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East Meets West in Two Fabulous Freshmen : Philly's Pooh Richardson Has Made Pauley His Playground

February 08, 1986|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

Walt Hazzard can, when pressed, list the skills of his freshman point guard. But it's a long list, and then he has to spend another 10 minutes explaining the intangibles--the instinct, the court sense, the cocksure confidence, the natural leadership qualities.

More often, the UCLA coach makes do with a simple statement of fact: "Pooh Richardson can play basketball. He can play the game."

There are benches full of athletes with long lists of skills who can't put it all together and play the game the way Pooh plays it. The way he loves to play it.

Pooh Richardson--Jerome to those who picture him as a chubby baby who looked like Winnie the Pooh--came to UCLA from the playgrounds of Philadelphia.

He came just as Hazzard once had come, just as Andre McCarter, now a Bruin assistant coach, once had come.

McCarter, who helped to recruit Richardson, had seen some of his games at Ben Franklin High School. But he also had seen Richardson play on the playgrounds.

As McCarter puts it: "That's a whole 'nother world. That's where you get to be creative. That's where you get to show yourself.

"That's where you make your reputation."

Pooh Richardson had quite a reputation when he signed with UCLA on Nov. 19, 1984. He was one of the most highly recruited guards in the country when he signed that early letter of intent, and he went on to become a prep All-American as a senior.

He has put on quite a show this season, too.

He has been the Bruins' starting point guard since the sixth game of the season, and he's looking like the best freshman point guard in the country.

He won the starting spot after the game against St. John's, during which he had 10 assists and prompted St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca to predict that the UCLA shooters were going to love him in years to come. "They ought to carry his bag," Carnesecca said.

Richardson is leading the Pac-10 in assists, averaging 6.7 a game. He's also averaging 10.8 points and 4.2 rebounds a game. And all of those averages represent numbers that have been on a steady increase since he started running the team.

For example, Thursday night in the Bruins' overtime victory over Washington, Richardson had a career-high 21 points, plus 7 assists and 6 rebounds.

No one is surprised at his instant success, least of all Richardson. He said that one of the reasons he chose UCLA was that he knew he could come in and play as a freshman.

"I felt that if I didn't play as a freshman, I'd just be wasting a whole year when I could have been playing basketball," he said.

When a guy loves the game the way Richardson loves the game, there is no way he'd spend a year of his life waiting to play.

The rule of the playground is, you play well, you keep playing. Only the second-rate players have to wait for somebody to get tired and go home.

Richardson knows he's not second-rate. He couldn't be second-rate and do what he has to do.

More important than his behind-the-back passes, his no-look feeds, his quick-acceleration drives to the basket or his high percentage jump shot is his attitude when he has to bring the four other players into the picture and make something happen.

Pooh Richardson, a freshman, is doing it. And there are some sophomores and juniors among the Bruins who have felt his glare when they didn't follow his lead.

He's not a bit shy about chastising a teammate when one of his passes is mishandled or when he launches a lob that somebody forgets to slam home.

Yet, so far, none of the Bruins are complaining about a cocky newcomer.

"There's a difference between cockiness and confidence," Richardson said. "The difference is showing respect for your teammates and your opponents.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself, but I know that I can learn from everybody else on the court. I'm not afraid to learn from other players. It's a constant learning process."

Richardson is so comfortable with his own confidence, so sure of himself, that he sometimes has trouble understanding why people expect him to act like a freshman.

The first time he was brought to the interview room to face the local media was after the annual intrasquad game. He was brought in with junior forward Reggie Miller, an old pro at interviews.

Most of the questions were directed to Miller until someone asked Richardson if he had been nervous.

Richardson asked to hear the question again. He looked to Miller for help. And just when the reporters were starting to think that the freshman was intimidated by the pressure of the interview, he threw back a question: "Why would anyone be nervous about playing in an intrasquad game?"

Richardson isn't nervous about playing on national television or about playing against David Rivers of Notre Dame, the freshman point-guard sensation of a year ago.

In fact, Richardson thrives on big games, big pressure. He wants to be the guy with the ball when the game is on the line.

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