Sunday’s Designated Hitter column from The Herald:
Eric Richmond walks by his son’s bedroom and notices something. Actually, he notices nothing. His son sits there, almost motionless. For someone accustomed to seeing the kid’s ankle-breaking crossover dribbles and running off screens, whose prodigious game requires constant motion, it is a jarring sight. But it is one that Eric knows all too well.
And so he goes on in, sits next to his son, the one he’s been taking all over the country all these years to this all-star camp and to that all-star camp, and waits to hear the question he knows is resting behind the 18-year-old young man’s blank expression.
“What should I do, Dad?”
Sitting there is a FedEx package. Inside it is another national letter of intent, every dotted line filled out except for the one that awaits Akeem Richmond’s signature.
It is unopened. And it will remain that way.
And Eric lets out a deep breath.
When Akeem Richmond was a freshman, everybody came calling. Or sending letters. Or texting. Name a big-name coach and college program, and Richmond heard from them.
Scrawny by high school varsity basketball standards, Richmond still put up huge numbers in his first season, garnering what would only be the first of three All-State selections. He was invited to Cameron Indoor Stadium to sit behind the Duke bench and watch the Blue Devils take on the North Carolina Tar Heels. He had a better seat than Dick Vitale. Wined and dined, baby.
But as the seasons and numbers crested, so did the learning curve. Some of those big names aren’t calling anymore, just days before Richmond is set to make his announcement of where he’ll attend college. Some still are, but some are only in it in case something else backfires.
“They’ll shoot you a whole lot of lies,” a savvy Akeem Richmond says. “They’ll tell you everything — anything — you want to hear. That’s what’s been tough. They’ll call you, leave a message for you, tell you to call them back. And then when you call them back the next day, when they told you to call, they won’t answer the phone. You’ll never hear from them again. It’s hard.”
“What we’ve learned is that the recruiting process is more about what they need at the time versus just going and getting the best player,” Eric says. “We figured that out around his sophomore season. You learn that everything is not what you think it is. For every 10 recruits, the coach tells them all the same thing. That was a lesson learned.”
People think April 15, when the taxes have to be postmarked, is stressful. Akeem Richmond doesn’t worry about that day. It’s another one. A week later.
He doesn’t have it circled in red on any calendar, but it doesn’t have to be.
April 23. Thursday.
That’s the day he’ll announce where he’s going.
The list has been narrowed. He’s made his official visits. To Rhode Island, which made the NIT after winning 23 games. To Western Kentucky, which has reached the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons. South Florida is in the mix. So is Charlotte. Syracuse, with Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf leaving for the NBA just this week, is back on the fringes.
“He’s done super up until the last couple of weeks,” Eric says of Akeem’s emotional state. “It’s been really tough on him. Before, he felt like he still had time.”
And so the words come out again, plain in his typical soft-spoken and measured cadence.
“Dad, what do you think?”
The official visits are great. Every prospective college student should have as much fun.
“That’s definitely the best part (of the recruiting process),” Akeem says. “They take you all over campus. They show you the arena, the locker room. You talk to the coach. They show you the dorms, the classrooms.
“And you don’t have to pay for any of it. They fly you out there and take you to dinner. It’s all free. That’s the best part of it.”
Well, maybe not the best part.
“Yeah, you see the girls.”
Each school has its pros and cons, just like anything else. Western Kentucky is among the top 5 winningest Division 1 programs over the last five years. Rhode Island might be on the cusp of something big, and offers playing time, but there is the worry about the culture shock for a kid born and raised in the sleepy southern town. South Florida is in the Big East Conference, but also annually plays at the bottom of the league standings. Charlotte is close to home, but is that such a good thing?
These are the thoughts, like Akeem coming off those screens, that are constantly running through his head. Over and over and over again.
Hence the staring off into space and the stonewall countenance.
Eric knows that he could end some of the misery. Just answer the simple question, and it would all be over but the paperwork.
“If I just told him tomorrow that he should go here, he’d do it. I know that,” Eric says.
But sifting through the falsehoods and half-truths aren’t the only things Eric Richmond has learned through the four-year courtship process.
“You see kids transferring all the time, because they get somewhere, and even though they’re playing ball, they’re miserable,” Eric says. “And then that carries over to the classroom and to their way of life. I don’t want any of that for Akeem. I want him to be happy playing the game I love, playing the game he loves. That’s what we’ve been trying to do this year — find him a situation that not only fits his game, but fits him as a person. It’s all about the right fit.”
So he doesn’t answer the question.
But he does answer.
“Son, it’s not Daddy’s decision,” Eric says. “This is a decision you have to make.”
The phone rings.
Akeem doesn’t answer it. He never does. Call the Richmond house, ask for Akeem, and the next question you get is, “May I ask who’s calling?”
It’s a recruiting news reporter, or some guy who runs a recruiting Web site. Hard to tell. He wants to know what Akeem’s schedule is like for the next week. Has he gone on any more recruiting visits? Has he canceled any? Has he made a decision? What’s his list?
And so on and so on. C’mon kid, Internet message boards are waiting.
But the answers are few. And only one person might know them.
And he ain’t telling.
“I don’t know. I’m telling you, I honestly don’t know what he’s going to do,” Eric says.
“He has that poker face, you know?”