AGOURA HILLS — The next time he finds himself guarded by a guy standing on a chair, Ben Richardson will be ready.
He spent all summer practicing shooting over a guy on a chair, or a guy pointing a broom in the air like some eight-foot-long arm. The idea was to teach a 6-foot-6 center how to take jump shots in college without, as Richardson said, "getting the word 'Wilson' tattooed on my forehead."
Although his shots would be rarely blocked at Agoura High--even without his new shooting technique--the Chargers are still beneficiaries of Richardson's newly found shooting touch, which he added to already tough defensive skills and rebounding ability to create a package difficult for opponents to handle.
He is leading Agoura with 16.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game and--here's the good part--after \o7 attempting \f7 about 10 three-point shots in his first three varsity seasons, Richardson has already \o7 made \f7 14 of 31 this year.
"He's put a lot of time in his outside perimeter game," Agoura Coach Kevin Pasky said. "That creates some matchup problems for our opponents. . . .
"Without him, we would not be in first place."
The toughest challenge to the Chargers' standing atop the Marmonte League will come this week.
Agoura (13-8, 10-2 in league play) will play host to Westlake tonight and visit Royal on Friday. Westlake and Royal are tied for second, a game behind the Chargers. An Agoura victory either night would clinch at least a share of a second league title in a row.
"This is the best," said Richardson, grinning and rolling his eyes, talking a mile a minute. "This is the way it's supposed to be. I don't want to be 12-0 right now. We've got Westlake and that's going to be the \o7 hugest \f7 game and then we've got Royal.
"(Tonight) we win and Friday we win and we are league champions. And there's nothing anyone can do about it."
Yes, Richardson is fired up. He's still beaming from last week, when he scored 31 points against Newbury Park and the Panthers' Adam Reinwasser whispered in his ear after the game: "Now I know why you're going Division I."
To Boise State, specifically, which might come as a surprise to anyone who saw Richardson play last year. Or even to Richardson himself.
"Before (last summer), I never really thought about college basketball," Richardson said. "I thought it would be cool to play, but I never thought it would be a reality."
It became a reality, Richardson said, because of playing last summer for Team Avia, an all-star team that plays those summer tournaments at which college coaches show up and drool.
"At the tryouts, I walked in and the first person I saw was Todd Bozeman, the Cal coach," Richardson said. "My jaw just dropped to the floor. I remember that first day we were doing defensive slides and I was so nervous I tripped and fell."
Roger Milstein, who coaches Team Avia, said he picked Richardson from 35 players at the tryout to make the 11-player squad more because of his attitude than skill.
"He just wasn't sure that he was a player," Milstein said. "But I saw in him that toughness, and that's why he made the team. He just played his butt off."
Milstein worked with Richardson on two parts of his game over the summer. The first was shooting and the second was confidence, and don't think the two aren't related.
"I never really thought in my head that I was a Division I basketball player," Richardson said, "but once Roger convinced me that I was, the shots were just falling, from 10 feet, then all over the floor.
"Confidence. I can't explain to you how much of a difference it makes. When you're not second-guessing yourself, you'd be surprised how much stuff goes in."
But Richardson had a mechanical shooting problem, too. At 6-6, he was considered "one of those in-between guys," he said, for college basketball. Too small for the post. Not a good enough shooter for the perimeter.
Milstein's goal with Richardson was to get him to stop shooting from his shoulder, but to put the ball up, away from swatting arms, and to put some air under his shots. Make an arc so high the ball will come down with a pilot on it.
Hence, the chair and broom drills.
Richardson said he shot about an hour a day, in addition to his regular workouts with Team Avia and with the Agoura High summer team. It worked, because colleges started calling.
He heard from Army, Navy, Southern Utah, Cornell, Yale and Penn. Then during a summer tournament in Long Beach, Richardson was informed by a teammate that three guys sitting behind the bench were talking about him. They were wearing Boise State shirts.
"That was the first I thought about them," he said.
Richardson visited the school in the fall and fell in love with the basketball arena.
"You could just hear the fans even though no one was in there," he said.
He also liked the coaching staff.
"I was looking to go somewhere the coaches would drive me," he said. "I want to come home in two years and be this monster Karl Malone-type guy."
Richardson committed to Boise State a couple of days after the Broncos offered a scholarship, about a month before the signing day in November.
The scholarship was the reward for all those hours he spent last summer, shooting over brooms.
"A long time ago some guy at some camp said the best thing you can have is versatility," Richardson said. "You work on one part of your game and once you get that you find something else and then work on that because they can't stop everything."