MANHATTAN, Kan. — Danny Manning remains the favorite for player of the year in the nation, but some fans don't believe the well-publicized Kansas senior has always been the player of the year in the state.
Mitch Richmond, Kansas State's quiet and relatively unpublicized court leader, is drawing increasingly rave reviews. In his second season after transferring from Moberly, Mo., Community College, the 6-5 Richmond is being compared with the finest players in the long history of Kansas State basketball.
"Based on what he's done, you'd have to say Mitch Richmond has been the best player in the conference this year in the last three minutes of the game," said Oklahoma Coach Billy Tubbs. "He's just a great player."
"He's as good as you're going to find anywhere in the country," said Southwest Missouri State Coach Charlie Spoonhour. "He also seems like a nice person, which makes it even better."
Such extravagant praise has taken a little getting used to. Richmond says he's particularly uncomfortable with speculation that he could be K-State's all-time greatest.
"It's a great compliment for people to compare me with people, but when I think about guys like Rolando Blackman and Mike Evans and the other great players they've had here . . . well, who can say who was best? But when you hear people say things like that, it makes me want to keep working on my game. You never know what you can get out of yourself until you try."
A model of consistency, Richmond has scored in double figures in every Kansas State game he's appeared in but one. Shooting better than 50% this season from the floor, he's averaged more than 24 points, six rebounds and three assists. With Richmond in the lead, the Wildcats seem to be barreling toward another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
"Richmond has major league moves, not only in the low post area but off the dribble, and he has a perimeter game," said former New York Knick Coach Hubie Brown. "He is an inside player, he is a wing player off the dribble and he has great ability to make the long jump shot under pressure."
It's the final, decisive minutes of a game when K-State's leader is most devastating. In a 68-60 victory at Colorado, he scored seven of his team's last 12 points. Against Nebraska, he had eight of the Wildcats' last 14, including 3-point goals on consecutive trips down the floor.
For steady nerves under pressure, it's hard to beat the eight-game stretch this season in which Richmond hit 28 of 31 free throws--in the last two minutes.
"You've got to have a little confidence in yourself," said the Florida native. "If you don't have confidence in yourself, how are you going to do the things you want to get done?"
This undeniable strain of self confidence was a gift of birth, Richmond says.
"When it gets to that point, I just feel like I don't want to let my team lose," he said. "It's just the desire to win. I just try to pump up the team and try to win the ballgame. I have confidence that I can get the shot down, that I can score."
Kansas State fans are launching what will probably be a futile campaign to make Richmond the Big Eight's player of the year. But such things are never discussed at Wildcat practices.
"Not at all," he said. "We know we have a lot of season left. We know that if our team goes as far as we can and does the job we can do, the individual honors will come. It's nice to be mentioned as a candidate for player of the year. That's something anyone would be proud of. But there are a lot of guys having great seasons in the Big Eight--guys like Derrick Chievoius at Missouri, Stacey King at Oklahoma, Manning, and others.
"We really don't talk about stuff like that. We're thinking about what the team can do."