
Kansas State ended a four-year NCAA Tournament drought in Richmond’s junior season. The next year, 1987-88, the Wildcats tied a school record with 25 victories and reached the Midwest Region final, where rival Kansas awaited.
“We had played them three times that year, beat them in Lawrence and in the Big Eight tournament,” Richmond said. “We thought we were through with those guys.”
Richmond’s college career ended against Danny Manning’s Jayhawks, but it had been one of the most productive runs in school history. Richmond left with 1,327 career points. He scored 768 as a senior, a record that stood until Michael Beasley broke it 20 years later.
“That last loss was really hard to swallow, but it was a good run at Kansas State,” Richmond said.
He found NBA bliss in Golden State, becoming the Rookie of the Year and playing with Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway, collectively known as Run TMC, after the rap group.
After three seasons he was traded to the Sacramento Kings. That elevated his individual status —all six All-Star Game appearances came as a member of the Kings —but there was only one playoff appearance in seven seasons.
“It was a struggle for me personally, but the organization really embraced me,” said Richmond, who today works for the Kings as a scout.
Richmond amassed 20,497 career points and a 21.6 average, and when he retired in 2002, only three players had attempted more career three-pointers and shot a higher percentage on threes than Richmond.
Richmond is the fourth individual from Kansas State in the Naismith Hall of Fame, joining former coaches Jack Gardner and Tex Winter, along with Bob Boozer, who entered as part of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team.
He said he hasn’t been back to Kansas State in the Bruce Weber era but is a fan from afar.
“I keep them in my spirits,” Richmond said. “I think Bruce is a heck of a coach and did all he could with the talent this year. Now, you have to take that step, get one of the highly ranked recruits and go from there.”
But his travels as a scout this season did bring him to Kansas and to Lawrence. ESPN cameras caught him on his first visit to Allen Fieldhouse since he helped the Wildcats end Kansas’ 55-game home winning streak in 1988.
“Man, my twitter blew up with K-State fans asking what I was doing there,” Richmond said. “Believe me, I didn’t want to be there. But it was work, you know.”