The wait is over for Eric and Akeem Richmond

Akeem Richmond had a big night in his first game at Rhode Island.

Eric Richmond could’ve flown into the Providence.

It would’ve been a nothing drive from the airport to the Rhode Island campus, where he could’ve greeted his son in between classes if he wanted to.

He chose to fly into Boston instead. A rental car and an hour’s drive awaited him.

“I chose to make that drive,” Richmond says, a week after the Rams’ first exhibition game of the season, against Concordia — and his son’s first collegiate appearance. “I needed the time to calm myself down.”

Didn’t work.

Eric Richmond still got to campus in plenty of time. With Akeem still in classes, Eric slowly worked his way to his son’s dorm — and waited.

There would be a lot of waiting on this day. And strangely, that seemed to be OK with Eric. Even with the biggest game of his son’s life looming in mere hours.

But maybe that’s why it was OK to wait.

Akeem’s classes were done around lunchtime, and for the first time in weeks, Eric saw his son. It would be difficult for Sanford to recognize Akeem now. He’s still 6-foot-1, but he’s bench-pressing 275 pounds. For a kid who was never a big weight-lifter, he’s one of the workhorses in the Rams’ locker room. He also isn’t quite as cocksure, suffering, Eric says, for time-to-time bouts with homesickness.

And so the two, inseparable for the first 17 years of the boy’s life, went to lunch, poked at their food — and talked.

“He said he was excited, but nervous about his first game,” Eric says. “You know me, I’m always trying to gauge what he’s feeling and thinking. He was nervous.”

A couple of hours later, they headed to the arena for the Rams’ shootaround. Eric waited and watched some more. More armchair psychoanalyzing from Eric, he watched as Akeem lofted jumpers and moved effortlessly on the floor. The scoreboard may not have been on, but time was ticking down.

“I saw him after the shootaround. He just wanted to get it started, to get it over with,” Eric says. “I was biting my nails.”

Still a couple of hours before the game, Eric walked around the arena, through the seats to the mezzanine. He looked at old photographs, at memorabilia. But it’s not clear if he really saw anything.

“I looked around the arena, and all of could think about was, after all these years, since he was 5 or 6, it has finally come down to this. It was real.”

Eric tried the car again. It bought him time at the beginning of the day, maybe it would bring him clarity and ease now, less than two hours before tipoff. He sat in the car, memories of his boy playing like a movie in his head.

“I just sat there,” Eric says. “I was just so anxious. I saw fans beginning to walk in, so I figured I should go on ahead and go in.”

School officials brought Eric to his seat — directly behind coach Jim Baron and the Rams’ bench. He was closer to his son than he was at any of Akeem’s high school games at Southern Lee, when he would sit just four rows up in the bleachers. How strange that is. Closer to his son in this moment, in a town so far away from home.

The team came out and began the warmup drills. There was a murmur to the crowd, that familiar tone of people making small talk and settling in, all done to the soundtrack of Top 40 tunes being played over the PA. Eric heard none of it.

“During warmups, I was so nervous. But I’m always nervous. It never mattered if Akeem was playing a team his team was supposed to beat, I was always nervous. But this was a different kind of nervous this time.”

And then came horror.

“I saw him run off the floor (to end warmups), and I could see it. I could tell he was nervous.”

The next time Eric saw his son, it wasn’t in person. It was on the big screen hovering over the floor. Akeem Richmond, the second-leading scorer in North Carolina basketball history, the prize recruit for a Rhode Island team that won 20 games a year ago and narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament, was holding a basketball waiting to lead the Rams onto the floor.

“When he came out, the moment was finally there,” Eric says.

Well, not quite. Eric and Akeem would have to wait a bit more for The Moment.

The game began with Akeem on the bench. Five minutes in, though, Baron called him over. It was time.

“I heard Coach say, ‘C’mon Akeem,’” Eric says. “He got up and jogged to the scorers’ table. My heart just dropped.”

Almost as a gift to his father — and maybe to himself — Akeem didn’t make anyone wait for long. Fifteen seconds after he walked into his first college game, Akeem got the ball on the wing and pulled up from behind the 3-point line.

Swish.

“Nothing but the bottom of the net,” Eric says. “I knew then, everything was OK.”

It was more than OK. Richmond played much of the game, hit 5 of 8 3-pointers, drilled a buzzer-beater to end the first half and led the Rams with 19 points over Concordia in a 93-54 victory. He may as well have been wearing a Southern Lee uniform.

“He was shooting it farther and farther out,” Eric says. “Even the bench guys started getting excited. When the ball left his hands, they already had their arms in the air. Three-pointer!”

“We want him to score the ball,” Baron said after the game. “That’s what he can do.”

“From the time he first got here this summer and we saw how he can shoot, we told him to take it when he has it,” said Rams forward Delroy James, who had 12 points that night.

With 56 seconds remaining, Akeem left his first college game for the last time.

The crowd rose to its feet and roared, chanting his name.

That was Akeem’s moment, possibly the first of many. His father, though, still had to wait for his.

After meeting with the local press and finishing up his other postgame duties, Akeem retired to his dorm room with his dad. They talked with ease and watched the highlights on local television and hit the Web in search of the first news articles. It was 4 in the morning before either of them began to slow down. In just a few more hours, Akeem would be recognized at breakfast by fellow students and little old ladies in Rams gear alike.

The chants of the name he gave his son more than 18 years ago still ringing in his heard, Eric set out for Boston and his flight home. His rotator cuff, which would go under the knife in six days, was sore. But his heart was booming. He doesn’t have to wait anymore.

“I know now,” Eric says, holding on to the precious moment every dad hopes to one day feel. “I know he’s going to be fine.”

 

 

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Filed under Akeem Richmond, Alex Podlogar, College Basketball, Designated Hitter, Prep sports, Southern Lee High School, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald

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